What Makes A House A Home?

Sitting in traffic on a well-traveled road in Wheeling, my eyes wandered to the hillside, a place I have passed by thousands of times. Only this time, my eyes fell upon a ramshackle house situated on that steep slope. Its roof was pitched on either side but sunk in the middle like a well-worn saddle. It’s windows were still intact, but only barely, as wide gaps could be seen along the wooden windowsills.

Like an askew smile, the face of the house appeared worn, tired and sad. The weathered wood siding left it to my imagination what color it had been painted years ago. There were concrete steps climbing up the side of the house, most of them overgrown with tall grass and weeds. Likewise a mess of bushes and shrubs crowded around the exterior. I wondered when the homestead became just another old house, abandoned and forgotten.

Then it happened. A door at the side of the house opened. I could not see who or what had opened the door as traffic began to move and I had to go on. It startled me to think that house I believed abandoned was someone’s home. How deceiving the outside was to this casual onlooker.

And then I felt terrible. Terrible that I judged that property based solely on the outside. Who knows, the inside could be a cozy haven for the people who live there … yet I knew in my heart it was not so. Most likely it was an older person whose home got the best of him or her during the aging process of both. I didn’t notice any signs of children living there. No bicycles or swing sets around. The sight of that opening door stuck in my mind.

The recent population figures tell me that we’re likely to see more houses left behind as their occupants either pass away or leave town. It has already become a problem in various neighborhoods of Wheeling. We’ve heard complaints from neighbors on Wheeling Island of homes that burned years ago and the remnants have never been removed.

A ride through some alleys in Center and South Wheeling will open your eyes to another part of the city that doesn’t make it into Better Homes and Gardens. Sadly some people choose to live in squalor, whether out of mental illness or behavior handed down from generations past. Others simply cannot afford the upkeep that some of the area’s older homes require. Homeless camps, too, are commonplace on the landscape if you just look.

Don’t get me wrong, Wheeling has some beautiful home, show places, in fact. Hats off to those who can and have afforded to maintain the large Victorian homes or more modern structures. And downtown living is catching on for various age groups. There is life in those repurposed buildings.

Wherever you hang your hat or lay your head tonight, why not say a little prayer for those who aren’t so lucky?

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at: hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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