Monday, December 7, 2009

Now I really can't go home again

I got an e-mail from my mother a few weeks ago informing me that my childhood home had been demolished. This wasn't completely unexpected, but still came as somewhat of a surprise. My parents sold the house in the mid-1980's to an attorney who had plans for it that apparently fell through, and it has sat empty most of the time since, slowly decaying. It had become both an eyesore and a hazard, and reminded me a bit of Miss Haversham's place in Great Expectations. While I was considering writing this post I realized that I don't have a single picture of the house or property. I'm sure I lost a few just being a young man who moved a lot, and the rest left with my ex-wife.

Unlike most Americans of my generation, I lived in the same house from the time I was born until I left home. And it was no ordinary tract home in a subdivision, though it was certainly not a McMansion, or any other sort of mansion. The house was a modern* split-level on a wooded two and a half acre lot that was essentially given to my parents by the man for whom the street is named. He owned a very large tract of land and "just wanted good neighbors." We had only two other houses within a half mile of us. It was practically wilderness when I was a child, surrounded on three sides by woods, with a small creek running across the property. By the time I graduated from high school, the street was four lanes, there were subdivisions on all sides and I could see McDonald's from the driveway.

The house was very unassuming from the front, but from the back it was two thousand square feet of glass overlooking a large brick patio and a small hillside. My father designed and built the house in three stages, using a combination of subcontractors and child labor. By the time he was finished we had five bedrooms, three baths, two fireplaces, a living room and dining room, den and game room with a pool table, poker table, seating area and a wet bar. He had also put in a large swimming pool with an outdoor kitchen, gazebo and dressing rooms. A friend told me one time that it was the sort of place that should have a name.

Our house was not only the center of our lives, but a frequent stop for a number of overlapping social circles. Between casual gatherings, band rehearsals, poker parties, pool parties, church socials and a ridiculously large all day Independence Day party every year, our house was known by people I didn't even know I knew. To this day, when I meet people from my hometown -- many of whom I may be meeting for the first time -- they are much more likely to ask about that house than about members of my family. In fact, just last week a friend I haven't really seen since high school mentioned the house in the first e-mail message we exchanged after being out of touch for almost twenty years.

It broke my mother's heart to sell the place and move, and I know she suffered watching it erode and finally fall. She raised all of her children there, and poured her own hopes and aspirations and pride into making it a showplace. For my father, I think the loss was balanced by the opportunity to build a better house and avoid some of the mistakes he made with the first. I feel it more than I thought I would, but it's a tragedy of much less than human proportions. After all, it's been twenty-five years since I've seen the inside of the house, and the memories are still with me, even if the building is no longer there.

There is a sort of diffuse, low grade sadness in knowing the place is really gone, sort of like hearing that an old classmate or neighbor has passed away, even if they were never that close and you haven't spoken since childhood. I guess it's just another reminder that time and entropy make fools of us all. Still, when I'm home for the holidays I think I'm going to have to drive by and see the hole. Maybe I will find that G.I. Joe I lost behind the wall.
* Modern in the 1950's architectural sense, with a flat roof, clean lines, natural materials and lots of glass. My father was a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright.


  1. perhaps your mother has a few pictures... might help the grieving process if you scanned in a few. Mom still lives in the only home i knew, until i left for school at 18... just last summer, i went into the back yard, sprawled myself out across a small rise near the back of the half acre and stared at the sky... and i was 7 years old again, just like that...

    i'm sorry for your loss...

  2. Krowe, I avoid RP at all costs these days but mom and I were driving by a week ago and of course every time I go by I have to look -- it's just automatic - and felt I had been knifed in the heart. I didn't say anything b/c I assumed you knew, and if the pain was rough for me I knew it would be a tremendous loss for many memories....I have p's in the same home I've been raised in in much the same circumstances since our dad's were FLW architect devotees, and I'm not sure it'll help to be older when the inevitable move occurs.....

  3. daisyfae: thanks. my mom thinks she has some pics, but it will be up to me to dig them out. I'm transferring some old video tapes to DVD that may have some shots. The VHS was transferred from Super 8. I guess we will see what happens.

    amos: it's a lot less personal hearing, rather than seeing. I'm not sure how I will react when I see it for real. I remember when that live oak in front was no taller than the carport. And you're right -- it probably won't help much, but time and distance do help some.

  4. Great Expectations, excellent book and gave the visual right away of the condition of the home. I'm so sorry about the house being demolished. Even if it was in bad condition, at least.... it was "there." And now, it isn't. I can't imagine anything happening to my parents' home. I wouldn't want anyone else to live there or to demolish it.