My best friend from childhood lived in a 2-story, clapboard house not much different from my own. A few years ago, with wiring, plumbing, and water lines deteriorating from age, and few tenants willing to pay even minimal rent for old country homes, her family made the decision to raze the house and barn. It is a pattern many Kansas families have followed as parents who farmed the land retire or die, and their offspring, who have left the farm for careers in the city, lack the ability or desire to take their parents' places on the farm. For a while the empty house is left to await a new occupant, but when no tenant appears, the house begins to sag and vandals break out the windows, hastening its deterioration. At last, the decision to tear the house down is made, and all that remains to tell the tale of a family who once lived there are a few trees clustered around an empty space.
Not only rural homes have disappeared but also entire small towns. My father used to refer to places that were already gone when I was a child. "He lived down around Strickland," Daddy would say, although that meant nothing to me, Strickland having disappeared before I was born. I could not understand why he gave directions using nonexistent places.
Today, like my father, I refer to land around our farm by the names of farmers who have been dead for decades, even generations--the Dix Place, the Kennedy quarter, the Cotton Place, Southard's Place. My husband, who did not grow up in the community, has learned the names from me, although he has no memories to associate with the names, just as I learned them from my father. Once there were families living on the land to which their names are affixed, with houses and barns and dreams that their hard work was building a legacy for future generations. Today not one of those places is owned by a descendant of the farmer who once lived there, despite those dreams. The buildings are gone and the original trees are old and dying.
As our conversation continued, he recalled having to clean up the remains of an old house. I eagerly asked him to describe what he remembered, and he said it was a 2-story, wooden house, fairly large, but in too much decay to describe any details. I asked if it had a cellar, and he confirmed that it had a small one with an exterior entry. He could not tell me whether it also had an interior stair, because of the deterioration of the house. I shared with him Isaac's description of his 2-story, wooden house, and how he added exterior stairs so he no longer needed to carry potatoes through the house when he stored them in the cellar during harvest. As winter approached, he would tramp straw into the exterior stairs for insulation from the cold, using only the interior stairs until spring. The current owner recalled the approximate location of the house, so I learned where to picture Isaac's home although it is long gone.
Nearly all traces of Isaac's life have disappeared--the trees about which he felt such pride reduced to a few scraggly rows at the edges of fields, his dugouts filled, his house torn down, even his land transformed. Only his words survive.