To Wait and Weep
Pearly drops of water were falling from gunmetal gray clouds on the day I found the old farmhouse. I was going to pass it by but its windows drew me in. Drops of water rolled down the glass to form a tiny pool on the pane. It looked as though the windows were weeping. For who or what I did not know. I only know how their sadness spoke to me. The siding on the roof was weathered. The middle porch step was broken. The torn cover of a “Play The Trumpet, Book 1” was caught in the lattice beneath the porch floor. A few shingles blown off the roof lay scattered on the ground. Whatever was left of a hand-painted sign was propped against the porch rail. The words, “Welcome”, “Music” and “Family” were legible. The rest were gone. The windows in the house wore no curtains, adding to the signs of abandonment. However, in spite of its state of unkemptness, the house retained an air of grace and gallantry.
How long had it been there, stuffed full of silence? It was void of voices and laughter. No longer did it contain echoes of quarrels and apologies, scuffles and scoldings. Nor could be heard the snoring of a farmer after a long day in a hayfield under a hot summer sun. The house was more empty than the vacated bird nest that rested in the branch of a nearby sapling maple tree.
The farmhouse stood alone. Still. Stoic. Waiting. For something. Maybe for its family to come back? One suspects it had known happier days. That it had once thrilled to the sound of a child practicing a trumpet. It’s possible the house had even welcomed the sour notes, for it knew that by struggling with strange off-key sounds, the child would learn how to coax sweet haunting music from the shiny instrument. Could it be that the house wanted once again to hear the family sing together? Or that it was listening for the mother’s soprano blend with the farmer’s bass and the children’s alto that had once filled its space with harmony? Maybe it was remembering how in the early evening, after chores were done, the voices of the family’s music drifted across the lawn. Perhaps it wanted to hear the clop of shoes and boots coming up the porch steps as people dropped in to listen or join in the singing.
And, oh yes, the children! Perhaps the house was waiting to hear them as they scrambled up the stairs. And the squeak of the fifth step from the landing, when on Christmas Eve, they crept down at midnight, hoping to see Santa Claus. Could it be anticipating the aroma of coffee perking on the wood stove? Maybe it was waiting to hear the scrape of the farmer’s chair on the linoleum when he pushed away from the breakfast table. It might be hoping he would hurry to the barn and call the cows in from the pasture to be milked.
Or perhap the house was just tired. Much like Mr. Sanders, the gentleman whose 99thh birthday I had helped celebrate last week. He was a resident of the nursing home that could be seen from the porch of the house. When I entered his room, he was gazing out the window. He wore his farmer’s striped bib overalls. The straps were loose around his thin shoulders. On his head was a worn billed hat, with the words, “Old farmers never die. They just go to seed.” I stood beside his wheelchair and strained to look through his window. I wanted to see what he saw. But the only thing that stood across the half-mile stretch of green grass was the old farmhouse.
I looked closely at him. Gone from his face were the lines of determination and strength that marks those who spent their lives wrestling with the wind, the sun and rain. One who understood, as only a farmer can, that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The weather might cooperate or it might not. The harvest would be plentiful or the cupboards would be bare. From the half-smile and soft chuckle that had punctuated our conversations in days past, I knew this farmer once carried optimism on his shoulders as easily as he could hoist his young son high above his head. It wasn’t always visible, but it was always there. For, without it, no farmer could survive.
On that day, however, as he gazed at the old house, I saw his face change from stubborn determination to resignation. It was as though he and the house were completing a pact they had made with each other. They were connected by a shared realization. Restoration for the two of them was no longer an option. They both knew it. They were too far gone. Their usefulness in this world had expired. The old man began to weep. Silently. He closed his eyes and whispered, “It is time.”
I left the nursing home and returned to the farmhouse. At the end of the driveway a beat-up metal mailbox on a weather-worn wooden post leaned slightly to the left. On it I saw faded letters. “S-A-N-D-E-R-S”. I looked again at the windows. Beads of water still stood on the glass. Something about them reminded me of what I had seen on the old man’s face. They too, were waiting. They too were weeping. Because it was time.
And in that moment I realized the old man and old house were waiting and weeping for each other.