When a foreigner asked, we town folks just smiled in a proud sort of way, “Nope, not a church but a sacred place; many a saint is buried in the backyard and under the floor just like those European cathedrals. No, it isn’t a church.”
The old man pointed upward, and the young man’s gaze traveled heavenward: “See up there? That’s the flag, and we’re mighty proud of her. Yep, the red, white and blue slapping against the sky. Been there for two centuries and more. There’s a flying eagle at the top made of gold, they say, but nobody ever climbed up there to see it close.”
We reckoned someday one of those tattooed kids with earrings was going be curious enough, and that would be the end of her. It wasn’t the kids with the earrings and tattoos who bothered us town folks; no, they were just something we put up with. Kids grow up and leave the fads behind.
It was what was going on inside the house that we couldn’t understand or control that made us cold with sweat. It was the strangers in the basement, the pretended builders and remodelers who gripped our throats. Oh, we hired them to do some maintenance, but they weren’t the folks we thought they were. They put on their hard hats and gloves all right, but not one of them knew the difference between a hand saw and a level.
They’d tip their hats mighty friendly-like, and mumble good morning or good evening, and rush around hour after hour with busy business of this and that, dusting here and dusting there, straightening corners of pictures, checking under the carpets and behind drapes. We laughed at their foolishness for a while. We hired them and figured they’d eventually come around to our way of doing things.
Then we started missing things: little things at first, from the library mostly, kids’ stories – you know, the kind parents tell their kids to teach them moral lessons. Most of them Bible stories, like David and Goliath, Noah’s ark and Adam and Eve. We blamed the missing stories on the kids. We thought they hid them. You know about kids and lessons. We figured we’d eventually find them, but somehow, we never did. One day we even found the gold-leaf Bible gone, and the librarian was a new kind of lady. Not from around here. She read fairy tales and talked about how we should be more concerned about animals and being tolerant than worrying about our souls.
I started to suspect something when I passed the chapel one day. The old house has one: a stately place with glorious stained-glass windows, mahogany benches shining with silver molded armrests and velvet carpet. As I passed the chapel that day, I heard a terrible crash. I peeked ’round the huge carved wooden door to see one of the hat men hitting the wall with a crowbar. When I stepped inside, he stiffened flat against the wall and tried to hide the crowbar, but when he knew I saw what he was doing, he grinned. “I was testing to see how strong these old walls are,” he says as he taps the crowbar on the wall. “Mighty strong walls, yes sir, mighty strong.”
I started telling folks something was terribly wrong. Everyone looked at me with dumbfounded stares and laughed, “Why would anybody want to break the walls with a crowbar?”
It wasn’t until we started missing other things people started listening to me.
I’m not sure what went first, the justice scales (you know, the lady who is blindfolded and has scales with a little round plate for mercy and another plate for justice) or the huge stone of Moses’ commandments that stood in the nursery, but when we found the picture of Washington kneeling in prayer gone from the great hall, we began to understand. They were changing our house to suit their agenda.
We tried to stop the hat men then, but there were too many of them. There were even folks not from our town who were making changes outside and helping those hat men. Every day now, I hear the crash of bricks being broken in the basement. Sometimes I go down and look around. It’s nothing like it was before. The servants’ quarters used to be a respectable place where folks took pride in honest labor. Their uniforms were pressed, starched and crisply white. Now the servants clamor at the door with wanton faces, greasy hair, dirty clothes and outstretched hands. The hat men feed them every day with bits of food, not enough to fill their bellies but enough to keep them coming back for more.
I wondered where the food came from. The servants never worked, and the hat men never put their hand to the plow or labored in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I heard my wife crying over our own empty flour barrel that I understood. I would break my back all day to fill our flour barrel, and my wife would make bread at night. Both flour and bread were gone in the morning. She had to take a job just to help fill the flour barrel.
It was the same for everybody. Kids used to sit with their mothers and hear Bible stories, their pink faces shining upward with hope. Now they sit listening to the babysitter tell them tales of Jack the Ripper. They are given electronic gadgets that deaden their minds and souls. No hope in their eyes anymore.
The doctor’s quarters is a ghastly place. The injured folks waiting, sleeping on the floor groaning while a one-armed doctor squints over stacks of paper. I wondered why the doctor didn’t get on with the business of healing and ignore the papers. Then I saw it. There was the Lady of Justice. The tray for mercy had been ripped from the scales, and only the plate for justice dangled over the doctor’s head. Those hat men stood in the shadows with a crowbar. They put the plate of mercy in the prison, where the jailbirds lie on fancy couches and play five-card stud with gold pieces. Everything is upside down.
They took down the gold eagle flag yesterday. Oh, it’s been tattered for a long time. Some of those out-of-towners got offended at it being up there, so they’re taking her down. Yes, the eagle was gold, and they’re melting her down. They need the money for the out-of-towners. The treasury is broke. They say there are too many children and old folks now. Something’s got to be done. They are talking about putting away the deformed and the old folks. I guess me and the missus are on the list. We can’t work, you know. Everybody has to work, but nobody has any money. We go like the rest of the folks to the kitchen for the handout. Sad state of affairs.
They’re tearing down the old house. Yesterday, I heard the shatter of the stained-glass window in the chapel. Don’t matter now. The sacred place was dead long ago.
She’s coming down. The terrible and wonderful thing these hat men don’t know? They’re taking her down from the inside. You see, none of them suspect they’re not the only ones tearing down walls. Every man is so busy with his own work, he doesn’t see the other three walls covered with men busy tearing down. All four walls are going to crash. When the flag and our eagle fall, the house is going to crash in on those who used the crowbar same as us, and there won’t anybody be left to tell the tale.
It has happened before. Old houses are destroyed and replaced with new ones, but they never get it right unless they use the right floor plan. Good and lasting houses are built on God’s laws. He is the master builder of people and nations. Anything else is built as sand in the wind. When the old building comes down, it will be centuries before anyone becomes smart enough to ask God, “Lord, how do we build Your building?”
Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.