As I rode my bike on the winding roads along the western slopes of Massanutten I passed the ruins of an old house; a humble, sun and rain bleached structure leaning heavily to one side, its metal roof partially collapsed.
Inside, faded pencil marks on door jambs may serve as mute testimony to the growth of children long since grown and even passed. A scuffed floor may show where a grandparent’s favorite chair once sat. An upstairs hallway may reverberate faintly, even now, with echoes of bedtime laughter.
Inside, beds were once made and clothes were once washed and the threads of thousands of actions, trivial and unimportant on their own but, when woven together, form a tapestry of everyday life, took place.
Now I could see through the cracks in the walls to the field on the other side.
A new house is a new start, so over the years I imagine each family that took possession did so with a renewed sense of hope for the future. To its owners, a house becomes a home as it slowly becomes a symbol of the family it shelters and protects.
I haven’t seen the house I grew up in for years, but I still remember it vividly, even though my memories of the structure itself only serve as the foundation for others.
I remember helping my father, in the summer heat, dig footers by hand for a new sunroom. When I tired and leaned on my shovel, he immediately sprang into fatherly action.
“Hard work, isn’t it?” he said. “That’s why you want to go to college someday.” (I admitted - although only to myself - he was, as always, right.)
I remember my father and I putting a new roof on the house and, as we finished, noticing one row of shingles above an intersecting roofline were misaligned … then tearing off dozens of shingles and starting over, because, to my dad, no job was ever done until it was done right.
I remember the small kitchen, not for its size, but for being the place my mother made literally every meal we ate.
I remember the tiny laundry room, not for its size, but for the fact that, while we didn’t have the trendiest clothes, she made sure ours were always clean and crisp. She even ironed our underwear.
To my mom, taking care of her family was her most important job, one she had to do herself for it to be done right.
So, I felt a twinge of sadness as I rode by that old house, as I do whenever I see a house left abandoned and forgotten.
I feel certain a person who once lived in that house would be heartbroken by the sight of the once lovingly-tended garden now choked and overgrown; a door once closed securely to provide safety and security, now hanging crookedly open; a metal roof that once echoed with the comforting sound of raindrops, now rusted and buckled … the physical collapse of the house standing as a symbol of family and friends lost, and possibly forgotten.
Home is the place where hopes and dreams and wishes may someday come true, where memories are made that we often hope will last forever.
Unfortunately, nothing does last forever, but I wish houses could — like the homes and the families and the lives they so often come to represent.
Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a bestselling ghostwriter and columnist for Inc. Magazine. He can be reached at www.blackbirdinc.com.