There was a time where I would visit my father in the summer in a home that was surrounded by cornfields.
The house was old and rickety and it gave me creeps.
Choked with weeds and garbage, it reeked of poverty and in turn, a kid of social death I didn’t even want to fathom. He’d try in vain to invite kids from neighboring farms to visit but no one wanted to send their kids to his house. Who could blame them – the fear their child might get lost in a maze of abandoned appliances or somehow, worse, be murdered by the uneducated hoarder down the dusty road.
But he wasn’t a bad man. No matter how many teeth he’d let rot out of his face or how much he drank, he was a good man at heart.
A garbage man since he was sixteen when he dropped out of school, my father was not the most popular man in town. A recluse, wanting nothing more than to be left alone, he stuck his neck out to invite people over for me.
I didn’t get that until I was an adult.
The house, a faded yellow, nearly the color of the dead grass loomed strangely, crooked in its disrepair but not as large as it once had. The old man had never fixed anything inside or out. Feral cats used a broken basement window as their own gateway to the indoors, living in the lap of barn cat luxury. A dirt cellar I knew, with nothing but more garbage and castoffs he’d picked up at work.
“Got you this,” he’d say when I showed up that first day of summer. An old rusty bike that didn’t work or, as I got older, a weight bench with no weights.
Junk to my eyes.
Treasure to his.
Dozens of cars in desperate need of pulverizing stood sentry, waiting for the next king of the castle. They’d been there for years, waiting for whatever project he’d set them aside for. Certainly, none of them would ever run again. One of them had neither a hood nor an engine.
I used to wonder why my mom would ever let me stay here. Cursed her in fact, on more than one occasion. We didn’t live too far away and we certainly weren’t much farther up the economic food chain, but it wasn’t this.
When I was in the fifth grade I remember learning the word squalor in school and I thought, that’s where my father lives. In that house surrounded by cornfields. In squalor.
By the time I’d grown, I stopped visiting. It was too dirty and far too depressing to see a man dying a slow death in a filth he held dear.
More dear than he held me by far.
They were just things. Broken things that he loved.
I got the call that he’d passed while I was at work and I wasn’t sure how to react. We’d spoken just a few months before and he’d sounded old. He’d always been old. As long as I could remember he seemed old and weathered.
He’d been dead for at least a month, they told me. Natural causes as far as they could tell but he sat there, in that maze of relics, waiting to be found.
They condemned the house. In would be uninhabitable for all time. A complete tear down.
I was not surprised.
That house, hidden in the midst of the cornfields, would be no more.