Monday, April 30, 2007

The Stories We Wish We Could Hear

by Julia Buckley
On our recent spring escape (a two day vacation during which we were caught in a snowstorm), we drove past this house. Of all the pieces of architecture that we saw during our journey, this one was my favorite. Yes, it's a decrepit, broken down structure, surrounded by swampy earth and dead trees--but it was fascinating to me. What had it been? Had someone lived there? The pillars suggest a certain grandeur, but then again it could have been a banquet hall or a hotel or something. All I knew was that sitting before me was something that, in times past, had been new and pretty; history had happened around it, and eventually it came to look like this.

I suppose this is the quality that makes me want to write. I'm always asking "What happened here? What could have happened? What would it have been like if THIS happened?" And then my brain starts working around the posed problem, and it comes up with its own answers. I don't necessarily think of this as a talent; I think it's simply the way my brain works, and a book ends up being one of the results.

It's weeks later now, and I still wonder about that building. I wonder if anyone has plans to buy it, renovate it, make it what it once was--or if it will continue to decay, abandoned, forgotten by the present. I wonder about the people who walked around inside it. Where are they now? Who are they? What did this building mean to their lives? This house is a story that I wish someone would tell me. That probably won't happen, though.

So, at some point, it may be the story that I have to tell for myself.


Sandra Parshall said...

Julia, I can't walk through a graveyard without wondering about the histories of all the people resting there. In Arlington Cemetery, many of the oldest graves, with the lettering on the stones almost worn away,are those of mere children who died before they'd had a chance to really live. The same is true of many names on the Vietnam War Memorial.

Walking through historic houses -- Mount Vernon, for example, or a castle in England -- is an eerie experience because you know you're walking in the footsteps of real people, not just names in a history book. The dead are always with us, if we can open our minds long enough to see and hear them. What we don't know for certain, our imaginations will supply.

Julia Buckley said...

I agree. I was at Arlington once, although I was only about eighteen. I'd like to go back and experience it again.

The castles in England sound wonderful! When were you there?

And how interesting that the title of your new book is Disturbing the Dead! Does it have some of these themes?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of beautiful old houses slowly dying in our area, and like you, I always wonder who built them, who lived there, and why were they left to decay when they could have been kept up but succeeding generations. Terrific post, Julia!

When I was at an author day hosted by Barnes and Noble in Evansville, Indiana last year, I bought a book by a guy who took pictures of many old, abandoned houses in that area. The pictures are facinating. A couple of the houses had antique wood burning stoves in the kitchens, probably worth a fortune and left there to rust away. He didn't give any locations so the houses wouldn't be further damaged.

Julia Buckley said...

It's definitely an interesting subject, isn't it? And Lonnie, one of my good college friends grew up in Evansville. Small world. (Of course, she pronounced it "Ivvinsveele.") :)