I’m not sure why I stopped today. Maybe I’m searching for something from my past, some recognizable relic left over from the demolition. I park in the old gravel driveway and look out over neat rows of small corn plants growing where my childhood home once stood. I walk between the rows of corn. My eyes focus on the ground. My boots scrape the surface of the black dirt, careful not to disturb the plants. I turn up chunks of concrete, pieces of brick, and splinters of wood.
After my parents divorced, my mother and I moved to town. Other people had lived in the house since we moved away, but no one had lived there since the new landowner bought it three years ago. I had heard from town gossip that he had no interest in renting the house.
“I’m a farmer,” he told people. “Not a goddamned landlord.”
He bought the property to plant crops in the rich black dirt. The buildings were going to be razed. The new landowner ordered the demolition of the house, the barn, the chicken coop, and tore down the windmill that spun in the wind until the day an end-loader hooked the top of it and brought it to the ground.
On demolition day, I parked on the road. I sat on the tailgate of my pickup and watched the yellow backhoes and dozers blow their black diesel exhaust into the sky as they ripped, dragged, and tore apart the buildings. Wood snapped and splintered. Concrete spalled and fractured. Metal cried and bent. The skilled machine operators separated the metal from the wood and concrete without getting out of their seats. The metal was shipped off to be sold for scrap. The rest of the rubble was pushed into a hole dug into the ground and set on fire. The pieces of the house and barn smoldered in the hole for days until dirt was pushed over top of it. The white gravel driveway that once to led to our garage, the only thing that couldn’t burn, now ends in an empty field of black dirt.
I liked to scare myself. When I was child, I thought the old two-story house was haunted. I would stay up late and read ghost stories with a flickering flashlight. I read stories of ghosts hiding in old houses unable to let go of places they knew when they were alive. I thought ghosts lived in my closet. I didn’t like the cellar either. I imagined a lost soul hiding in the darkest part of the cellar with the damp and mold, where the light of the incandescent bulb could not reach.
I knew every board and hayloft rope in the barn. I knew where to step so I didn’t fall through rotted wood. I used the ropes to swing from one hay mount to the other. Sometimes I wouldn’t make it to the other side and I’d swing back and forth, sliding down the manila rope, burning my bare hands on my way down to the ground.
The windmill worked to keep the well open and underneath the windmill was a rusted pump with a blue steel cup hanging from a hook. On hot summer days, I would pump the handle and bring the spring water up from somewhere in the earth beneath me. I filled the cup and drank the cool stony water, letting it run past the corners of my mouth.
Perhaps I hoped to find an artifact today, something linking me to this empty place. Something to hold in my hands and take home. I hoped to find the blue cup, a piece of manila rope, or the pink jewel-shaped doorknob from the old cellar door. But everything was pulverized, burned, and buried efficiently. I should have brought a shovel to dig down to where the buildings now lie together in their mass grave. I stood above them, their frames twisted together, their ghosts somewhere above ground.
“Hey, you!” the new owner yells at me from the road. He stands by his brand new Chevy Silverado pick-up wearing a green Pioneer seed hat. “What are you doing here?”
“I was just looking around,” I say. “I used to live here.”
“Well, you can’t be here. You’re trespassing.”
STORY IMAGE BY THE AUTHOR.
I’d say that you’re still there. Your DNA lurks in the soil from the light switches, rope swing, and water dribbling down your chin. The farmer may have bought the land, but you still own what stood on it. He can’t buy memories and the influence in your life from living on that piece of home.
Like so many excellent pieces of writing I’ve read over the years it still needs a final sentence