Steppin’ out

“I left my home on the rural route
Told my Pa I was steppin’ out.”

— Hank Williams

Up on the mountain the sounds and silences around me were different than here in Webster. Cows bellowed in the pasture, and owls screeched. Crickets put up a racket. And the sounds of weather were more ominous.

It’s been 20 years since I heard a car pass by my house. Now, in the mornings and evenings, cars pass by so often their sounds run together. Pappaw used to say that if he could see the smoke from another man’s chimney then things were getting too crowded. In Webster, I can look across the street and see Raymond reading his evening paper.

People come in the post office and say: “We saw your light on last night (or this morning). It looks so homey.”

If they only knew. The first night here the sounds of the street distracted me, but the presence of an old house given up for dead enveloped me and rocked me to sleep.

The house likes to have a light on in the window. It likes to feel the bass notes vibrate across the floor. It tingles when Chester and Max bound up the stairs, and it sighs when I switch the coffee pot on. The house is not haunted but it talks to me. It asks: “What do you have in store for me? Where will that light go? How will you finish my crooked corners?”

When I first started working on the house I worried about making everything square and plumb. Ike said, “Stop it—all the sigogglin’ adds character.” Ike is usually right, so I stopped worrying about making a magazine layout and started building home. The house liked that and asked, “Can we leave the doors open?”

So we leave the doors open and people come and inspect. They lean over the fence to talk. I’m kind of a private man, but the house likes all the attention—and who cares if people get to see how the postmaster lives? At least he lives.

The house was so anxious to start living again that early on it kept asking, “When can we start living together?”

I said: “Soon. But first let’s finish the wiring and the insulation and…”

But the house said: “Now. I want to feel feet on my floors again.”

“No,” I said. “The dogs need time to adjust; it will be hard for them to come down off the mountain and live in this little yard.”

Sarah said, “I’m fine,” as she picked up a two-by-four and sauntered outside.

Max said: “Count me in. Do you know how many women walk by here every day and stop because a three-legged dog is ‘just so cute’—man, I’m a chick magnet.”

Chester already figured his destiny was to run for mayor of Webster. That left it to Ike, who promptly found a warm spot in the sun, lay down and yawned, “Naps are good.”

This house has been calling me for at least five years. Maybe I’m imagining things, but I remember dreaming about this house when I was a little boy. I saw it with the picket fence and the holly trees in the front yard. I saw Raymond reading his paper, and I saw Joe letting himself in to inspect the newest progress. I saw folks leaning over the fence to ask directions or talk about the weather. I saw all of this in a dream.

When I built the house on the mountain, I stood one day and said, “This is where I’ll die.” When the idea formed in my head last February that I would buy this 120-year-old wreck, I said, “This is where I’ll live.”

The rhythms of this house are the syncopations of a hammer and the melody of a saw. They are the rhythms of time being remembered, of age and utility being honored. The rhythms of this house are feet on the floors, music in the air, doors open with hopeful welcome and the sounds of life. They are the rhythms of a man who is exactly where he’s supposed to be just exactly when he is supposed to be there.

[Mark Jamison tends the mail and the people of Webster as postmaster.]


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