A Better House
The houses in his dream were imaginary. Plausible, but imaginary. In a better world, they would have been built.
He had dreamed his father and uncle had houses side by side, on his grandfather’s farm place. His uncle really did have a house there, by a driveway lined with boxelder, cottonwood, ash, and elm trees, but his family lived on a different farm place two hours away.
The reason for that was pretty simple. His dad and his granddad didn’t get along. At least not in proximity.
What kind of houses were they? He couldn’t remember. He had enough trouble remembering the thousands of houses he’d seen as a mailman. He didn’t remember much about houses.
Trees were another matter. Sugar maples and red maples, so incredible in the fall, and oaks of all sorts; white, southern red, willow, black, scarlet, pin, post, blackjack; and hickories, sourwood, beech, gum, dogwood, yellow poplar. My God!, he felt like crying out, you do good work! Amazing work!
And birds–mockingbirds cursing or singing opera, vivid Johnny one note cardinals (though their songs really had more than one note– ”what cheer” is one of the songs his mother remembered from Wisconsin), brown thrashers, flickers, song sparrows, Carolina and House wrens, towhees; catbirds and goldfinches in the summer; chickadees and juncos and nuthatches and white-throated sparrows in the winter.
But Colonial or Cape Cod or this-or-that or whatever? That was no big deal.
Though he knew a well-loved house when he saw it, and a neglected one–the kind where cockroaches crawl through the kitchen, where old people sleep on mattresses on floors, where some folks don’t think about a honey-do list, just the next hit or fifth-rate rendezvous.
But back to the houses in his dream, that is–did they get much attention?
Hard to tell. That was a different time. You didn’t have money to put on vinyl siding, reshingle the roof, install new Anderson thermal pane windows. You were doing well to prevent a glass of January water from freezing in the upstairs bedroom, to keep the Production Credit Association goblins driving down county road A to a different place.
But there was something else about that dream–he couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe if he’d written it down…
(There is a country to which we travel when we dream. It’s not the one we live in, and it reminds us of yet another–the one that calls our name in a harvest moon, Indian summer milkweed, a throng of singing trees and feathered birds on a mail route. We do not know this country. How is it that this country knows us?)
But the dream–what was it? Maybe something about his grandfather. Something about his aching heart when his oldest son had to move away. Or the oldest son’s twisted gut when his father died. Or his own bloodied soul after his father and uncle drove the Piper Cub nose-first into a soybean field.
(There was another man with a broken heart. He poured it out; we heckled.)
His uncle and his father, in houses sided by side. Was he pulling them out of that two-seater Piper Cub, out of their shared plot by the line of dying spruce in the Harrison Township Cemetery?
Or any two people, conjoined, in life or death, by grief, by suffering–was this dream about them?
There had been a woman on his first mail route, a scoliotic, burdened woman with a senile and dying husband. Betty and Clarence Everhart. He remembered visiting Clarence in a nursing home, Clarence writhing in agony, remembered reading him psalms in the hospital while the man was struggling against the marauding final flood.
He remembered attending Clarence’s funeral, Betty and the preacher the only two other people there, on a bitter, windy thirty-some degree day.
And then he remembered Betty, widowed, compulsive, existing in a ramshackle millhouse piled high with plastic Santa Clauses, washing her hands over and over with scalding water till they were red, dog and cat imprisoned, by her fear, in fecal squalor; speaking of the daughter, their only, that she and Clarence had lost forty-one years prior. Was this dream about the three of them? In a better house?
He didn’t know. It was a crappy universe. Bad things happened. To bad people. Nobody not in that category. And yet, in the strangest of places, the love of God flowing down, flowing fiercely, flowing freely.
From women ministering to alcoholics in the streets. From churches fixing meals at the homeless shelter. From a neighbor helping another neighbor mow his lawn.
How could God care about this broken world? Well, he did. Cared a lot about it. You’d almost think he’d made it or something.
But back to those houses. He guessed they were in that other country. The one that called to you from the harvest moon, the Indian summer milkweed.
When will we find that country, anyway?
Charles Eggerth is a 68, retired mail carrier who is working for Jesus. The highlight of his existence is volunteer work with an organization in Winston-Salem called City Lights Ministry, whose goal is to get Jesus into the neighborhood by whatever means necessary. He participates every Tuesday afternoon by assembling beds in apartments for kids, the majority of whom have never slept in a bed before.
Image taken from Flickr.com, public domain.