An Empty House In the Neighborhood

Times are hard right now. This fact was brought home to me with an unexpected shock, as I went walking though our safe and happy little country neighborhood, in the mountains.

Our neighbors are 'just there'. We take them for granted as if they are part of the backdrop of our lives. Everyday I drive past the house on the corner and I always feel good about the single father whose kids once played in the treehouse out back. Yesterday I noticed that it was completely empty. How could a place with so much life be cleared out without a word of warning? No dogs, no band practice at night, no cars with teenagers coming and going, anymore. I felt a sense of loss, and bewilderment, to suddenly know that I knew so little about them.

The landlord drove up and told me that the place was for rent. He'd evicted the family after they'd lived there for 10 years. Times are hard right now. The guy who lived there was always friendly. He did odd jobs and hadn't had enough work to pay rent that month. Now he's gone to the big city where jobs might be easier to find. His kids are all scattered staying temporarily in different places. A family broken and displaced. How could this happen and no one even knew? I need help with a huge yard project. If only I could turn back time and go ask him to take the job. If only he'd told some of us that he needed work.

That evening I walked over to look inside the rental house. It felt like I was peering into the very life of the family who had moved. Drawings on the bedroom wall, by the kids. A yard tended with love over time (he was always making some new improvement out back). They often had parties and visitors. It was teeming with life. The empty rooms still seemed to cry out for their occupants, bereft of the furnishings, CD players, tools and toys. Naked in the sudden emptiness.

The lights were not on as they usually were, in the pre-dusk of a fall evening. Dark silence brooded in the tiny kitchen. Why had we not gotten to know each other in all those years? Our dogs would always bark at each other. They had 2 very spirited canines--neighborhood sentries. Each day the boys would walk the dogs past our house and take them up to the greenbelt. We would wave at each other. Now I know it wasn't enough. I walked over to the side yard where there was a little lean-to with a double-canvas flap that was pulled open. Peeking inside, I saw something that broke my heart. There had been little sign of life around the place--they had taken everything with them. But here, inside this sturdy little shelter were 2 little dog houses, each one had its well-used blanket inside the opening of the little cozy compartments. Side by side they sat there, still filled with the scent of their recent occupants and who knows where the dogs had been sent... It made me feel so, so sad. They were waiting here but the dogs would never be coming back.

Times are hard right now. One family's security, familiarity, and personal history has been shattered. I feel helpless, grateful for what I have, and utterly broken-hearted. Suddenly I feel a loneliness that I never felt before in the neighborhood.

swanfether swanfether 61-65, F 80 Responses Oct 14, 2008

Your Response


Dear Swatfether,

You sort of reminded us again that we are no longer living a human life. Humans used to be different. We are their remains; creepy zombies who don't dare to look around, who fear to say 'Hi' to even known faces lest they ask for favors.

And most of us have been rendered so terribly helpless by the ever slumping economy; what happened to your neighborhood guy could happen to anyone of us. Not all of us have a privileged life to face a challenge with nonchalance. Not all of us have the legacy of riches.

I pray to God that your lost neighbor learns to muster the courage to face the situation, starts everything allover again and be successful in putting together his family. I pray to God that nothing wrong happens to his kids. And I thank God that people like you still exist on this begrimed world.

Thanks enough for writing this. You look like one of the few who survived the holocaust called modernism.

wow, who knew that this mans sad story would touch so many peoples hearts? and maybe even make a difference somewhere..

Heart wrenching!

For those who are not in Australia we now have a national day called "RUOK" translated means ARE YOU OK! it is a day where people are encouraged to just ask friends, neighbors, workmates even those you may meet throughout the day ARE YOU OK...............

I think it a great concept and hopefully people will be brave enough to say NO if they are not ok!

My heart goes out to those who never say or are never asked and slide quietly into oblivion un-interupted. so sad.

That's so sad. It reminds me of the poem "The House with Nobody in It" by Joyce Kilmer.

