The house with a broken heart

March 15, 2014

Recently, after an absence of many years, I took a trip up to central Ohio looking for the farm where I spent a happy year of my boyhood. We were not farmers, our family of five. My father made his living – and ours – as a track maintenance worker on the C&O line, and he had rented the big two-story farmhouse because it was close-by his work.

But it was a working farm. There was a barn where the man who owned the place kept his farm implements. Crop fields stretched off into the distance behind the house, separated now and then by stretches of thick woods.

In the fall we supplemented the family larder with rabbits and bobwhite quail, which were plentiful. A couple of Mom’s brothers came up from Kentucky to stay a few days and enjoy the hunts and the rabbits they took back home.

I remember that house as a comforting place that embraced our family with love, thanks to my mother’s touch. The landowner took great pride in keeping the barn and the equipment and fields neat and functional.

On this nostalgic trip of recent times, I found the highway that led out of town and past the farm. I passed it once, thinking that surely couldn’t be the place. I turned around, came back, stopped, and pulled into the drive leading up to the house. I could hardly believe that this was the place I remembered so fondly.


The roof sagged. Weeds grew up through broken window panes. Part of the porch floor, where the “welcome” mat had lain, had fallen through.

A tractor and a hay baler sat rusting by the dilapidated barn. The tin roof had been rolled back by wind, boards were missing from its sides, and the whole structure seemed to lean a bit to the right.

Apparently the older generation had moved to Heaven; the younger generation to town.

As I stood and looked one last time at that forlorn farmhouse, I thought of a poem I had been reading as I sat at the hearth of my own home. “A House with Nobody in It” was written by Joyce Kilmer about a house he passed on a road through the countryside. Part of it reads:

“Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track

I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.

I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute

And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

“…a house that has done what a house should do, a house that has sheltered life,

That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,

A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,

Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

“So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track

I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back.

Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,

For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.”

G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.