One of my earliest memories, as a child growing up in Greenwood, was a set of concrete steps on an empty lot, southwest corner of Grand Boulevard and Monroe Avenue. I was fascinated by those steps, the incongruity and loneliness of one small part of a house left behind, a tangible memory of something that once was and now wasn’t. Sara and I drove by there almost daily, as it was such a busy intersection, and I would beg her to pull the Plymouth over and let me out to sit on the steps. Being the agreeable mother that she was, we did that a lot. Passersby hurrying down the Boulevard must have wondered about us, the lovely young mother in a stylish dress and the dark-haired, rumpled little girl, usually in scuffed-up cowboy boots and jeans. We’d just sit and talk about the house that had once stood there and the people who lived there and the memories they must have carried off somewhere else. I suppose this was the beginning of my long fascination with lost mansions and hidden treasures and the slow march of time which eventually erases all traces of so many beloved structures.
I never dreamed I would be the instigator of a house’s destruction, even for such a good cause as a family cabin in the Holmes County woods. I have watched 1212 Strong Avenue, the Evans bungalow, quietly vanish for almost a year now, and last week wrote the final chapter of that emotionally challenging tale. We salvaged every brick possible, reclaimed acres of lumber and carried away the capstones and lintels and windows and doors from another time. Work has begun on that Holmes County hillside, an outline of the new cabin born from the old bungalow. That’s exciting, but I can’t shake the sadness of seeing an empty lot where there was once so much life and laughter and hope.
The steps were the last to go, which seems ironic in light of those talks Sara and I had on the Grand Boulevard steps so many years ago. I made several trips back to Strong Avenue while waiting for the bulldozers to come, and I tried to hear the voices of the children who played there on November days in the 1920s.
What is it about a collection of bricks and mortar and porches and attics and windows that makes a house memorable? Piled up in our shed at West, they don’t look like much, just random bits of building material permeated by a faint whiff of age and decay. But when our builders refinish the lumber and slot the bricks into place, all that “stuff” will magically become our home, our children and grandchildren’s home, a place that, I pray, will be filled for generations with joy and love and devotion to family. Just as it was on Strong Avenue, when Howard and Jessie built a home for their three little girls.
Just above, there are those steps again. They were too heavy to carry to West, and I deeply regret that. The concrete downspout was saved, and it will be worked into the new porch. Maybe I’ll pull a hose out and make the porch a swimming pool one day, just as Jessie did for her kids.
So what happens to discarded steps? This is bordering on silly, but I hope they went straight to Step Heaven, where Jessie reclaimed them and gathered her girls around her once again. After almost a century, they’ll be littered with dolls and marked up with chalk and the place of jacks games and hopscotch and dreams. That would make all of this worthwhile.