Monday, September 24, 2007

Ghosts left behind

My wife and I own two houses: one that we're living in, and another that we're trying to sell. The off-kilter real estate market has hit upstate South Carolina particularly hard, and the old house -- a beautiful two-story, four-bedroom on 20 wooded acres -- will not sell. In fact, we can't even get people to look at it. I've owned and sold more than a dozen houses in my lifetime, and never run into this problem before.

However, just because it's sitting empty doesn't mean that the grass doesn't grow. At least twice a month, I've been going over to the old house by myself and mowing, weed-eating, edging, blowing, and trimming -- in what to this point has been an unrewarding attempt to keep the property looking nice. About 1,500 feet of the acreage fronts a relatively busy country road, so I also have to spend about a half-hour along the road picking up cans, bottles, trash, and countless, countless cigarette butts.

My family and I moved because my wife took a job that was an hour's drive away. So we bought another house much closer to her work, not realizing that months later we still wouldn't have sold the first one. The new house is very nice, but it's in a traditional development; i.e, neighbors on all sides. We quickly discovered that once you become used to privacy, it's hard on the psyche to give it up.

The old house sits in the middle of twenty wooded acres. When I stand in the yard, all I can see are trees: oaks, poplars, dogwoods, magnolias, pines ... you name it, I have it. Not to mention a magnificent variety of bushes and flowers. The air is so oxygen-enriched, it makes me dizzy to breathe it.

Now, when I go alone to do my chores, I feel strange. The inside of the house, which is in perfect condition, is empty of all furnishings and valuables. But when I walk around inside, it doesn't feel empty of memories. Though we only lived there for about three years, I still remember things that happened in every room: cooking in the kitchen, sitting by the fireplace in the living room, watching the moon rise in our Carolina room, writing most of my series in the downstairs office, waking up in the master bedroom in the early morning to the singing of birds. It's as if these memories are ghosts clinging to the walls with sticky fingers and watching me with sadness as I wander from room to room.

Outside, I churn around on a riding mower, surrounded by the dense, colorful, fragrant woods. Sometimes I think I see ghosts peering out from the trees, as well. But they don't seem threatening.

It's so private, I sometimes take off my clothes after I'm done with my work and stand naked in the sun, arms upraised, just breathing.

When I drive away, the house looms behind me like a living thing.

Watching ... and waiting.


bunnygirl said...

The house and grounds sound lovely. Sometimes a place speaks to you, and I would still feel that bond, too.

Jim Melvin said...

My wife misses it even more than I do. She adored the beauty and serenity of it. Jeanne wants to move back and just tolerate the longer drive. But you know how it is: It cost us $2,000 and countless hours of manual labor to move. I don't know if my sanity(much less my lower back) could take it again, especially so soon!

Michael said...

And you only lived there three years! Still, I can imagine becoming attached to a place like that very quickly.

Jim Melvin said...

I think it's because, up until then, I had spent my entire living the suburbs and didn't realize how peaceful it could be not having neighbors.

Kappa no He said...

Sounds like heaven. There is no such place in Japan. For everything lovely about this country the lack of land makes me most sad. I would Soooo buy that house, just from your description. I mean, I can lean out and touch my neighbors' houses, on two sides. To have air fit to breathe and four! And ain't no one running around naked in this town. How magical!

Jim Melvin said...

Ha! Yeah, what you described sounds almost claustrophobic. At least it would feel that way to me now. However, I'm sure Japan has enough culture, education, and intelligence to more than make up for it.


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About Me

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Clemson, SC, United States
I was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., but grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla. I graduated from the University of South Florida (Tampa) in 1979 with a B.A. in Journalism. I now live in South Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains, a pleasant setting for writing, to say the least. I was an award-winning journalist at the St. Petersburg Times for twenty-five years and I currently work at the Charlotte Observer. I am married with five daughters.

The author

The author
Jim Melvin, a veteran journalist, debuts as novelist.