Friday, July 26, 2013

On Norman Bridge Road

written on Wednesday....

About three pm yesterday, it was getting darker as clouds approached and I hurried to get the horses fed in a gentle mist that was being dropped by the leading edge of yet another rumbling afternoon storm.  Back in the house again, the lights, not surprisingly, flickered and went out. The skies opened wide and began dumping more rain on the already water logged ground below. Lightening cracked and thunder rolled in yet another in this summer’s month long pattern, but this one was different.

News got to us that the charming neighborhood in nearby Montgomery, Old Cloverdale had been hit extremely hard by a wind sheer from the storm and that many of the ancient giant oaks had gone down. Roads were blocked, houses totaled, cars smashed, and power lines lay strewn everywhere. Our daughters both live in this neighborhood of charming cottages and oak covered lanes, as does my brother and his wife. They all escaped harm and damage, but  all around them, was devastation. Today I learned that my grandparent’s old house, also in this neighborhood, had been totaled by a fallen massive oak, a tree which had shaded the yard that my father grew up in and where I played in as a little kid. 

Since I haven’t seen the scene, I don’t know which of the oaks it was. It could have been the one by the sidewalk that we walked by each time we came to visit. Or, it might have been the one in the back yard with a thick horizontal branch to which long ropes were tied to hold a simple wooden board swing that my grandfather spent hours pushing me high up into the sky on. There were others in their yard, but these two stand out in my memory as the largest and most stately. 

It makes me incredibly sad to think of this house in ruins and one of the big trees laying atop it with its roots ripped from the ground. There is so much that I remember about that yard, and that house, and the wonderful times I spent there with my family and cousins. It was a tiny house with strange hallways and doorways, but it was full of mystery and charm, and mostly it was filled with the unconditional love of my grandparents.

The yard was my grandfather Bibb’s, pride and joy. It too was tiny but I never knew it until later when I viewed it with adult eyes. It was full of wonderful plants and flowers that Bibb tended like a zen master. A narrow sidewalk of coarse old red brick lay in a cross hatched pattern running from the garage to the back door steps and gave definition to the yard. Red roses grew on the side of the garage and I used to play a game of hopscotch on the bricks, jumping to make my feet echo their pattern. Mature camellias of varying shades of color and shapes were dotted around the yard and I would walk with Bibb as he examined them for bugs and scale, and just to admire them. But always, there was the presence of the towering oak trees passively, shading, cooling, and standing guard.  

The one by the street leaned a bit towards the house and its image is clear when I remember the day we had an urgent call from Miriam that something terrible had happened. Miriam stood crying under that leaning tree as we drove up. Their little white house had caught fire and the contents of the porch/library had all been lost. The crisp white walls of the house were charred and streaked with soot and everything was still dripping with a sickening sound of water from the firemen’s hoses. I had never seen my grandmother cry or be upset by anything and this image of her so distraught frightened me and made me cry from my lack of understanding. 

 I learned later that, having lived through the Great Depression my grandmother held no confidence in banks and that here, all of her saved up money, in cash, had been tucked into the pages of the books in her library, hidden and safe.  In a deja vu moment of earlier times, this money of hers had vanished in a puff of smoke, fire, and water. 

My aunt Mimi, Miriam and Bibb’s daughter and my father’s sister, used to come home from Atlanta and I would go and
spend the night at their house when she came. There were two small bedrooms upstairs and we would sleep in hers, the one on the right with the deep purple wall paper that covered the walls and ran up the slanted form of the roof above. Looking out of her window she taught me “Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are....”, and she taught me to make a wish on a star, the biggest I could find in the dark night sky.

Under the stairway was a dark and narrow closet that I loved exploring when the grownups were busy talking and I was forgotten. It was Bibb’s shoe closet. Bibb wore a suit every day of his life that I know of, and all those suits had to have shoes. Wing tips and spats, formal laced up leather shoes of every style and color rested in this dark seclusion in all of their original boxes. 

There was a drawer that Miriam kept her snap together beads in, white plastic beads to snap together into long flapper style strands, short chokers, or any length desired for the occasion. There were antique toys, wire mesh baskets that could be shaped into different things, a paddle that held a group of wooden chickens that pecked the paddle by string and a pendulum that spun in a circle, making click, click, click as it spun. My favorite was the Pick Up Sticks can filled with
thin colored wooden sticks that one twisted into a bundle and then let them fall into a pile on the floor, with the aim of picking them up one by one without moving any in the pile.

All of the games, the toys, the yard, the swing, the trees, the very mood of the house that sat on the corner of Norman Bridge Road and Park with all of the people who lived there and who enriched my life, simply made time slow down. What a precious ability this was, to make life last by the moment, savoring each delicious second as though it were the only one that mattered. It was a haven for my soul and it taught me how important it is to remember to go there.........

written today...Friday

Today I went to town to see the sad remains of the old house and, to my surprise I drove up to, not only finding it standing, but relatively unscathed. There were workers sitting under the shade of the carport which was covered by a huge blue tarp and there was evidence of huge limbs from trees that had fallen on it but had been cleaned up. The new owner was there and after introducing myself, he happily showed me the remodeling he had done on the place. It was great fun seeing the changes, a hallway closed up and wall taken out to open spaces, newer paint and new bathroom downstairs fixtures, and the old sink that Bibb used to shave at every morning in his sleeveless t-shirt was upstairs. Mostly, though, it was the same. In looking down the stairway that looked exactly the same I half expected to see my grandfather walk through the front door, cigar in
mouth and newspaper in hand.

I was thrilled also to see that the leaning tree was still standing, wider in girth from the years, but the owner said that the tree that had held my swing had been gone before he had bought the house. It did make me happy to see the place again, and it being not too much worse for the possible damage that could have happened. It has been a nice ride down memory lane for the past few days, thinking about it and remembering nice times in connection with this house and these trees.

Our grand daughter stayed with us last night and I watched her in a new reflection of my own surge of memories jogged by the storm, as she played and explored her grandparents house. I wonder what she will remember of this house and what it felt like to be here, years from now when she is older and we are perhaps gone. If she is lucky she will have wonderful memories if they are half as good as mine. I hope so.

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