Have you ever thought about a house long after you moved out and wondered who lives there now? Do their children play in the trees? Do their dogs sleep on the back porch like ours did?
The house that fills my thoughts from time to time isn't fancy. In fact, anyone else, given the choice, probably would never have rented the one-bathroom farmhouse to begin with. But our small family (one child, another on the way, and a husband who was returning to college) needed a reasonable rent and a landlord who didn't mind that we were "owned" by two dogs, two cats, and two horses.
So in the year 2000, $285 a month for a three-bedroom house with five acres, 10 miles from town, was right up our alley. Our landlord, Marvin, wore overalls, had pens in his front pocket, and wore his combat boots unlaced. He was right up our alley, too.
The tenant on his way out was a single man who worked at the local community college – past the low-water bridge, down one dirt road, one paved road, and to the left. We walked through the door of our new rental home, and we felt empty.
"It seems hollow," my husband said.
"It almost seems as if it was waiting for us," I countered.
And it did.
The house had been waiting for some life – kids, animals, hand-sewn curtains, and furniture that fitted without being cramped. We heard the echo of our first ring of laughter all the way down in the basement and back up through the heating vent. The basement was a huge selling point and our future safety from Tornado Alley.
My first duty was to make the curtains, as I do in every house we move to. Without a Wal-Mart in town, I had to use some of the old fabric that I'd made curtains with at the last house, another small farmhouse that sat in the middle of a cattle yard near the Kansas-Colorado border. I'd left the curtains there, since the windows had been so oddly shaped, thinking I'd never find a new home for them.
Pulling out fabric I'd bought for a $1 a yard, I started measuring windows, filling a bobbin with strong cotton quilting thread, and deciding on a style. The house seemed to talk to me, asking for double-layered curtains to keep out the chill of winter and to hold in the cool during the hot summer months. The floral fabric held a huge design that somehow looked great with a contrasting solid-colored fern green, and harmonized with the furniture that made up the first matching set we'd had in our nine-year marriage.
Outside, the house needed work, and we vowed to paint it, never expecting that the landlord wouldn't want us to. We finally realized that he just didn't want to pay for it. No problem. For the rent we were paying, we could splurge on bright white paint for the outside walls, dark green for the trim, and gunmetal gray for the porch and propane tank.
I took a small wire fence and added it to the front of the porch and planted fall flowering bushes whose name I can't recall. They were on sale at the farm store though, and at the time that was all that mattered. The lawn was really a compilation of green weeds, but the ground was covered, so we wore flip-flops and thanked nature for covering up the sand and cockleburs.
The county workers cut down some trees along our county road, leaving big, hunking chunks of tree behind. I took our old pickup truck and drove around collecting the biggest and best pieces, and brought them back to our little farmhouse that sat in a three-sided shelter of trees. The hedge-wood, pines, and oaks stood proud, although they were as elderly as the century-old home.
I rolled the chunks of wood, one by one, down along the property line between the dirt road and our lawn of weeds, creating a sort of decorative fence for free.
The Angus cattle across the dirt road, held in only by a single strand of electric wire, watched me in fascination, while my husband reluctantly helped me cozy up the atmosphere outside.
"Who does this?" he asked.
The effect the logs had on our home was instantly individual. Couple that with the new paint job, the flowering pink dogwood just outside the kitchen window, the porch swing, the greening of the weeds, and the two beautiful girls sitting by the flowering bushes, and I realized happily that, once again, we'd made a home.
We offered to buy the farmhouse with five acres, but our jovial landlord loved the property, too. He always thought he'd move out to the house from town, not realizing as he said the words that his wife stood behind him, in her appliquéd sweat shirt, drawing her hand across her throat in a fashion that let us know that they'd never live in the place.
Today, we live miles away in Colorado, in our own home, this time, but I often talk with a friend I made just down the road from that farmhouse. Barb says that two other families have moved in and moved out, but none have planted flowers. The log fence is still there, but the green weed lawn is back to sand and gravel, and the dogwood doesn't seem to bloom as much.
I guess the old house misses us, too.