TheOldPlace

PleasantStreet
"New owners are raising their kids within those elegantly crooked rooms and quirky yards …"

By the time I'd grown up enough to move away, I knew every square inch of that short acre. I even knew what lay beneath the landscaping, having scraped, crawled over, or cultivated every corner. I knew that the back forty, as we called the yard behind the garage, lay atop an old creek channel, and so the soil was deeply plated with ovoid rock that drained much too easily. The side yard had been planted over an ancient septic pit. The grass grew much lusher there. Dandelion and plantain favored every inch of the property and required continual scrutiny and counteraction throughout the growing season. We used to spread coal ash clinkers along the driveway in the wintertime. I'd personally dug out the bed alongside the driveway innumerable times, always finding a few half-petrified cherry pits from a tree we'd cut down decades before. I'd fill an old metal wash tub to overflowing with weeds, unwanted roots, and the Silver Maple's helicopter seeds.

TheOldPlace passed out of the family after my father passed.
He'd been a steady steward of the property since he'd taken possession of the overgrown mess in 1957, paying a princely fourteen thousand bucks for the privilege of sacrificing what remained of his youth tending to the place. He single-handedly reroofed it one hot summer in the early sixties. He and my mom were forever repainting or wallpapering some room or another. They stripped the ancient birchwood floors before covering most of them with boorish blue carpet. Their grandkids crawled around that floor until they lost interest in crawling around anymore.

Family entered through the backdoor, which opened into a utility porch, past the mis-matched washer, dryer, and deep utility sink, and into the expansive kitchen. They'd stretched that room out to include part of what had been the front porch, installing broad windows all around that end of the room. Mornings were idled away at the kitchen table from where we watched most of the world tromp by. Before the trees grew so tall, we could watch cars creep down Weston Mountain in predawn light, and almost everything seemed right with the world. The house had always been overfilled with what my mother referred to as her treasures, an eclectic collection of odd inheritances and junk shop finds, every shelf overcrowded and groaning. My brother and I used to kneel on that kitchen floor to fold newspapers before heading out into startlingly fresh mornings to ride our routes.

My father died in that house. He left as he always swore he would depart, feet first in the company of undertakers. The spirit of the place died with him, seeming to understand the futility of holding out after its steward had gone. I found myself largely responsible for boxing up the leftovers after my mom entered assisted living. Every damned knickknack found a place, wrapped in newspaper and stuffed in some box. I dutifully hand trucked those boxes to the garage and lifted them into the rafters, like Vikings used to hoist their dead onto raised platforms to be nearer Valhalla. We spoke of what I came to call The Mythical Future Garage Sale, though we knew we were just in denial of the end of an era, our era. The detritus of sixty years of tender stewardship had no real market value. Neither did the deep knowledge of that distinctly local culture. The next owners would have to relearn the hard way every bit of lore and understanding, just as we had.

Revisiting the old home town, I seem to follow a very personal stations of the cross. I might not actually stop at every point, but I hear myself subvocalizing a sort of prayer or blessing as I pass. TheOldPlace seems hopelessly overgrown and in need of my incantations now, all the better, I suppose, to block the view across Pleasant Street, which seems less pleasant now that Dave and Ardelle sold their front acre for sub development and houses cover what was once a grain and stubble field sporting pheasant antics. My heart still aches, a decade later, at having found myself unable to assume stewardship of TheOldPlace. As it was, my mom almost exhausted the proceeds of the sale by the time she finally followed my father into wherever able stewards retreat to. The new owners are raising their kids within those elegantly crooked rooms and quirky yards, with only the most distant hint of the deep history already residing there.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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