As we travel about the Italian countryside, old abandoned houses like this are a sight we often see. And they never fail to fill my heart with sadness. A sort of longing for what must have been. I picture cozy families gathered around the hearth. Children playing in the garden. And entire families gathering grapes from once-flourishing vineyards.
But now they stand, dilapidated, mute testimonies of what once was. Peering down, from their lonely vacant windows, on lonely hillsides or sleepy towns. As their paint, like tears coursing down weathered cheeks, slowly peels away.
Just up our street stands another old and abandoned, though much smaller, house.
The tiny place where our neighbor was born and grew up in her family of 10. She could really teach the Tiny House Movement a thing or two! But that’s a story for another time.
We love this neighbor, whom we call Zia Ester. She has so much love to give, and much wisdom to share. And we could listen to her stories for hours on end.
It’s the story which the walls of the homes they’ve lived in would tell, could they talk.
Elderly now, I sometimes wonder what she thinks when she looks back on their many years of hard work. On their life of sacrifice and hard times. They married in the post-war years of the early 1950s. Hard years for Europe. But then, in the agricultural south things had always been hard. Subsistence farming doesn’t make for an easy life.
But the two great wars left a mass of destruction, poverty, and hunger in their wake. And Zia Ester had lived it all.
Zio Eduardo trudged 28 miles (45 km) one-way to toil in fields under the hot sun. Until finally, an opening came in the coal mines of France. Dangerous dirty work, that no one in their right mind wanted to do. But the pay was better, and with eight hungry people to feed and clothe, they couldn’t afford to pick and choose.
And Zia Ester was left to make the daily trek to work the tobacco fields closer to home. And care for six children on her own.
“We only bought this place about 20 years ago,” the Zia told us. “And it took a lot of sacrifice.”
A lot of sacrifice. And a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears. And that’s what I think about when I see the old and abandoned houses.
Homes are expensive. We build them or fix them up with care. All that care and all that sacrifice. Just to remain standing there, old and abandoned. But with a story to tell — if it but had the mouth to tell it.
What details, I wonder, would Zia Ester’s have to tell? Knowing the characters, I can guess at some of it. Tales of rejoicing over grandchildren coming. Tears over reports of cancer and other ills. Sleepless nights wondering how they would pay for everything.
But all the while, happy to have a home of their own. A place to grow old in. A place to rest weary bones.
And what story would your house tell, long after you’re gone?
Ours would tell the joy of a middle-aged couple who thought they’d never have a place of their own. The delight of fixing up each room. Long afternoons on the veranda. Sleepless nights of sickness. Worry mixed with joy.
But I hope it would mostly be a story ringing with love and laughter. The peace of God’s love. And the joy of lives well-lived between its walls.
Because really, if walls could talk, they would only resound the story of the lives lived in them.
If your walls could talk, what story would they tell about you?