I’ve looked at that old bird house every day for years. You look out the back window of my dining room and you see it there against the sky, on top of that twenty-foot pole, right at the edge of the woods. For the longest time it held its own against the weather, its roof still red, its walls white, the little dowel-rod roosts below the six entry circles still intact. Now it is black and grey and caved in on one side.
Years ago a neighbor who has long since moved on told me that the thing was put up by old man Haskins. He was a chemical engineer who came here in 1961 to help run the South Charleston plant. Graduated from MIT. He told her that he put it up so high and drilled the entry holes small to attract Purple Martins; a kind of songbird that eats its weight in mosquitos.
Haskins bought the vacant lot next to his house and raised apples and honeybees. Sprayed soapy waters on the apples in July to keep the bugs off them. Lived in that house for forty-four years. Wife died in 2006. He had to give up the orchard keeping, but after that you would see him, tall and slim, walking around the neighborhood with a walking stick and a plastic bag, picking up litter. His kids took him away to Michigan a year or two later. He died in 2012. I saw it in the paper.
My neighbor told me that he would keep his apples in 55-gallon drums in his basement. He wrapped every single apple in newspaper and they would stay good all through the winter.