I am a land lord and capitalist. In situations like this I allow my tenants to stay without paying rent until they get back on their feet. When I can, I drop off groceries. I do this, not because I am a nice guy, but because I am a capitalist. Let me explain: 1) "What goes around comes around" - this is the real law, and it has saved me and prospered me. 2) Financially I am better off riding it out with the tenant. I only have 3 months during the summer to rent the house out; after that my chances of renting the house are slim. In this economy my chances of renting to a good paying tenant are slim. If the house is empty, I have to paint it, steam clean rugs, maintain the front and back yard, make repairs, clean, etc., to get it ready for the next tenant, and this takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. Also, a vacant house invites vandals. Then there is the meth lab problem, which could wipe me out. However, the real money is in the appreciation of the property; it's like magic. I get rich off of inflation over the cycle, and it's better than bonds or stocks (which I also have).

Interesting dilemmas... Thanks for your thoughtful and sincere comments!

There is no reason we SHOULD HAVE TO be friendly, or involved if we choose not to do so, and it seems to be true that in general folks tend to keep to themselves. Neighbors are 'strangers' until we bother to get to know them. We are 'a stranger' to others as long as they don't consider us as anything more than 'extras in their own movie'.

...and yet, that word "neighborly" seems to suggest that there are benefits 'over there' if we just take a little more care to bridge the distance. Maybe it needs to start as a question inside our own heart...

and any needs to mean that we remain open to whatever honestly arises in response. Its gotta be okay to have a 'yes' or a 'no'.

After all, there isn't necessarily any inherent mandate saying 'neighbors should or shouldn't be any particular way'. I guess its up to each one of us to decide what matters to us and take it from there...

just musing out loud...

I tried to reach out to my neighbors, organized a group for our neighborhood, scheduled monthly meet ups in the park, very few people came to them. How can you befriend people who do not want to be friends?

Thank you for your insightful comment, Frito. It is interesting, as you put it: 'we see but we don't see everything...we think we know but we often know little...' so true!

What an incredible and poignant that each one of us could find ourselves living...that we see but we don't see everything...that we think we know but we often know little....this story will take time for me to digest...thank you so much.

Rimmerman, I totally agree with you about this tragic situation. It is extremely sad and frustrating. When things are about as bad as they can be--no one is 'home' to come and help. I can't even imagine what this has felt like to everyone who lost their loved ones, their homes and their entire neighborhoods.

Very sobering indeed. It was a very stark reminder that reaching out before we regret that we didn't, may end up saving someone's family from hardship and grief.

Greg writes: "...These days with jobs and the economy as it is, think of the networking, if nothing else. You might meet someone who has a job FOR you or discover a new EMPLOYEE for your own company...or get a name of a great auto mechanic. The possibilities are endless..."

Good point... we never know what might be possible...

Funny thing was SO EASY to do. It surprised me how easily people jumped on the bandwagon to help. Don't think you are the only one who wants to know their neighbors better...others feel that exact same way and the party was THE PERFECT EXCUSE to get to know everyone. Just knock on ONE DOOR...try it, everyone. It was 25% as difficult as I expected...virtually had to do nothing but jot down who was bringing what type of dish to share, so we'd be sure to have chips/dip, fresh fruits, drinks, cups/dishes, etc. for everyone. Except for making that simple list, I did virtually nothing but tell people to come...and to invite their extended families as well. Good luck to anyone who tries will be glad that you did. These days with jobs and the economy as it is, think of the networking, if nothing else. You might meet someone who has a job FOR you or discover a new EMPLOYEE for your own company...or get a name of a great auto mechanic. The possibilities are endless.

Wow Greg, your community block party sounds fantastic. And to think it all started with a simple idea and one person reaching out to another! Your example is excellent. How different our neighborhoods might be if we did this once a year!

SF is so right about what she said...and I know many others are thinking the very same thing, supported by all the similar comments.

I will share this for everyone reading this thread. When I purchased my 2nd home back in the 80's, I had an uncomfortable feeling about moving into a new neighborhood, not knowing anyone and living the generally "modern busy life" these days of "recognizing your neighbor if you see them and maybe even waving to them...but you have never actually MET THEM and talked, except for that passing wave or HELLO at the mailbox, etc."

