We drove today, my college-age daughter and I, desperate for an escape from the walls and windows that have become our cocoon. We chose today’s path based on traffic levels and the promise of natural views. We left our still bustling burg for the kind of country highway where 1950s restaurant signs dangle, rusting slowly to dust. It is a sleepy township in Southern Georgia with one main road, one small grocery, a handful of steeple-less churches, and yellow wildflowers strewn like stars across every open space.
At the blinking yellow crossroads, where I usually slow before heading straight towards the wonders of The Plunder Box, a consignment, antique, oddity shop that has outfitted my screened-in porch with its plastic peacock, and gruesome facial shelf brackets that look like characters straight out of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, we turned right.
Past caving roofs, ramshackle sheds, and double-wide mobile homes we drove, looking for nothing, something, anything novel, interesting. I spotted the stacked brickwork of the gate, immediately taken with what must have once been a majestic entrance way. Iron fencing extended from the open expanse. A field of weeping grass and unwieldy green extended beyond and up a small hill. We wondered, my daughter and I, if it might have once been farmland as the weeds seemed to grow amid the remnants of trenches, lines plowed repetitively for so long that the earth holds them like muscle memory.
We did not spot any structure. I wondered if a fire leveled whatever dwelling place stood there, resulting in the gated nothingness of the large lot. We drove on, crossing a four-lane highway to reach a bright yellow oasis we’d spotted in the distance. The fruit and vegetables beckoned, a sharp visual contrast against the clay-laden dirt and sandy top of the unpaved lot. A large black pickup truck pulled up next to us in the makeshift lot, its sides zebra striped with the muddy remains of a ride through side roads wet with tipped tidal rivers and risen creeks.
We sat in the car, eyeing the green carpet of smallish watermelons, cantaloupe pyramids, and too-soon tomatoes. A rainbow of freshness, the produce sat atop three rows of yellow painted, rough-hewn wooden tables. A couple of Prius people perused the stacks, touching, squeezing, testing for the choicest fruit. My daughter and I looked at each other.
“No one is wearing gloves or masks,” my daughter said, sounding disappointed.
“Yes, and touching everything,” I agreed.
We watched the Prius with its Florida plates and backseat piled with fleshy finds, leave the lot.
“Let’s go,” I announced, returning to the paved road. Another day, I thought, as we continued our destination-less ride.
Back down the same road we went, perhaps both thinking how good that watermelon might have tasted with a pinch of salt. When we approached the section of road where the gate stood sentinel in front of the once plowed lot, I slowed to look again. So much land, forgotten. I wondered, Why?
Then, I spotted her. She stood at least 200 yards back, with stunning gables, faded white clapboards and six immense top floor windows, each a backdrop to a small balcony. A regal giant, she brought to my mind the house made famous by painter Andrew Wyeth, muted, on a hill above the overgrown land, she took my breath and ignited our imaginations. Who lives there? Is it abandoned? It must be a hundred years old, I thought.
My daughter interrupted my mental story-making and said, “It looks like the house from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Driving past the lone structure, I wondered at our different perspectives. How wondrous that my melancholy Wyeth is her macabre, horror classic.
I let out a deep sigh then, for the house and our trip down a road never taken before the world went inside, refilled my worried synapses with wonder.
If that beautiful house could stand through war, storms, famine… and look out over once fertile land, now lacking commerce, activity, or growth, we may follow suit. Our mysteries may endure, and our balconies remain tethered by the strength of a well-built foundation.
Down a country road, we discovered strength, longevity, and perspective for a worldwide pandemic, and beyond.
Note: I Googled the house used in the original 1974 film and it does indeed sit above a field and look eerily like the one we discovered today. For travelers seeking the famed movie house. It is in Granger, Texas off Highway 95 and County Road 336.
Blessings that you find your hopeful road,