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An Old Country House


There it stood, abandoned.

It captured the imagination of a boy up from the cookie-cutter suburbs to the outskirts of this one horse burg.

Unadorned, but honest, simple, unpretentious, true.  No one lived there, I was told; Too much upkeep required.

Built by who knows whose hands for a farmer's family, people who worked the land in the spring and autumn, froze in the winter, and sweated in the summer.

Gone by 1978, when we moved to across the field, turned forever to fallow.

I had a dog, a collie and German shepherd mix, named Rex.  Well, he really wasn't my dog, he was our neighbor's, but he tagged along where ever I went.  He was more than likely with me when I took these pictures with my Polaroid, because he was just that kind of dog - reliable, friendly, a gentle giant.  Here he is, on a bike ride with me.

I graduated from high school, left home, joined the Army.

Came back four years later, left for New York to go to college, came back two years later.


Rex had died long ago, and the house was gone.

No, not demolished, but it was gone, just the same.

I really don't have the stomach to show you the mangled, tangled monstrous conglomeration of additions and annexes abutted to the house, but it must have been decided at some point that in order to save the house, its soul must be destroyed.

No longer a house for people who hew, sow, and reap, it is now refuge for they who fold, spindle, and mutilate.  Office jockeys, computer geeks, Beltway bandits and pencil pushers all come here for a taste of rural, laid-back living.  With amenities.

For now, a new generation has found the house worthy of upkeep.  Of course, they don't really mingle with "those locals," they whose hands first built the house, which house is now trapped in a cocoon of gables and cornices and a mishmash of every bad country inn out of an interior decorator's nightmare.  Three hots and a cot updated to a bed and breakfast.  And Champagne mimosas, on the veranda.

Instead, they go to the town, a county seat a few miles down the county road.  There, they'll find all the simple needs they and their ilk expect to be fulfilled in a quaint, rural town:  Rows of shops filled with potporri and scented candles, stress-relieving compact discs, knicknacks, patchwork quilts made by some poor sods in the Orient for a dime a day and genuine country crafts made by transplanted big city hicks who also crave the simpler, country life, given enough acreage to buffer them against the simpler, country people.

Main Street America, transformed into a Potemkin village of sophisticated souvenir hawkers.  Snake oil is much more palatable when colored food dye is added, and poured into collectable, handblown glass bottles.

Not content with gentrifying the ghetto, now these progressive purveyors of hucksterism come to gentrify, purify and add their special brand of ersatz charm to save the town by destroying its soul.  And, without a trace of irony they call it "historical preservation."

Whence has gone the five-and-dime?  The corner newsstand?  Not a trace remained, but I had to venture out to Main Street, Inc. anyhow, to get my hair cut.

But I couldn't find the barber shop; new merchant in his storefront.  Asked the merchant where he was.  "Relocated, outskirts of town."

Found it, barber had a slightly different story:  "The new crowd jacked up the rents so much, I was forced to move out."  Guess it's okay to redline when it's not against the Brothers.


Don't go back much.  What for?  Like the farmhouse, my town has gone, swept up by a force more insidious than strip malls, Mc Donald's and interstate.  Transformed into a Christmas Tree Village of Manufactured Quaintness.  If you want to make over a town in your image, don't be gauche and use a wrecking ball.  That only fires up the town cranks to start a petition drive.  Instead, send it to finishing school.  Then, it'll be finished.

Move over Andy Griffith, make room for Martha Stewart.

Gone With the Windfall.

Polaroid Photographs Taken 1978-79, in rural West Virginia.

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