Friday, April 22, 2011

The Long & Winding Road

I was driving over to visit the parents a few days after coming home from Be's funeral. Be's death was so difficult, we haven't really had time to process it in the past three weeks; except for a few key moments, I haven't cried. Now I know why the bereaved look so shell-shocked. Death is so complicated, family members are too busy to do much more than get through the myriad details, and decompress later.

Anyway, I'm driving through the old neighborhood, when I see it. Turning onto the final stretch of the road on the street mom and dad have lived for 50 years, men in yellow hard-hats were clustered around a huge machine that was demolishing the Roark house. I slowed and rolled down the window. The high-pitched whine of buzz-saws cut through the thick afternoon air as trees were being felled in the front yard. The beautiful wooded lawn was disappearing along with the house.

My heart sank as I pulled over, the better to access the destruction before me. Tears welled in my eyes.

The Roark house was the first one built at the top of River Ridge and River Valley Rd. We first drove over to look at the wooded lot where we would eventually build when I was age two, though of course I don't remember much of that. We moved in when I was three, and over the years growing up, the neighborhood grew up with me. River Valley was a dirt and gravel road for a long time, and ours was the first house on that stretch of the road. I jokingly referred to it as 'architect's row,' when older, since every house was designed by an architect, and several, like Price Roark, George Wittenburg, and dad, designed them for their families.

The Roark house was grey wood with touches of stonework, and had a flat roof. Every Christmas a 5-foot-tall, lighted Santa Claus would perch next to the chimney. I told Mr Roark it never seemed like Christmas to me until I saw Santa on the roof.

By the time I was six, the neighborhood was filling up with a huge gang of kids, but only a few girls. Consequently, I was a tough tomboy. But Sally Roark (a year younger), and I did put down the sticks and balls long enough to play with her extensive collection of Barbies.

I loved going to their house. It was always restful and dark and quiet, and they had the first screened-in porch I had been on, that soared over huge old trees, with a wicker hanging chair that cradled you as you swung over the treetops. I realized later one of the reasons the house was always so still was Sally's mom was very ill and eventually died after a long illness. But the house never felt sad or oppressive. Too young to fully articulate anything but concern and compassion for my friend--I couldn't imagine losing my mother--we didn't speak of it later. Eventually, different grades and schools and activities wedged us apart and we didn't see one another until we were grown many years later.

I jolted from my revere and drove down my parent's steep driveway. Glancing at their elegant '60s-style house that dad designed in his 30s while a newly established architect, I couldn't help thinking about the 'improvements' made to so many of the other houses on the block over the years that have been sold by their original owners, and what would happen to our old house when mom and dad moved out. But so far, none had been torn down. That had, so far, been the MO for the quaint bungalows and pre-WWII houses in the Heights and Hillcrest neighborhoods to make room for the McMansions of today, that lumber right up to the edge of their properties, dwarfing their more modest neighbors.

It was a shock to have that happen here -- to a thoughtfully designed house. Destroying it and a 5-acre lot of trees seemed sacrilege. It truly is, now, the end of an era.

Another house was torn down several years ago that felt as shocking. My best male friend--my boyfriend in high school--had an architect-dad as well, and their beautiful house fell into ruin when it was sold. In our lifetime the road the house was on went from being surrounded by bucolic countryside to bustling strip centers and a main street.

This house I'll remember for many special memories. In my mind it will be 'forever young,' as we were then. When walking inside you couldn't tell from the front it was actually a large split-level that hugged the hillside, and the horizontal windows overlooked the wooded lot. It felt like a posh tree-house.

Though prime real estate by the time the family was grown and gone, it was hard to see it fall into decay to make room for more silly little stores in the future. It was painful to see it look so overgrown and ruined after the second owner allowed it to go to seed, but it was still an affront to drive by one day and see it was no more...


Jane said...

This was such a beautiful description of both the place(s) and the feeling.

I needed to think of something like this after today. Thank you.

Ms. A said...

Times changes all things, sadly, including us. If we are lucky, time doesn't change the memories, it makes them more cherished. Hold onto them!

"Happy Easter!"

marciamayo said...

I love places and spaces and homes. I often dream about my childhood home, which my parents sold over 30 years ago.
I am mourning with you.

Chris said...

A perfect parable of the ravages time brings. I never realized until recently that it's not just decay, but changing tastes and values that contributed to the passage of all things. We have been thinking of you both.

ReformingGeek said...

That's so sad. Although a house has memories, it's still just a structure, a shell. I feel a little more pain for the damage to nature. :(

e said...

What you describe so well here is an absence of any sense of history or any sense of place. It is sad to live in a country where McMansions are seen as "making it," because the way of life they represent is ultimately unsustainable.

Best to you both.

Jayne Martin said...

I can't bear it. My heart aches for you. There will never be anything built as lovingly or special as what once was. And the destruction of the trees! I'm sick for you.

Annie (Lady M) x said...

Crikey, I really feel for you. No matter what happens to them, those houses are filled with memories, to see them decimated must be heart-breaking.

I am currently in the process of selling the house where my daughter was born, and it is awful enough letting strangers wander round and poke into the crannies.

Strength sista!

Traci said...

Wow! What a very emotional time for you, I totally understand not only the attachment to the house because of memories but as the daughter of an architect as well. Double emotional whammy. How wonderful to have grown up in the same neighborhood your whole life, I was raised all over and I feel twinges of sentiment for those places so I can (although in a smaller scale) understand how you feel. As far as appreciation goes, my dad's a carpenter and mechanic so when something in those areas is half-assed I definitely notice. Same thing goes for catering and flowers (my step mother excellently does both) Whenever I attend a party with sucky catering or see someone who paid top dollar for mediocre flower arrangements, I try not to judge but I notice. I hope things are getting back to normal for you and Excy.