So a month or so after moving in, I thought of a great way to get to know everyone in a non-threatening manner. I did have a couple of advantages on my side:

1) It was a new development so NO ONE knew their neighbors any better than I did, and

2) We lived on a cul-de-sac, which made my idea particularly practical to play out. But this just made it really can do it on ANY STREET!

I went to the one neighbor with whom I'd at least chatted briefly (the usual HELLO, etc.) and I suggested to him that we have a BLOCK PARTY. We're all new here, no one knows each other...we're all in the same boat. If for no other reason, wouldn't it be handy to KNOW EVERYONE so if one of us is out of town, we can each be watching for people who do not belong there? So we picked a weekend day that was several weeks away and each of us knocked on half the doors on the street, making sure that date worked for everyone. It was pot-luck. Everyone was to bring out their BBQ grills into the street/sidewalk so we could grill hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks...WHATEVER YOUR FAMILY WANTS....BRING IT WITH YOU! Plus, bring one other dish to share with everyone else and bring enough of it to feed "X" number of people (the total estimated number of guests).

You would be surprised at the cooperation we received. I was stunned...people volunteering to bring additional things, inviting their own families, etc. For just 8 houses on that street, we had something like 50 - 60 people at the party. One neighbor arranged for music, another for games for the kids, etc. We even blocked off the was a cul-de-sac, so there is no place to drive anyway...and besides, since we were all invited to the party, who was going to file a complaint...some random drive-by person?

Try this in your's the perfect time of year for northern hemisphere people to do's spring/summer. The event went of SO WELL that it became an ANNUAL EVENT for the next SIXTEEN years that I lived there. People would ASK, "When are we holding this year's block party?" Great friends, great times...and a neighborhood where you know not only your neighbors...but also their families and others who might be stopping by when one of us would be out of town on vacation. We never had a robbery or any other issue there during the 16 years I lived there, partially due (I think) to all of us being able to recognize strangers immediately, since we all knew each other quite well.

Try will be surprised at how well received this thought will be...because as you have read herein from others, many of us are thinking the very same thing...."I'd like to get to know my neighbors...maybe tomorrow..." But that never happens. This is a perfect excuse. You will probably be surprised at how great it is to finally KNOW the nice folks who live right down the street. Good luck!

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Lonelyontheeastcoast. I can see that you were deeply affected by that experience of losing your house. It is sad that the owner was not able to realize how much your sense of belonging was tied up in this being HOME. I really loved the poem by Kilmer. Thank you so much for telling me about it. What a similar feeling it had to this empty house experience!

PS Read Joyce Kilmer's poem,

"The House With Nobody In It". You will flip out when you do.

You could actually find out his name and send him a letter c/o the address in his 'old' house. That is if he put in a change of address. It will be forwarded to him. It would be great if he could get the house back. If people could have a fundraiser and pay what he owes. But could he afford it again? I was put out of my house when I was a teen. We had a month to move from what was my home. I had grown up there, in my teen years. I was heartbroken and devasted, still am. The owner had a relative who needed a place to live and gave us, great tenants...always on time with the rent, quiet...a month to move. It was our home, our lives. I am still sad today and have had dreams about the house for 40 years. The break up of my home was devastating. It is very sad about the dog blankets. Take them and wash them and give them to a shelter in honor of the dogs. I think that will be OK and not "stealing" in the bad sence of the word. The owner will just throw them out. Contact the man by mail, see if you can be a blessing to his family. Find out what happened to the dogs. I feel sorry for them. I am distressed by this story. It is hurting me too and I don't even know where this has taken place. God bless you for your kindness. I am so sorry this has hurt you. It is a sad, painful story. All of it. Pray and see if any good can come from this. You may be able to help as an angel. You might be an "angel unaware" that the Bible talks about. That people have been entertained by angels and didn't know the people were angels. God uses every day people to do his bidding. Be an angel. Even if to the dogs. Find out what happened. God bless them..and you. XO

Hi elemental, I think I'd be willing to find a better neighborhood too, given what sort of situations exist! You tried. That's all you can do--and in fact, even though you may never see it, its possible that your act of kindness in reaching out might have touched their hearts in ways that even they don't fully recognize. I really don't think any act of kindness ever gets lost in the universe! Keep on being warm and friendly for you are the one who benefits most!

