The death of a farm house.

Back in the heyday of the Cold War, Ray Bradbury wrote a short story that he later incorporated into his marvelous “The Martian Chronicles”. The story, “There will come soft rains”, is one of the more haunting tales to come from those dark times. It describes what might best be described as a “smart house”, the only one left standing in a city devastated by a nuclear exchange, and how it attempts to function without the family that once lived in it. In the end, events in the wider world, a storm, causes a fire to start in the house, which destroys it. That story came back to me today, because of something I saw.

People who live in or grew up in the Midwest have seen what I like to think of as the prototypical “Midwest farm house”. Many of them still dot the landscape, even as the days of the small farmer become the stuff of myth. There isn’t a set layout or floor plan. There’s no prescribed style, color or even a required square footage. Some of them are single-story affairs with wings and additions that sprout in every direction. Some are two and even three story buildings that would not be out of place in a town. There is one thing they all have in common: they set, often surrounded by the outbuildings that support the workings of the farm, in the midst of the fields that make up the family farm. They stand, proud and alone, telling the world this place is home to people who work the land.

Sadly, as the size of farms has grown, so the number of farm houses has decreased. Some of them end up being bought by people from town who think they want to live the “real country life”, and don’t, in reality, know Thing One about what country life is like. While the folks may not know anything, the houses continue to do what they were built for: provide a family with a place to live, a spot to call Home.

In that way, they’re the lucky ones. Other houses, though, aren’t that lucky.

One of the routes I drive regularly has one such house. A big box of a house, two full floors with a third made out of an attic with dormers added and a nice big front porch. A large barn, corn crib, garage and the odd couple of extra buildings surrounded it, all standing on maybe a couple of acres of land festooned with mature trees made up the rest of the scene. A nice-looking house, it’s square lines and well-maintained appearance speaking to passersby of a place cared for, a family with a place.

Then there didn’t seem to be any vehicles there anymore. The lights were never on in the house at night. Then the yard began to go without being mowed for long periods of time. Then the paint began to peel and flake off. Suddenly, one of the windows was gone, broken, but someone came to cover the ugly gap up quickly, showing that at least the house wasn’t completely forgotten. It didn’t last. Shortly after the window was broken, the line connecting the house to the electric power lines was down, then coiled up and hanging on the side of the house.

The end was nigh, but you could still hope for the house, that this was just a temporary state of affairs, perhaps to keep someone from squatting in the house. It wasn’t. One day, the trees that had stood so proud were all down, not cut down, simple uprooted by heavy machinery and drug into an huge, ugly heap. Then a backhoe came and tore the porch off. Then it tore the house down and treated it with all the dignity of a pile of garbage. Why? I don’t know. I honestly don’t think I could walk up to the person running the backhoe and speak to them civilly, what with the blatant destruction they did to that house. No effort to save anything, not any flooring, windows, not even the plumbing and electrical wiring. All just shredded, shoved into a pile, then loaded into a dumpster. Will the barn and the other buildings meet a similar fate? Will another house rise on the site, one more in tune with “modern” sensibilities of how a house should look? Will the whole plot be cleared, all the buildings torn down, the foundations removed and the land turned back into farm land?

In some ways, that might be the kinder fate, for even if the family that once lived in the house, that farmed the land it stood watch over, at least then the land will continue to be farmed. Even without the house and it’s family, a farm is still a farm, even if it’s a soulless monster of a farm.

(Postscript: I passed the site again today. The house, the barn, corn crib, everything, is now just a pile of shattered wood  standing in what was once the basement to the house. The dumpster is still there, but it appears more likely that it will be used to take away whatever does not burn in what is looking increasingly like a prepared fire scene. So far, the foundations of the buildings have not been touched, though the heavy equipment needed to remove them is still on site. So dies a house, a farm, and a way of life.)

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One Response to “The death of a farm house.”

  1. goodbyereality411 Says:

    I enjoyed reading this.

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