Sunday, December 02, 2018


For a couple of years when I was a kid my father and I used to traipse through the woods on what had once been farmland, looking for old foundations that might indicate a household dump somewhere not far off, where, if we were lucky and dug carefully with a trowel or a shovel, we might find patent medicine bottles in amber or cobalt blue, or maybe even a handblown flask whose glass would be flecked with bubbles of nineteenth-century air. If we were on water supply property we'd bring our fishing rods for cover — angling was permitted, trespassing was not — but as far as I remember no one ever called us on it, and encounters with anyone else in those woods would have been few and far between. Now and then we'd find a ruined building that was still standing, surrounded by vegetation, its insulation mixed with mouse nests and its shingles decaying, but those were too new to bother with, offering nothing but beer cans and waterlogged magazines.

My father was a surveyor by profession, and the company that employed him secured a large contract for laying out lots on a tract of a thousand acres or so that had been purchased for development. Most of it was second growth woodland, hilly and criss-crossed with stone walls, but there was also a low area that still served to grow corn up until the time the developers started work. There was an abandoned house still standing on the property, and under the pretext of reconnoitering for purposes of the survey we went one day to take a look around. I don't remember much about it now except that the building had at least three stories and must have been a comfortable farmhouse a few decades before.

We found a way in and walked the rooms. How many years they'd been unoccupied is hard to say; there was some story about an elderly widow living in a nursing home who had finally died. Certainly there was nothing useful still in the house; whatever furnishings had any value had long been sold or taken away by relatives or just looted, and the only thing I remember with certainty is that there was a cupboard that was still — bizarrely — neatly stocked with glass jars of vichychoisse or borscht. As we were exploring we heard footsteps on the wooden floor and a kind of desperate wail, and after a few seconds a very large and frightened Great Dane appeared. It couldn't have been left behind by the former owner — it had been too long — and no doubt it had found a way in as we had, and maybe couldn't find its way out. My father shooed it away and it disappeared deeper into the house.

We left empty-handed. The house was torn down not long after. There's no trace of it now.


Tororo said...

I have so many memories of such abandoned houses in the area I grew up into.
Just like the place you remember, it was mostly woods that once were farmland, and the area went through many changes since then as well.

Michael Leddy said...

Great story. It reminds me of Robert Frost’s “Directive” and a scene in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.