Sunday, July 25, 2010

340 (2)


From the car we got a wide-angle view of the whole neighborhood from Florida Street right through to the end of the double horseshoe and its four streets. Coco Lumber, that childhood castle, was now miles away up in north Baton Rouge, and in its place, instead of the tall weeds I had imagined, lay a muddy checkerboard of staked yellow ribbon marking off foundations for things to come. Not a single house remained on that side of the street, all boxed and striped with muddy yellow lines. Earmarks for development into the new Park Hills, a neat geometry of streets and houses far beyond sight of either park or hills.

The house sat under a muddy sky, tired and beaten, waiting for a wrecker’s ball to end its misery. The sagging roof hid itself under fat brown pine needles thrown down from the overhang of a pine tree Daddy Clyde planted in the backyard some distant summer past, and the three magnolia trees that spread across the shallow front yard stood splayed and awkward on a ground of beer cans, old tires, scattered Styrofoam and patches of worn grass. Tiny smoke-like wisps of memory floated around collapsed porch steps still bearing the chiseled tattoos of my childhood play. In another time I had sat there on solitary afternoons pulling the wings off bees captured in a mayonnaise jar.

Wandering around to the side, layers of flaking paint around the windows held my eyes, and I could practically taste the familiar green enamel. A green that colored much in those days, turning up on everything from yard furniture to Chevrolets. Toward the other end of the yard, the old iron clothesline T-poles were still there, showing rusty traces of that old household paint.

It was hard putting this backyard in place because of the towering pine tree, which was never a part of my growing up. The tree was now the dominant feature in a trashy mix of weeds, rubbish and a sagging tool shed. The Hagen storm fence, was surprisingly erect and still milky silver, still there enclosing the yard in its late 50s protective frame. We lived for years without that fence until suddenly one day it was there, and every day afterward dictated the way in or out.

I remembered the photograph I had seen a few years back, one taken of the scene I was now standing in. Between that time and now the house and yard had passed through a slow motion scene change. The lives of successive inhabitants, like a slow moving brush, had repainted day by day the colors and shapes frozen on that Kodak moment.

Here was the plot of ground that for years had been Daddy Clyde’s vegetable garden. Unlike the features of the old photo, something from those days remained. Slight bumps of what used to be rows of collards and bell peppers corrugated the ground, and feeling those ridges underfoot, my mouth filled once again with the taste of butter beans. I saw the tented poles wrapped in string bean runners, the staked tomatoes and shiny eggplant spotted with the orange and black quiet of sleeping ladybugs. Saw, too, Daddy Clyde lying among those rows on a Saturday morning, expelling his last breath into the dirt he loved, the aged and sweat-stained garden hoe fallen at an angle across his right leg.

While it was still habitable, we hadn’t expected much in renting the old house. It wasn’t a small place, but it was run down. Mainly it was in a neighborhood that had pretty much reached bottom. Over the years we held on because it was our family home and also because the money we could get from selling it would hardly be worth the trouble. For a long time we hoped that the hospital on the other side of Florida Street would one day need the property for expansion. That way we figured to one day get a good price. But it never happened and we got tired of waiting.

And so the house lived on, in a condition that only barely satisfied the insurers and which guaranteed it wouldn’t command much in the way of monthly rent. Any number of renters had come and gone in the last twelve or thirteen years. Up until his death Mr Pate always knew someone looking for a place, and with his help it stayed rented most of the time.



  1. This is wonderful - it really creates a vivid picture of the memories - I feel like this when I go home and see my old neighborhood - although it's still residential

  2. Where do I begin, your two stories brought me back to my childhood days and I was right there with you. Tears were running down my face. You placed the readers right there with you allowing the reader to dig deep into their childhood memories. I could smell the Cocoa mill company and the fresh fragant wood as I was reading. Very well written! Can't wait for Monday morning

  3. The people who bought my parents' house wanted everything out. My husband and brother had to smash up the Mom's piano to get it out the door. We never told her.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America