March 4, 2015
Living Room ©2015 Chris Hunt
To me there’s something decidedly creepy and sad about a vacant house, they’re almost like ghost ships. Double that if it’s a place you spent your years growing up. For the time being, I’m acting as the caretaker of my parents former home that’s for sale in north Atlanta, Georgia after the sudden death of my step-mom in November last year, the long time family house is up for sale. Anne Ruth was one of those folks I just knew wasn’t going to go peacefully into a nursing facility and she lived life on her own terms, driving and living independently until her last day on earth. In early November she said about 1AM and after not being able to climb the stairs she’d climbed for over 30 years, “I think it’s time to go to the hospital”. She died within hours of that astute personal observation, I loved her and she loved me and we grew to respect on another.
The house is in a cheery neighborhood full of late upper middle class 1960’s era suburban homes and well off young professional families, near a busy, sought after and popular area, known collectively as City of Brookhaven and sits in the subdivision so regally called Hampton Hall, with streets named after classic English writers and thinkers. The house, a standard 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath brick two story was my home from the early 1970’s, up until the early 1980’s, basically my teenage years home after we (family of five) moved on up from the small 2 bedroom 1 bath house on North Druid Hills Road. In one move it more than doubled our living space and was wonderful. It served well for generations of family members and hosted hundreds of family get togethers, in addition to allowing my father to finally see being a great grandfather before his death in spring 2010. The house was a constant gathering place for 41 years of warm and inviting birthdays, Thanksgivings and Christmas celebrations for all forms of family, extended family, past spouses, current girlfriends and boyfriends and even served as a home hospice in ironically the room referred to as the living room for my mother dying of cancer in 1976 and my father some 34 years later from a hip fracture and subsequent complications. The house saw births deaths and breathed right along with the grief and happiness moments lived by all who entered its aging 1970’s welcoming door. It was the hub of family gatherings and represented a meeting place and refuge for many a family member or guest who needed a roof and a meal in a desperate time. It earned its scuffs, floor strains and peeling paint and always came back for more. It’s with a heavy heart that I am now tasked with essentially being the caretaker of the property, making sure the furnace is working during this bleak southern winter and making security rounds to thwart mischief. The house has a deafening stillness now that it hasn’t seen since 1973 when we as a family moved in. Sitting still in the house one can just hear the first birds of spring muffled outdoors and the rhythmic ventilator-like breathing in and out of the furnace keeping the place warm inside. I even briefly entertained the idea of scraping together everything I had, selling my current house in Decatur and pouring it all into this one to keep the shrine alive and in the family, but I am not going to do that, for one thing it’s way more house than I need. I’d say if anything can be gleaned from this humbling house caretaker experience and solemn duty of keeping the home’s circulatory system active, is that truly a house is indeed not a home, it’s a vessel, it’s the people inside it that make it a home and there are no people left here.
The photos I made might not ever affect anyone the same way they affected me and that’s OK. Ever since going over there, I’ve been trying to convey just the severe sense of loneliness and emptiness the house now has to it. Another thing (actually two) is, in the back of my mind for years I’ve always wanted to do a photo essay on former residences and childhood homes and how they have a profound affect when passing by them as adults, even decades later one has a tendency to always look over at a house they grew up in when passing, what’s changed, what’s grown huge in the yard. That and the fact that I have a deep fascination with abandoned structures and vacant buildings, the work accomplished there and the people who spent lifetimes inside of them. The opportunity would probably never arise to actually go in a former residence to do such images and I knew it was now or never to get these done.
Office Redrum.©2015 Chris Hunt
Upstairs hallway to children’s rooms and office ©2015 Chris Hunt
Guest room ©2015 Chris Hunt
Stairwell ©2015 Chris Hunt
Dining room ©2015 Chris Hunt
Den ©2015 Chris Hunt
Kitchen with found graduation photo ©2015 Chris Hunt
A drawing I did of my father during the last few weeks of his home hospice. Drawings were one of the ways I coped. Dad would drift into long otherworldly sleeps, allowing all the family care givers to sleep as well. The house was silent at this time except for the oxygen machine and ever ticking clocks. Exhaustion.
A week before my father passed. This was a particularly taxing day both emotionally and physically for all of us. My step-mother Anne, ever vigilant and loving, by his side, who lost twenty pounds by this time, shows the grief in ways I can not describe.
©2015 Chris Hunt