Old things

The winter before my oldest daughter turned 4, I spent roughly a dozen evenings in our cold, unfinished basement assembling a dollhouse. The kit was expensive and of good quality. I poured over the directions and ran beads of wood glue and fit the pieces together. I assembled the staircase and stained the tiny hardwood floors. I even hung wallpaper. It was almost as satisfying as giving birth.

Within a week after my daughter’s birthday, her and a playmate ripped the front door right off the frame. The other mother was mortified and apologetic, as if she had done it herself. The break was clean but not repairable. Who needs a front door anyway?

Otherwise, the house held up great over the years, though mostly from not being played with. The height was wrong (too short) or the wallpaper all wrong (too loud) or maybe neither of my daughters were me. I used to sit at a child sized table in my room and play with my dollhouse for hours. My mother’s father assembled it from scratch and drove it out from Indiana one summer. I knew it was coming and awaited its arrival like Christmas. It didn’t even have hardwood floors or wallpaper.

That’s probably where my love of miniatures comes from – the act of love involved in someone creating a dollhouse of my very own – but it took root fast and never left. I only ever built the one kit, though considered many times taking on a more ambitious house. Something taller, for sure, and with gingerbread trim and a sturdier door. Maybe a door would have kept out the poor little mouse that climbed in and died in the abandoned dollhouse in our basement sometime this winter. Is the house haunted now?

This is my other fixation: abandoned houses. Recently it’s taken hold and hard because I work near a park with abandoned structures throughout. An empty mansion, rusted out farm equipment, high arch stone bridge and crumbling spring house. You can pick up a color map at the main office and hunt them like treasures.

The paths are well marked but still a challenge for the map impaired. One day I found myself underneath a bridge I was supposed to be on if I wanted to find an abandoned cottage. The next day I went the right way but found a large grassy mound in its place. I was probably about a year too late, though google maps still maddeningly showed its rotting outline. The red GPS ball hovered over where the old porch used to be. A small white butterfly touched down and any sting of disappointment flitted away with it.

I went on in search of an old incinerator and thought I saw something through the trees but it turned out to be the remains of a stone foundation. I swear it looked like an entire house from the path. Ghost house.

I always see other people when I walk. Most of the solo women have dogs with them. I want a dog but settle for mace and a hatchet (kidding). Do you know a convicted killer once escaped from the nearby psychiatric hospital and they found him enjoying a picnic lunch in the very same park? These days he gets day passes, and probably haunts the local mall instead.

  
This new adventure may be risky but keeps me from spending money during lunch break. Stores don’t offer treasure like this. The perfect pair of shoes are everywhere, as it turns out, but when is the last time you found a rusted out granary dryer with birds roosting inside?

I can’t explain why old things are so appealing, but of course I’ll try. I suspect it’s because I’m feeling more and more like an old thing myself. The gray hair is coming in nicely, if by nicely you mean gray. I feel much less enthusiastic about it compared to 3 months ago, but I’m committed to seeing it through. This will likely take another year, seriously.

So I’m slowly growing old over here, watching gray creep in like ivy stretching up the side of my favorite find so far. Time is patient and the earth will always reclaim its space. While I could find this disturbing, instead it feels exciting. Everyone gets old. Even you! (sorry) The process can be observed from a safe distance through abandoned structures.

See how ivy stretches up the side, swallowing whole bricks. Note the paint flaked but still fine scrolling trim along the porch with a locust tree sprouting through rotted boards. Take it all in because soon it won’t be there. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t once loved and appreciated. Once it’s gone, it may even be spied through a thicket of trees when the breeze hits just so.

  

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17 thoughts on “Old things

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  1. Perhaps physical manifestations of the promise and pull of a story, embedded inside it somewhere: maybe that’s the draw.

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    1. You’re so right. The old doctor’s house had a story before I even saw it. I’ve nothing on the torn down cottage; something about the busy-ness of that part of the trail. Anyway I like this perspective very much and thank you for it. Perfect.

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  2. NOW, I know why we were destined to be friends!!
    I have been chased off of more railroad tracks and out of “no tresspassing” areas than my son’s freshman class combined.
    You and I need to go on an adventure some day! Most of my instagram feed is old, abandoned places. Speaking of…take a peek at #jj_abandoned and #urbex_lady – they have some crazy awesome photos. That said, I’m guessing you’d rather be the one snapping the shot than just looking at it on a screen.
    Me, too.
    Feeling old? Me, too.

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  3. lovely.
    i like the sold abandoned houses too, but i haunt cemeteries, the older the better. I doubt if I came upon someone there a hatchet would do me much good, that’s a spectre of a different kind.

    interesting how the grey is making you feel old…I dye my hair, mainly because my grey is so scattered i’d eventually have to dye it grey. I’m a lot older than you and don’t feel old tho, nothing to do with the hair. Sure i have my days, but then, at least for today, i prefer feeling old to the alternative.
    But time is marching forward and i will grow older and i will die, and it is a sobering thought.

    i read a lot of obituaries too.
    sigh

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    1. I don’t feel any older though and in fact feel younger (sobriety, I think). I just can’t connect with the way I look gray. It takes a long time to grown in at about a 1/2 inch a month. And I love cemeteries too! We took a family trip to one in fall and did grave rubbings. We’re like the Addams family 🙂

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  4. One of my favorite songs is Miranda Lambert’s Old Shit. It reminds me of my grandpa and it’s a really cute when my 5 year old sings it. 😉 I was always infatuated with dollhouses and miniature things when I was a girl and my daughter has 2 dollhouses that are barely used. Maybe it skips a generation!

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  5. what a nice way to spend your lunch break – with camera in hand too.
    I like how some old structures whisper of so many times gone by –
    and the way you wrote this post reminded me of that scene with the lady in The Sixth Sense ( I think that was the movie) when she was looking at a used diamond ring and talked about the charm and intrigue that comes with the living history of an old or used item – hmmm
    oh and Happy Memorial Day K!

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  6. Your writing is so peaceful and reassuring. I love dipping into one of your thought-pools. 🙂

    I love old abandoned structures too. I grew up in a large Victorian brick house built in the ’20s, which was one of 4 built by a man for each of his daughters in Abilene, Texas. Directly across the street, facing our front door, was an abandoned school, which two of my six older brothers had attended. We of course always believed it was haunted, and even my big old stately house seemed intimidated by it. I still dream of that house, and the abandoned school…all these years later.

    When I was in grad school I spent a summer doing a revolving play on Ellis Island. Many people don’t know that the museum is only one of several buildings on the island, and the only one that is restored. We had (unauthorized, but irresistible) access to the other abandoned buildings as well…and those adventures are among my favorite memories. The US literally abandoned Ellis Island in the 70s, and at that point (mid-90s) everything was exactly as it had been left, except for the earth’s reclamation of the man-made structures. So beautifully eerie was the social room, where chairs lined the walls, and a grand piano still sat with its ragged bench in the corner. The roof was mostly gone, and a tree was growing up through the piano. A door opened into the kitchen where there were dishes in various stages of the washing-up process. Some in stacks, some in the huge sinks, some in the dishwasher.

    Thank you for bringing back these memories today. What an unexpected surprise. And I wish I could come with you and your camera on your lunchtime treasure hunts!

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    1. Absolutely love your description of the Ellis Island buildings. I wonder are they still there? Sounds like a fun rabbit hole to fall down later (via Google). The old homes and childhood school sound fascinating. Abandoned does seem to equal haunted, but maybe not in the way we thought of as kids.

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