The story is truly a sad one and the responses of people here is great. I to have thought about doing something like getting out and about chatting and meeting my neighbours. Sad thing is the people behind are hardly ever home we have tried chatting to them in a friendly way however they keep saying they dont have the time. The older gentleman on one side of us spends some time in hospital or at his sons or asleep during the day and looks like awake at night. We have been over to introduce ourselves he just tells everyone to go away. This is sad, then our other neighbour spends alot of his time yelling at his wife or dogs we have tried to say hello how are you offer hand out for friendship and being a good neghbour however I think my neghbourhood is just so distrustful of many people they are possible to scared to talk to anyone anymore. we are looking at moving to another area as it is a little sad and depressing at times.

Thank you, Choxie, I'm very glad to hear that you were able to find personal value in this story. Its interesting how this family will never know all those whose lives have been touched by their story. But more importantly in your case, is the fact that you have gained some perspective from it. I wish you and your family all the best.

Tangled, I so strongly relate to what you are saying about the dogs. Our animal friends are dependent on us in many ways. It is a significant opportunity for us and we don't always live up to what that responsibility asks of us. I also wonder about what happened for them. I know so many people who have pets that were abandoned and rescued. My own dog taught me so much about the potential for our species to connect on a deep and meaningful level. I feel a kindredship with animals now which I never knew before. Thanks for raising such an important topic!

I really appreciate these recent comments--such wonderful reminders of the misfortune that can touch any one of us at any time.

xxhoney, I am very sorry to hear about the foreclosure. It must be a very insecure time. I certainly hope that you are able to find another situation that works out and that somehow a doorway opens for you. You say, "We as a people have to realize that living and loving each other is bigger than ourselfves.." YES, I think this is the deeper lesson of our time right now. May we all learn it! I wish the best for you...

TouchMeNot, Your move touches my heart because I too live in the country and our dog is buried out front under the apple tree where he liked to lay in the shade. It must be hard to get used to a new environment like that. I hope you can find some parks or greenbelts where you can roam away from the hectic city pace.

Xoebear, Thanks for the support. It was difficult for me as I listened to the landlord explain his reasons and like you, I felt strongly that the action appeared to be a bit heartless. But then, I am looking at it without the same perspective he had. It is truly hard when I find others doing something so very different from how I would do it. Its interesting how dissimilar our outlooks can be.

jasminefire, I appreciate your caring insight. It is so true that "...not everyone speaks up when they're in trouble" and that too often, others never even consider that there might be others who care or who would be eager to help if they only knew what was going on.

I think that the response each of you have made only deepens my conviction that we NEED TO BE MORE COMMUNITY ORIENTED !! We need to come together and be more aware of one another. I hope that this can begin to happen more...

That's very sad. But what a great story. It's a reminder that we need to be there for the people around us more often. A reminder that we should always check that friends etc are okay, because not everyone speaks up when they're in trouble, not knowing that there's someone who cares enough to help.

You seem like a very caring person.

That's disgusting, I would kick that landlord SO hard up his/her ***..... >8'C

I'm homesick too. I had to leave my little country cottage to move to the big city with my husband. My dog lived and died in my house and I buried my little fellow in my back garden. I wish I could go home to my little house but I can't. My husband bought a big fancy house in the city. It's scary here and though the folks around here seem decent. They aren't the country folks I know.

Yes!! everywhere you look people are losing their homes,I too lost mine and is going through foreclousre right now.most people don't care about their neighbors because they are too busy fighting for themselves,and it's not until something goes bad that everyonr says"I wish I got to know her/him/them".and it's sad it's not like how it use to be when neighbors knew and care for each other.and for those of you out there that do I say thank you.We as a people have to realized that living and loving each other is bigger than ourselfves. I too fell hopeless.

Hello Diamond,

Your story really touches me. It paints a very clear picture of how an entire life can be affected across the span of time and place. How the things we once depended upon, change in ways that change us. Most of all, I resonate with the part nature played in your childhood and I feel a deep sadness that such a wild freedom rarely exists in our lives--and the lives of our children--in most places now.

