For a long time, I’ve driven past that house and thought how happy it looked. Isn’t it funny how you can look at a house and know that laughter rings within its walls?
But I could. The front yard was well manicured with maple trees that grew by leaps and bounds and a towering weeping willow. Children — a girl and a boy — often ran through the yard, giggling as their dog chased them, a black and white mix of something or the other. Sometimes the dad would ride across the lawn on his mower while a pretty blonde woman knelt on her knees and planted brightly colored begonias around the front steps.
I watched that house for a few years over the seasons that blew in or rained out. At Halloween, it was decorated with pumpkins, goblins and scarecrows. Thanksgiving brought a big wreath of orange, yellow and red flowers that graced the front door. Christmas was celebrated with rows of white lights that ran across the porch and a Leyland cyprus was decorated with green and red lights; pastel colored flags paid tribute to Easter and red, white and blue ones celebrated Independence Day.
Over the last few years, I have watched as the children grew and their toys changed from little red wagons and tricycles to go-karts and trampolines, while the father’s waistline grew to a slight paunch around his belt. I didn’t know them but in a strange way I did know them, and I often smiled at the scenes of everyday happiness that I saw for a few seconds as I passed by.
One day, when I drove by and glanced over at the house, it seemed to heave a heavy sigh of sadness. It sounds absurd but I heard it loudly. I looked at the house carefully, and while nothing looked different, nothing seemed to be the same, either. The shutters blinked with sadness where before they had twinkled with happiness.
For the next couple of weeks, I kept an eye on the house. As the grass started to grow higher and weeds spouted where flowers had once bloomed, I knew the home had lost its family. On the way to the post office one morning, I noticed a white sheet of paper taped on the beveled glass of the front door.
“You know, Dew,” I said to my little dachshund perched in the seat, watching steadily out the window. “I think we’ll stop and have a look around when we come back.”
So we did. The notice said bluntly: This house is now owned by Fannie Mae. Yet another foreclosure had stolen the laughter from bricks, drywall and shingles. Like a modern day Mrs. Kravitz (the nosy neighbor on "Bewitched"), I looked in the windows and imagined the children clanging down the stairs, pushing and fussing as children do. I pictured the mother at the stainless steel stove making spaghetti and I could hear the sounds of the father clanging around in the garage.
“How sad,” I mumbled as I left the pretty brick and concrete porch. I looked around the sad yard and wondered where they had gone and how they were surviving.
Were the parents now fighting and the children, so innocent in all of this, now crying themselves to sleep? Had the children been forced to change schools and leave their friends behind? Had they found a place to live that would allow the black and white dog or had they had to part with him?
There are children suffering out there in a way we overlook. These are children who aren’t physically abused or hungry. They have lost a sense of security and their laughter. They don’t understand and probably never will. Yet being locked out of a home of happiness will hang like a mist over their hearts.
May God have mercy on them.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Her columns appear Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/ronda. Sign up for her weeklty newsletter at www.rondarich.com.