Memories Crashed Down With Old House
ASHS Column 6 1 2006
Sometime after Ivan, my son Tony,
who lives in Panama City and writes
for the Panama City News Herald,
wrote about discovering pictures on
the walls of the church he attends.
The pictures were of a youth group
from that church resting on the front
porch of a house they’d cleaned up
after Ivan’s damage. All in all, this
was not so surprising. What did
surprise him, though, was that the
house was his grandmother’s home
for 64 years.
He wrote about how he was
touched by the act of kindness by
this crowd of young people caring
for a stranger's house.
More recently he wrote in a
column that the house was taken
down – destroyed by bulldozers and other machinery - and the lot is now bare. He told of "missing the front porch and flowery yard" he knew from his youth. He said he missed the "childhood days of play and the woman who had lived there, ‘who always had been an old woman’" in his memory.
He went on, "like her, the old house and its grounds are only memories."
He said it was all gone: "the house, the azaleas, the fountains and pools she had built with her own hands using concrete, bricks, and the stones she had gathered on summer vacations."
There was a hopscotch court she'd made with the expectation it would survive almost anything. She’d wanted it to be used by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
His words recently were of nostalgia for something that was, once, but is, no more. He has a bully pulpit in the News Herald with a column read by people who don’t even know where Century, Florida is. I can only imagine the people who were touched by the subject matter.
I have always admired his way with words. He is what I’ve heard called a "wordsmith;" one who shapes words as easily as a blacksmith bends a horseshoe. With the right conditions and with the touch of an artisan, a wordsmith can cast the reader into an imaginary world seemingly created just for him.
There are columns of his that have drawn a tear from my eyes, while other writings of his made me chuckle. Both of these reactions are exactly what a skilled wordsmith intends to happen. Before you know it, you are pulled into the tale and actually become a part of it yourself.
His recent column at first made me feel the pain he must have felt about what became of his grandmother’s home. But then I stopped and thought, "What about me? What about my brother? Both of us have more history with that dwelling than he could have. Why am I feeling sorry for my son?"
I remember the tricycle the butane gas truck ran over and crushed when it backed out the driveway – the driver didn’t even seem to be sorry as I stood there crying. I recall the old wood stove sitting in the kitchen next to the window and how I burned myself trying to climb out the window.
I’ve heard the stories of the Shetland pony that belonged to my brother that’s buried in the back yard. I have pictures of him as a toddler and the tall grass almost hid him from view.
I have memories of the Christmas when we came home from Evergreen visiting our mother’s family and that I found an Indian teepee Santa Claus set up for me in the yard next to the chimney. I was excited a few years ago when on that same chimney I found my name on several bricks where I had scrawled it in pencil – I was maybe in the third grade.
I remember the day lightning struck the pecan tree right outside the bedroom – it terrified me so much I found myself under the bed. In later years, I’d use the excuse that I was under there looking for help!
There was a chicken yard out back where Mama used to try to get enough eggs to sell to buy my brother and me school clothes; and a mean old rooster I wanted to make a pet – he was too mean to be tamed.
I remember the horse, old "Dan," that was kept in the back yard, too – and Mr. Harwell built a barrier fence so Dan wouldn’t get his horseshoe caught in the regular fence. I wrote here some time back how Mr. Harwell tried to teach me to plow with Dan and I made such a mess of it.
As I got older, that old house became my refuge from the bullies at school. It became my sanctum sanctorum where I could lie out in the yard and watch the clouds become whatever I wanted them to be. I got my very first hug from a girl in that yard and stole my first kiss, from Betty Virginia Mayo’s cheek, in that house.
As teens, we saw our mother struggle for breath because she was cursed with asthma. Often she’d go to work as a nurse at the Turberville Hospital and care for patients who were not as sick as she was. After she finished her 3-11 shift Dr. Stewart would sometimes admit her to the hospital and administer care for her.
As adults, we watched her tend to the old house much like she had her children. She loved her flowers: the azaleas, roses, the fig trees and blueberry bushes. She remodeled the house from stem to stern, often doing much of the work herself to avoid paying money she didn’t have.
Her last years, she didn’t even get a chance to tell the old place goodbye. Since her mind was failing because of that dreadful Alzheimer’s disease, we thought it best to just take her away without explanation. She accepted it probably better than I have. I still ache for her to be there.
My son’s and my memories overlap a bit. I remember Christmases with Mama and our family while my children, Tony and Lisa, were growing up. How my brother wanted so much for Tony to love football he got him full regalia when Tony was about three: pads, jersey, helmet, football, the whole thing. It swallowed the little fella up, but that was okay.
I recall how Mama worked so hard to make life easier for her children, then her grandchildren. She made the little pond and the hopscotch pad so the grandkids would enjoy time spent with her. They did – and she did, too. She
loved my kids and my brother’s
son too, with all her heart.
When I began a single life
again after many years of marriage,
I moved into the house while she
was in a nursing home. Many
times I sat in the living room
and could almost hear her
stirring around in the kitchen.
I waited for her to come to
the kitchen door and call
out for me to come get a
"bite to eat."
The morning the demolition
began, I got a call from a
neighbor who told me it had
started. I drove over and
took a few pictures, then
left. There was no way I
wanted to stay and watch
childhood memories crushed
to the ground.
So, no, my son - yours are not the only feelings that are touched by the absence of that old frame house.