I am also fascinated by your comment about "...losing out on the memories they might have experienced..." This idea captures something I've always felt--that precious opportunities have been created by this planet, which is our home. And that disruption (in the name of progress) has too often, and too rapidly, bulldozed such potential right out of existence.

You write, "...We played together, fought together, went to school together ...The memories I have of that neighborhood are strong ones. I remember walking to school down a path that is now a 4 lane road, the woods my friends and I used to play in is now a paved parking lot for a bowling alley. The store we used to buy soda and chips for less than a dollar as long since closed. Few of the neighbors who were there when I did are still living....Changes happen in little places, like my neighborhood and in huge places like big cities, but everyone is effected in one way or another...People are losing their jobs, their homes and their way of life....which means they are losing out on the memories they might have experienced. Things need to change ...and everyone needs to lend a hand in some way."

I too remember exploring vacant lots, crossing wooden bridges with the other kids in our neighborhood, walking home from school, riding bikes all summer and spending hours alone outdoors in the safe backdrop of a rich, wild, fragrance-filled wonderland that was largely undeveloped.

Like you the valley where I grew up has traded its orange groves, roadside vegetable stands, and tree-lined neighborhoods for concrete, traffic and smog. Our entire community has been replaced by housing projects with overcrowded poverty, where wrought-iron bars barricade the doors and windows. There is no trace of the simple promise we once counted upon.

A wonderful book called "Last Child in the Woods", addresses these problems of "Nature Deficit Disorder" now faced by young people in our cities.

I agree that we all need to "lend a hand in some way" and my sense is that if we don't figure this our on our own, then circumstances will force our hand in the matter--and in fact, I feel that this is part of the opportunity hidden within the current crisis we are all facing now.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Diamond.

I remember when I was a little girl, my family moved from Ohio to Florida so my Dad could take a better paying job. We moved into a new home in a well established neighborhood. Withhin a couple days, I had met most of the kids on my street. We played together, fought together, went to school together. All of us were close to the same age. A few years later, the people next door got divorced, selling thier home in the process. These were people who had welcomed my parents to the block and seemed to have a regular life. I had never known anyone who had divorced parents, and when they moved away, it was so strange. Our group was changing. Several other parents separated or families moved away over the years after that, including me when I turned 18. Both my parents had passed a short time before that. I did visit the house from time to time, as my older brother was lived there briefly. As more time went by, I went there less and less, having gotten married and had begun raising my own family. The house I grew up in had become someone elses' home when my brother sold it. The memories I have of that neighborhood are strong ones. I remember walking to school down a path that is now a 4 lane road, the woods my friends and I used to play in is now a paved parking lot for a bowling alley. The store we used to buy soda and chips for less than a dollar as long since closed. Few of the neighbors who were there when I did are still living. Only one girl I knew inherited her parents home and still lives there as far as I know. Changes happen in little places, like my neighborhood and in huge places like big cities, but everyone is effected in one way or another. In the area I live in, you cannot drive down a street without seeing for sale signs in yards. People are losing thier jobs, thier homes and thier way of life....which means they are losing out on the memories they might have experienced. This isn't isolated incidents, it is happening all over the country. Most people do not ask for these things to happen to them, still does. Things need to change in this country and everyone needs to lend a hand in some way.

Hi Roveache" I totally agree with you that we don't get what we "deserve".

You say, "...The truth is, this can happen to ANYONE, given the right combination of circumstances. We need to start living as a community again, and stop this pursuit of personal wealth (as if money is REALLY "yours")."

This is so true. I also dream of the community as a way of doing it differently. Good point about money. We DO fall for a lot of illusory ideas, forgetting that they are not 'real' but really quite 'virtual'!

Bananafone, I am sad to hear that you had to leave your home that you all loved, in order to make ends meet. And as Roveache says, this can happen to any of us.

When I wrote this story it was before the economy tanked in America (where I live). Now it seems naive of me to have imagined that this family's plight was unique. It is becoming far too frequent and it is really unsettling to see the way things are coming unraveled. I wish you well in your journey.

I wish us all well...