On the road to Grand Marais, there are two houses I’ve loved. Twenty years ago, when we first started driving up M-77, both houses were worn and in need of repair. Every time we passed, I would check on their progress.
The first house was reclaimed and improved. It got a metal roof which I thought was wise since our own house in Grand Marais, the one built after a fire destroyed our first house, had a brown metal roof that I knew would never burn. The first house got new windows and was painted a radiant white. Geraniums in pots sat on the porch in the summer and there were sometimes actual people sitting there looking across the way at their barn, still weathered and grey but sturdy and tidy.
But the second house was unattended. At first, it was just vacant with a no trespassing sign and a rope strung across its old driveway. Any house can become vacant, I thought. It’s a temporary thing. Then the windows were gone, not broken but just removed. I thought then that new windows must be on the way. Someone was going to rehab the house and that made me happy to think. But more drives happened, seasons, winter ice and snow, summer green, and the roof was caving just a bit on one side. A few years later, a hole appeared on the side of the house facing what had been that family’s field. Now I knew that anything could happen to it, standing there, vulnerable to catastrophe. It was just a matter of time.
I love the second house. It has a big prairie feel to it, like the people who had once sat on the porch had been tired and hot, proud of what they’d accomplished that day. Driving by, I could almost see them rocking there on that porch, imagine lives for them that included a lot of hard work and history, a life I could have had if everything about me had been different.
I can’t stand it, I would think every time we drove by, sometimes in the summer, but also in the fall and the winter. Not often in the spring though because Grand Marais in the spring is not much to drive to, grey and uninterested in guests. Even the town’s bar closes in April. I can’t stand it, I’d think. Why doesn’t someone fix this beautiful house?
But no one ever did.
I’m going to see this house collapsed, I would think to myself each time we drove by the past few years. One day we will be on our way to Grand Marais and this beautiful house will be a heap of wood and roof. It’s going to happen on my watch, I thought, if we keep driving by year after year after year. There’s nothing that can stop that. Now it would seem as impossible as interrupting a force of nature like halting a rainstorm. It was going to rain no matter what.
Do you want a picture, my husband always asks when we drive by the house. He knows that I think about this house and its pending demise every time. No, I always say, next time, thinking, I guess, that there is some kind of finality in taking a picture of the house in what might be its last minutes standing.
Today, he pulled over on the shoulder of the road. I got out of the car, walked around the No Trespassing sign and took this picture. I put the picture on Facebook and posted what the house told me to say:
“A house can be near to falling in on itself and still be beautiful.”