What a gorgeous house!
Shelby’s heart soared as she walked up the drive with a bag of groceries cradled in her arm, gravel crunching beneath her boots. Afternoon sun, bright and gleaming as a reflection from polished chrome, warmed the slumping red-brown brick. It raked slantways across ridges of weathered clay and peeling paint, making the flaky texture stand out in thousands of tiny black shadows, like the creases in an old man’s face. It gave character. Darkness on light, crevices and bumps and places where the mortared lines curved slightly to reveal the settlings of the past two centuries. Even so, it was the most beautiful house she’d ever seen. The structure was two stories high not including the attic or basement, and it was all hers. A dream come true.
It was two hundred and seven years old, nearly the oldest building in Hendersonville, but worn and neglected over the past several decades. Black iron studs graced its outer walls in star shapes, where reinforcements had been inserted after a shakeup in the New Madrid fault in 1811. Far more recently, part of the porch had collapsed and a vine dotted with blue morning glories crept here and there across the fallen beams. The porch had been down for a while, it seemed, for the overgrowth was well established. There would be expensive restoration to put it right again, but that was okay.
Restoration was part of the deal. The Historical Landmarks Registry and the citizens’ committee formed to save this house from destruction were willing to let her buy it because she in turn was willing to set it right, and because there had been strenuous public outcry against a previous sale to a land developer who would have torn it down. Nobody in town wanted that. Shelby was an answer to the prayers of many, enabling the town to hang onto a bit of its past without costing them any money. Win/win, all around, everybody happy and smiling.
A shiver skittered up Shelby’s back as she gazed up at the morning glories, and she drew a deep breath. For a moment she thought about letting them grow here again once the porch was rebuilt, and had an image of the front of the house covered with a mass of blue blossoms. It made her smile.
One arm occupied by the bag of groceries, she yanked from the ground the brightly colored for sale/sold sign that stood near the battered black rural mailbox. Both sign and mailbox were faded and pocked by rifle fire, the mailbox also caved in on one side by a teenager’s baseball bat. No matter. As soon as she could, she’d have a brick one built that would discourage such hijinks. Brown brick, to match the house. She leaned the sign against the porch, faced in, so it could no longer be seen from the road. This was her place now. Not for sale. Shelby had come home.
Her smile faltered as she climbed the steps to the porch. The wrought iron rail along the front had long ago fallen to the ground below and was quite rusted into worthlessness. It lay there, grown over with weeds and accompanied by a couple of broken, white ladder-back chairs someone had dumped there. Poor, neglected house. There was a feeling of rescuing a stray pet that was ill and suffering, a sympathetic pain that made her eager to get started on the work. She patted one of the porch columns as she passed. All would be made right soon. It was a shame this had happened to such a beautiful old building.
She turned and looked out over the neighborhood, across the railroad tracks, at the modern houses and one apartment complex dotted among horse pastures, those in turn breaking up the suburban sprawl that stretched from Nashville. This house was much older than the tracks, and faced them nearly like a train station, ignoring the tree-lined road from which Shelby had come. She wondered whether it might even pre-date the road. The house had been built back when there had been little here other than wild animals and Indians, and those man-made features had grown up here with little regard for this one house.
All around, maple trees thickly-laden with fall leaves glowed bright yellow and coral, standing in puddles of their own fallen leaves like light under a lamp. Off a little ways, she could glimpse through the branches of less-leafy trees the onramp to the bypass. Twenty minutes from her office in Nashville, and less than five minutes from the center of Hendersonville, yet with horses, trees and open fields nearby.
Fumbling with her keys, she found the shiny new brass house key for the lock that had recently been installed. According to her real estate agent, for decades since the last owners had defaulted and departed suddenly, the property had been left unlocked and abandoned. But there had been no vandalism. Not one scribble, not one hole in a wall, not one cracked window.
The agent had made much of his opinion that Hendersonville was a small town sort of place where nobody ever stole, nary a cross word was ever said, and the churches all had one hundred percent attendance every Sunday. That made Shelby stifle a cynical smile, and as soon as she’d bought the place she’d had the lock installed herself.
She shoved the door inward and it opened on raspy, dusty hinges onto the front hallway. The room was musty and dim, silent like a storage locker filled with forgotten belongings. She took a deep breath and sighed. It smelled like…history. The past was all around. Everywhere. She had a vibrant sense of all the people who had lived here, who had come and gone, laughed and cried, were born and had died in this house.
To the left was a plain, wooden door that led beneath the stairs and down to the basement. The foyer, a wealth of mostly wasted space, ran the width of the house. Opposite the front door were two wide doorways to the dining and living rooms, each room dominated by identical hearths. At the end of the foyer was the door to the kitchen, two steps down and unlike any other part of the house for it had been added during the mid-twentieth-century along with the plumbing. She didn’t mind the house had been altered to accommodate certain technologies alien to its builders; history was one thing, but even Shelby didn’t care to live in a house without indoor plumbing.
The light switch on the wall to her right had buttons instead of a toggle, the wires run to it inside a small, square conduit, painted to match the wall, that went to the floor and along the molding. She pushed the button with a white dot on it, and a sconce to her right lit up. The weak, yellow light poked at the corners of the foyer, struggling from its dirty glass shade dotted with dead flies.
The walls were plaster and lath, hard as rock and built long, long before the house had been wired for electricity. But the place was solid, at least. Brick exterior walls were two feet thick, and no sheet rock. There was molding everywhere. Moldy molding, painted pale green, ten inches wide at the floor and four at the ceiling. Some of it was damaged and would need to be replaced, but the cost would be worth it.
“Hello,” she addressed the house. A giggle rose. She had no idea who she imagined might hear, but it just seemed the thing to do. Greet the house. “Hello, I’m here.” No answer. She sighed, at once glad yet sorry to not have received a reply.