I've always been an archaeologist at heart, ever since I was a small child gleaning clues from old dump sites in the backwoods of Northern California. It's not surprising that when I went to college I chose Anthropology as my course of study. And it's equally unsurprising that I continue this obsession to this day, constantly wondering about the past as I peer at clues in the present.
This obsession comes to life most vividly when I explore forgotten residences. The personal touches that are left behind become vivid fodder for my mind's attempt to recreate the person(s) who once inhabited the space. What were they like? What interested them? What were their tragedies? What were their struggles and triumphs? Sure, entering a long-abandoned farmhouse isn't quite opening the door to King Tut's tomb, but there's still a rush of discovery that engulfs me and takes me back in time.
Few farmhouses have inspired my imagination like Lois' house, in a small town in Illinois, primarily because their was so much left behind, and the house remains in good enough shape that a friend of mine even attempted to inquire on how to purchase it and preserve it. They even were able to get the gravity powered toilets in working order when we were there, and we tidied up the place the way we thought Lois would like it.
Let me tell you all I know about Lois from the items left behind in this simple wooden two story house (accompanied by a search on Ancestry.Com):
- She was born around the turn of the century and died around 1997.
- She lived in this house all her life.
- Her farmer father built the house.
- She had a younger brother.
- Her father died young and her mother rented the farmland out for a living.
- She was an excellent student and went to college to become a teacher.
- Her brother died young in the 1950's.
- She continued to live with her mother until her mother's death in the early 1960's.
- She kept every condolence card, birthday card, Christmas card, etc. that she ever received.
- She was a snappy dresser who had a great love for hats and kept them in pristine shape in their boxes.
- She was a devoted member of her local church, which served as her primary social outlet.
- She loved to quilt and kept quilting patterns which she cut out of newspapers.
- She was a bit of a hoarder, keeping every magazine her father, mother, or her ever received.
- She was harassed in her later years by neighborhood children who would throw rocks at her door and windows.
- She played the piano and was a sentimentalist.
- She never married.
Of course, my mind takes these facts and runs with them, wondering for example if she was a lesbian and had no interest in getting married? Or if she was under the control of a smothering mother who wouldn't allow her to get married? Or if she was shy and didn't make the effort to meet any suitors? Sometimes it's easy to feel sorry for people who live so many years alone, but maybe she was perfectly happy this way? Maybe the simple joys of her hobbies and her church-life were enriching for her? I'd like to think so because I'd hate to see Lois sad. She's like family now.
Which reminds me: where were her family? There are living nieces and nephews in the area but they seem to care very little for their Aunt Lois. And I think that makes me saddest of all: to see all the things that meant so much to her left here in oblivion. I'd like to think Lois was happy to have us there for a bit, to appreciate the things that mattered to her.
And so here they are...