I love old houses. I live for old houses. I started exploring them in my teens and have never stopped. Peggy Elliott and I ran across one in Mountain View near our homes in the 60's that had been abandoned, the water tower stairs were absolutely full of dead bees where you could not see the ground. Always wondered about that one as a child, but the mystery unfortunately dissolved as an adult to realize someone had simply gassed a hive. Crunch, munch, the sound of stepping on those bees to climb the stairs no matter how we tried to avoid them remains with me to this day.
Two older abandoned homes stood in the way of 'progress' in an older area of town next to the railroad tacks, and were about to be torn down. One was a single story white home, and next door, there was a three story blue building that was reputed to have been the red light house of the town in it's day. I received permission from the city to take interior pictures, so off I went. Nothing would have prepared me for this tour, a complete surprise.
I tackled the white house first. What a mess. What was left in the house had been scattered everywhere, papers to kitchen ware, garbage, junk and more junk. A long hallway separated from the living room by a wide doorway that had an incredible wood carving in the top portion of the threshold. A curved, narrow, circular wooden stairway calls from the end of the hallway, faded beige brown pinkish rose wall paper that must have been beautiful once. The steps and the handrail were worn with generations of caresses. To touch the bottom newell post sent blurred, roaring flashes through me. Moving furniture upstairs must have been a chore as the stairway was wide enough for only one person at a time and right out of a fairy tale, as it twisted out of vision to the top floor. I climbed the stairs, relishing each and every step, absorbing the change of view at every new height. Near the top, a few steps down, I see a little girl standing in the hallway not ten feet away, straight in front of me with her back to the hallway wall. Anyone who does not believe can push the 'back' button now, but it doesn't matter, really. Or, read on . . .
She is early teens, maybe younger, twelve or so? Medium light brown hair in two long unadorned braids with bangs, light, fragile build, timid, delicate features and a shy expression. She is in a classic prairie dress that reached almost to her ankles with the same fabric ruffles at the neck, sleeves and hemline, brownish beige flowers on a lighter beige background, barefoot. She turns left and walks through the bedroom door she was standing near. I moved out of my state of stun and follow her into the bedroom where I am quite alone. Again, the atmosphere is the same as everywhere else in the house, brownish beigish faded flower wallpaper, a 'days past' flavour everywhere. The room had dormer windows and the feeling that this was someone's special cozy place at some point in time. I held up my camera to take pictures of the room. The camera simply would not work. No playing with it would help, it was frozen up and I had no extra batteries with me. I wandered about for a while before returning downstairs with a loose plan to head off for the store and batteries. At the bottom of the stairs I tried the camera again, which worked perfectly. Walk up the steps and it would not work. Go down the steps and we were full steam ahead. Up, down, over and over. Hmmm....I must have taken just one roll of those stairs from every angle standing on the main floor.
I was ready to go, having waited for a return appearance to no avail. Just as I approached the back kitchen door I got (knew) that I could not leave without something intended for me. I returned upstairs to another room with all traces of the interior walls removed and daylight coming in from broken rafters, the room strewn with paper. I went through some of it, accountings and personal papers from many years ago, nothing spectacular. I wandered back into the floral bedroom to find nothing. Passing the first room on my way back down the stairs I stopped to stare at the Oujia Board sitting smack dab in the middle of the room where seconds ago it had not been. There was no way in hell I was going home with that, and I got down the stairs pronto.
The sensation was not gone, something wanted my attention. I asked silently for some help as I was not able to determine what it was I am supposed to be finding here. I wandered into a side room off the kitchen that was literally stuffed full of all the things that might originally have been in the kitchen cupboards. I am kitchen utensil freak, but as I would pick up things one at a time, I knew this was not what I was looking for. Then I saw the table, the table that all this was sitting on. That's it. Only God knows why, but that's it.
I had driven my Supra, and this table is easily five feet long, two feet wide, standard kitchen table height. I drove to the nearest phone booth (pre-cell era) and called my husband, emploring him to bring his truck to the white house on 15th that is going to torn down. Trust me, just please come? Thankfully he shows up, both kids in tow. He groans but it doesn't do him any good, I am going home with this table. The kids eagerly occupied themselves touring the house, to which I stayed silent, interested if they come back with any comments. We load up the table and the kids hop in and home we go, planning to tour the blue house the following day. As we drove away, I felt someone at a top window and wished we had the time to tour now.
Our kitchen is 26 by 14 and the table is absolutley A-1 perfect for the center of the room. There is one drawer on a long side, needs painting terribly, but it settled down like it was finally home.
That evening as I drifted off to sleep, something tapped me on the shoulder, so to speak. Something is not right, get up and set it right. I wander through the house, table is fine, animals are fine and go with me, Jena is asleep and fine, John is asleep and fine, but the Oujia board in the middle of his desk is NOT fine.
The next morning I explained why the board was now gone and the children, while they complained, accepted that they would have to wait to own one once they had moved out of my house. We start our day and head over to the blue house only to be completely stunned by the scene. The house is totally ablaze, surrounded by firetrucks and firemen. We sadly watched from a distance as the house burned to the ground.
The table was later painted a comfy dull sky grey blue, it's sides covered in my hand painted daisies, then covered with a heavy bar table type shellac for years of protection. The single drawer is loaded with personality with it's old style pull and wooden dividers. Many loafs of bread were kneaded on the table, dinner and picnics were prepared, shopping bags full of groceries placed there, hundreds of hours of tea and conversation took place at that table, the heart of the house.
When I left that house, the table was one of the first pieces to go and is with me still, and will always be.