Their unseeing eyes gaze upon endless waving grasses. What is it that they see? Are they looking upon the present, or are they reminiscing about what is past? The pane-less, curtain-less windows of abandoned houses haunt the prairies, reminding us of our own mortality.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been drawn to the alluring sadness of old houses. They entice me and make me wonder who once called those four walls home. If we were brave enough to stare into the depths of those rotted-out windows, we would be taken on a journey into the past only to see our own lives reflected back to us in the eyes of the prairie keepers.
Sunlight pours in through the just-installed glass panes. The woman behind the glass tentatively touches it, afraid it might shatter. She’s waited for months for this clear protective barrier between the outside elements and her beloved family. She fingers the yellow gingham curtains her mother gave her as a wedding present. She catches a glimpse of her husband striding to the barn. He seems to sense her presence and turns to wave. Her heart catches in her chest, and she waves in return. With a sigh of contentment, the woman turns to study her home.
The whitewashed, plank board walls glisten after their Saturday cleaning. She moves toward the kitchen table and removes a speck of dirt off its smooth surface. She stops for a moment to inhale the scent of the purple and yellow wildflowers smiling at her from the blue, cut-glass vase her husband had given her for their first anniversary. An ink stain glares at her from her grandmother’s Oriental rug. No matter what she does, she can’t quite erase its black presence. She smiles at the rocking chair sitting in the corner. The teeth marks remind her why Biscuit, the motley-colored mutt, calls the great outdoors home. A cry emanates from the hand-made cradle nestled in the corner. Her heart flutters again thinking of the man whose hands had created the small bed and whose love had created the small, swaddled human now cooing from the crib.
Pictures of her mom and dad look sternly upon her and her new home. Would they be proud of her as a new mother and wife? Tears escape her eyes. She would never now. The letter that brought the devastating news a few weeks ago still lays in a crumpled ball in the corner by the brass bed she and her husband share. She didn’t have the heart to touch the evil missive again. Sadness pierces her soul. She would never get to say her final goodbyes. A train ticket back East was out of the question. Straightening her solid shoulders, she reminds herself she’d see them again someday in Heaven.
Picking up her baby son, she breathes in his scent. Even though her house was small and her earthly possessions were sparse, the woman knows she is truly blessed.
I hate to think about the sadness this woman survived, if she did. Like so many other pioneer women, did she have to place her precious son into the cold, merciless ground just months or years after his birth? Was she forced to bury her husband next to her infant child in the family cemetery a mile from the log house she made a home? I’d like to think she grew into an old woman with her adoring husband by her side. I pray she never had to lose a child. But, for some reason, whenever I look at an old, abandoned house, I can’t help but see the ghosts of those swaying yellow gingham curtains from the pane-less eyes of the prairie keepers. Ghosts of what used to be. Ghosts of women making simple sod houses and log houses a home. Ghosts of children laughing. Ghosts of men sweeping their woman into an embrace after a long, hard day of work. Ghosts of our past. Ghosts of our future.