Song of the Empty Houses


My cabin decked out for the Fourth of July

My cabin decked out for the Fourth of July

In the summer I live in Munds Park, a community eighteen miles south of Flagstaff.  The town goes from a population of 630 in the winter to about five thousand in the summertime.  I usually arrive in mid-May before most of the summer people. Little by little there are more people walking the quiet streets and eating at the two restaurants. The first real action is, of course, Memorial Day Weekend. As I walked my dogs, Sparky and Louie, I noticed which houses didn’t have occupants that weekend.

The biggest weekend of the year is July 4th, with the parade, carnival, and many activities at the RV center and the Pinewood Country Club. The town swells beyond recognition. There are no traffic lights, but there is a massive traffic jam after the parade. So what about the houses that remain empty?

I’ve spent six summers here, and some of the homes have never had anyone in them. What’s happened to their owners? Are they too ill or busy? It is common for people to buy a home here, spend a lot of time the first year or two, and then dread the slow drive home on Sundays. Why do they hang on to the houses?

I’m not referring to the houses that are for sale. I wonder about the ones that are just plain vacant. When I first bought a cabin here, most of the residents seemed to average 75 years old. I’ve noticed a reversal of this. Younger families are buying because it’s very affordable, thirty degrees cooler and two hours from Phoenix The housing market has rebounded elsewhere, but there’s a vast inventory here.

As I pass the empty houses at six in the morning, they look sad. They are never decked out patriotically for the 4th of July, like most of the occupied homes The scraggly rose bushes still produce flowers and the irises, daffodils and pokers still bloom. I enjoy them, but what about the people who planted them? Who pays for the pine needle cleanup? Who whacks the weeds? Is there a child’s teddy bear in one of the bedrooms, longing to be hugged? Are there warm memories fading with the years? Are owners of these houses boiling in Phoenix, aching to get up to the pines, but shackled there by work, duty, or obligations? Or did the owners die and the heirs don’t know or care about their places? I’ll bet every empty home has a story. Since I don’t know it, I’ll just have to make up my own.

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