To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted … Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2
We moved into a house on the top of McAnally Ridge behind Ritta School in 1955. Back then our address was Rt. 5, Harris Road. After a while, the gravel road got paved and we were assigned a street number – 4108.
We lived on the edge of the woods with a big yard that we mowed with a push mower and a garden where we grew bushels of tomatoes and corn and cucumbers and green beans that my mother canned all summer. There was a long, skinny back field that stretched almost to Link Road. We never had any human neighbors close enough to see – it was just critters and Beans: seven rowdy kids and two hard-working parents.
At first we lived in a big old stucco house that my parents filled to the brim with kids. It burned down in 1969. Daddy had a big trailer hauled into the backyard for us to live in; it gave us a front-row seat when my brother John’s Gibbs High School football teammates (coached by Ken Sparks in those days) came over and cleared out the rubble. Our new house was built on the same spot as the old one.
Daddy, who died eight years ago yesterday at the age of 91, worked for the telephone company and never turned down overtime (duh – he had seven kids to feed). He’d get called in to climb poles or go down into manholes every time the weather got bad. Mama, who was a schoolteacher, turned 97 in December. She got more done than any three people I ever saw, and kept it up until dementia cut her down after her 90th birthday.
They met during World War II when Daddy was stationed in Puerto Rico and stringing telephone lines up and down the Caribbean. He’d never been out of Tennessee before, and he thought Mercedes Osorio was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen – and she probably was. Daddy and his friends were all World War II veterans, and it was a time when working folks of the Greatest Generation could stay at the same job for 40 years, build houses and send their kids to college and lead rich, fulfilling lives. Daddy was raised Methodist and Republican but grew up to become a union man and a Democrat with convictions. He did stay a Methodist, though.
I was the eldest and had five brothers and a sister. Two of my brothers are gone now, and the rest of us have spent the past three months packing up memories and saying goodbye to the homeplace.
Goodbye, woods, where a couple of my brothers and their pal James Anderson swore they saw a flittering, flickering ghostly light darting between the trees and scaring the bejesus out of them (they called it the Glow-Glow).
Goodbye, back field where Daddy grew corn and grazed a cow and where John cultivated a potent strain of marijuana that he christened Tennessee Shorty (unbeknownst to our parents, of course).
Goodbye, creek down the hill where we used to catch crawdads and minnows and mud turtles and build dams to try to make swimming holes. Goodbye to the secret blackberry patches we’d race to get to before the big Catholic family down the road could strip the bushes bare.
Goodbye, barn that Daddy, Granddaddy and my brothers built, and goodbye to 4108 Harris Road.
The house is sadly in need of updating, as is often the case when people live and grow old in the place where they were young. I was pretty sure the buyer would be some cold-hearted developer who’d not give a damn about Mama’s flower gardens or Daddy’s orchard or the gnarly old redbud tree by the driveway or the old red barn where the 1954 John Deere tractor (known simply as “John”) lives.
I figured the place would get carved up into 22 McMansion-ready lots and the deer and the wild turkeys and the coyotes would be sent packing in search of a new home.
But we got lucky. The next residents of our homeplace will be a nice young couple who are ready to put down roots and raise a family. The husband’s father went to school with my brother Gary and grew up just a little ways down the road. It’s a great consolation.
On Friday, we’re having an estate sale. We’ve packed up our pictures and mementos and a few furnishings – my sister, Jeanette, took our Puerto Rican Mamita’s mahogany four-poster bed (although it’s in pretty rough shape). My brother Richard took an old round mirror and some tools. Gary took a little crystal pitcher he gave Mama years ago, and David’s wife Bettye got Mama’s wooden recipe box and a gigantic old wooden fork and spoon that used to hang above the fireplace. I got Mama’s little recliner and a wooden butcher-block table and a framed picture of a telephone lineman fixing to climb a pole in a snowstorm.
We took my Granddaddy’s autoharps and valise of hand-transcribed sheet music. We took the plaque Mama’s students gave her when she retired and Daddy’s photos and slides and John’s ties and the sheet music to “Tennessee,” the song he wrote not long before he died in 1984. (The legislature named it Tennessee’s eighth state song a few years back. Pretty much everybody voted for it but Stacey Campfield.)
Mama took up doll collecting after John died and got real serious about it when she retired. She’d been liquidating her inventory before Alzheimer’s set in, but there are still more than 100 left. I took a couple to send to my granddaughter in San Francisco and a few more to take to Mama in the memory-care unit where she now lives.
Most everything else will be up for sale. Angie Couch, the excellent estate-sale specialist recommended to us by our also-excellent Realtor Cameron Brooks, has got the house staged and looking like an antiques store. There’s a stunning inventory of stuff – a couple of lifetime’s worth. Angie’s posted 400-some-odd pictures on the website.
I keep telling everybody that it’s just stuff and it’s time to let go. Somebody else needs to play John Bean’s trumpet and ride Albert Bean’s John Deere and eat at Mercedes Bean’s table.
I won’t be there for the sale, but I hope lots of people find their way out there and give our stuff a new home.
It’s time to move on.