The empty house

Every time I walk past Ralph’s house, I feel a moment of silence settle upon me even if I’m with someone else.

Every time I work in my garden or sit on my deck, and glance across the road, I see his forlorn little mobile home and think of the man I never got to know.

When I first moved into this park, and was learning about my neighbors, I was told Ralph was “a bit odd.”

“He doesn’t talk to anyone,” someone said.

“He’s practically a recluse,” another told me.

I was immediately intrigued. Surely, I thought, since we’re such near neighbors, we could become at least speaking acquaintances.  A nod, a wave, a casual “good morning” as I walked the dog. I saw he grew tomatoes in big planters on his deck. Maybe we could talk about gardening.

It never happened. If he mowed his lawn, it was when I wasn’t looking. His trips to the grocery store ended with a quick scuttle back into the house. He didn’t sit on his deck, or stroll through the neighborhood. I never even saw him at the community mail box. The one time I said hello, he didn’t answer.

Then last July I saw the ambulance at his house. It left quietly, no sirens blaring, on its way to the hospital. I waited and watched, but there were no signs of Ralph’s returning home, so I finally called the park owner.

“He died,” she said. “A few days after he was taken in, he died.” She thought maybe it was a stroke.

I looked across the street and thought it poignant that his car sat there in the drive from when he last drove it home. He got out, went in the house, and didn’t know that he wouldn’t take it anywhere again. I wondered if anyone mourned this man that no one seemed to know.

I learned Ralph’s last name and looked up his obit in the newspaper. He was 81, it said, and was born in Milwaukee. He’d never been married. He had a sister and a nephew. He served two years in the Army back in the ‘50s. He loved automobile mechanics and electronics and was known for taking engines apart and putting them back together. He also had an interest in healthy living and taking nutritional supplements.

And that was it. No reason given for his move up here, no connection listed with anyone who lives here. There was no public funeral.

A short time after his death and burial, some people–his relatives, I presume–showed up and prowled through the house for a couple days, looking for something worth keeping, I suppose. Plastic bags were set out for the garbage collection. The people haven’t returned.

So, there sit his house and his car, which now has two flat tires. Our park owner can’t get a response from the relatives, and can’t do anything with the property until she does. I’d like to think Ralph wouldn’t mind knowing that I helped myself to the big planters on his deck and am growing herbs in them.

I walk past his house several times a day and can’t help but feel sad for the man who was my anonymous neighbor. The windows stare back at me blankly, and I can hear the stillness even in the midst of other neighborhood sounds.

Rest in peace, Ralph. I didn’t know you in life, but I pray for you in death.

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About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
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2 Responses to The empty house

  1. Tammy Drombolis says:

    Oh Monica this is so beautiful and moving and really really speaks to me about you and the kind of thoughtful caring person I know you to be. This is a very lovely tip of the hat to a solitary man. xo Tammy

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