This Old House

In a neighborhood close to ours, a once-grand house stands on a corner. At one point, someone cared a great deal for this home and invested many thousands of dollars into it. The evidence of the care and investment is everywhere.

There are five-foot-high brick walls around the yard with elaborate lamps on the tops of the wall’s columns. The wall encloses the back of the property, creating an area of almost completely privacy in the back.

There is an impressive addition to the back. It probably adds 50% more area to the house, not to mention more parking. One entire half of the addition is a sun room overlooking a pool.

Every time my wife and I walk by, we inevitably comment about how this was once the most envied house in the neighborhood. With a pool and expansive sun room, it was the house everyone in the neighborhood — adults and kids alike — coveted.

Yet time passed and age brought decay. Perhaps the owner himself was aging and no longer able to take care of the property. Perhaps he simply didn’t care. Perhaps he had financial difficulties that prevented the maintenance.

Now it’s condemned, and has been since 2004. A letter posted to a window states that the property is in violation of several sections of the International Property Maintenance Code:

  • Sanitation
  • Protective treatment
  • Roofs
  • Drainage
  • Windows
  • Pool

It is a house in such neglect that no individual could reasonably be expected to take fiscal responsibility for it; indeed, a LLC in Alabama now owns the property. Perhaps they’re hoping to flip it and make a profit: they paid less than seventy thousand for it.

Yet the neglect is so overwhelming that it’s hard to see how anyone could make a profit off the house: so many thousands required to make it habitable; making it attractive to potential buyers is another story altogether.

For instance, the backyard doesn’t exist. A previous owner covered the entire backyard with concrete, leaving a few circular planters to accommodate trees, shrubs, and flowers that have long since died.

During the Christmas Mass homily, the priest spoke of our hearts as houses. We have rooms for various people — friends and family — that we keep warm and inviting. The tack from there is somewhat obvious: “What about the room in our heart for Christ?” asked.

Perhaps if he knew about this house, the priest would have worked it into his homily. How many people spend thousands of dollars on things that they make room for in their hearts only to end up with a neglected, condemned soul? Perhaps he wouldn’t have made such an analogy: Dorian Gray somehow seems inappropriate for a Christmas Mass.

It has cause me to wonder about the state of my heart — or soul, though I’m uncomfortable with that word. Indeed, with that idea. I like to think of myself as relatively lacking in vanity about my appearance: I don’t care about the appearance of the car I drive; I don’t want a big house; having this or that emblem on my shirt means nothing to me. In that sense, then, I haven’t spent a fortune creating an appearance.

That all seems too simplistic, though.

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