Every day on my way to work I drive west down Magnolia Street* and every day on my return I drive up Magnolia to reach Kent Street*, and home.  Some days I barely notice what I’m passing, making the journey on automatic pilot in a way that deposits me in the campus parking lot or my driveway wondering how I got there.  At other times I seem to view everything through fresh eyes, an experience that sets me to questioning how strangers judge this beat-down little town when they regard the shattered windows and collapsing roofs of the old storefronts and houses, or view the mattresses and broken toys discarded in the ditches awaiting The Claw, the town’s giant removal truck.

Long-vacant house in Traveler's Joy
            Those landmarks of 19th century architecture in Traveler’s Joy that persevere through neglect or well-meant ‘improvements’ manage to please the eye despite their depredations, but ironically the older and finer the property the more uneasily I regard it as I pass by, because I have learned that nothing earns protection in our town by reason of its age or provenance.  In fact, the opposite is often true.  I have stood by and watched while more than one one-hundred-year-old building was torn to the ground in a single day on the principle that a bare lot has more practical potential for the owner than a lot taken up by a derelict house, no matter if the foundation was laid in the same year that Ulysses S. Grant was elected for his second term as president.
            What gave my heart a shock last week as I headed out to class was the sight of several big trucks parked on the grass before the narrow Victorian on Magnolia.  As I slowed, I saw they were not there to take the house down, but were removing the giant white oak that has grown beside it since before General Grant ever thought of running for office.  Quercus alba is a monarch of a tree, growing strong and straight for twenty feet vertically before its massive branches radiate outwards, extending a canopy of lustrous leaves that cool with flickering shade through the long summers.  I should say was a monarch, because the tree was entirely gone by the time I returned that way in the late afternoon.  The crew was loading the last of its massive logs in a truck, leaving behind a stump large enough to seat ten for dinner – not that anyone would now choose to picnic in that scruffy yard.

You had to see this beautiful white oak to believe it.
            The house had changed hands over several years, mostly staying vacant.  Notices appeared on the door and then disappeared.  At one point someone sheathed it in lemon-yellow aluminum siding, attempting and failing to make the house more attractive to a local buyer.  Still, it was possible for some of us to see past the hard times this structure had endured and to appreciate its rustic beauty.  The magnificent tree that had aged beside the house made that possible.  The house must have sold again last month, or simply passed to new tenants (people down on their luck -- an assumption I base on experience, considering that they’re moving into Traveler’s Joy and not out of it).  One day in October we noticed a car with out-of-state license plates parked in front and some meager belongings heaped on the front porch.  Barely a week later, the chainsaws came out and the tree went down.
            Earlier this year I ran three blocks from our house to get a photograph of the large Arts & Crafts home being demolished on the corner of Nance* and Lime*.  I wanted to remember it before it was sawdust and slivers, but I was too late.  The excavator had already taken half the house down, leaving the other half opened to view like a layer cake, with the top floor fireplace mantel clinging to the wall of the back bedroom and the dining room’s coffered ceilings exposed beneath.

Another old house comes down

            Four years ago one of the town’s policemen lived there with his family.  Gene McCoy* was a cheerful, voluble man who maintained the Traveler’s Joy P.D. website in his spare time and had once been written up in the newspaper for giving chase to a speeding lawbreaker all the way to Earl, but like most rural Southern policemen he struggled to feed his family on what he earned as a sworn officer.  He moonlighted as an electrician’s apprentice, working alongside my husband replacing the wiring system in our house when FK spent a month renovating the place.  When I took walks in the evenings that first year, getting to know the town on foot, I used to be comforted by the sight of Officer McCoy through the bay window, working on his computer in the dining room of the old house.  I should have realized that the sagging porch and cracked windows hinted at financial obligations too large for a country lawman.  One day, the bay window revealed an empty room; the family had moved out.  Early in 2013, while preparing to take a shift patrolling the highway outside town, Sergeant McCoy suffered a heart attack and died.  He was only fifty years old.
            It doesn’t seem right to me that the corner where the house stood, the house Gene McCoy worked so hard to keep, has been cleared of rubble and planted with a fresh lawn until it looks as if there’s never been anything on that property.  The memory bank which the old house constituted has been deleted, as have the heirloom jonquils that used to bloom beside the steps, and the three feral cats who sunned themselves on the porch after the McCoys moved out.
The house had fallen on hard times, but the daffodils still bloomed

            I’m worried that the same fate awaits the House with the Two Verandahs, the one I wrote about in an earlier posting (3/11/13; "Whitey the Killer Cat").*  This home, left untenanted by the deaths of its elderly former owners, has been emptied of all their remaining possessions.  These were served up on the front walk for The Claw in tattered drifts of upholstery and particle board, followed shortly by a “For Sale” sign.  The white oak that grows in front of that house is twice again as large as the one that was cut down on Magnolia, and even more resplendent in full leaf.  God knows how old it is… I’m afraid to find out.  
In towns like ours there are times when you have to avert your eyes or you’ll wear yourself out agonizing about things you can’t change.  It’s not just old lamps that get left at the curb.  You can ask the abandoned animals who have become part of our household about that – the one-eyed cat or the traumatized dog who goes rigid with terror if anyone brings a rope or a cord within sight of her. One Thanksgiving my daughter took a walk and came back to report that a severed deer’s head was lying on a pile of junk up the street, his sightless eyes trained on the sidewalk.  According to her boyfriend, it was a seven-point buck.  I’m waiting to find a child set atop the stained mattresses, a note pinned to her shirt: “Free to a good home. (But may fight the tie-out.)”  
            In Traveler’s Joy, meanwhile, there’s a beautiful tree for sale, with a late 19th century central-gable Southern vernacular two-story home and spacious garden attached.  The house needs some work; the tree, however, has thrived upon neglect.  Leave a comment on this post and I’ll provide the realtor’s information, although you'll need some luck getting him to call you back.  It's no easy task to cheat the chainsaw and the wrecking ball.
House for sale -- features extremely mature landscaping

* 12-17-13 -- Note on this property:  a friend tells me the seller is asking $37,000 for the house, which is approx. 3,000 sq. ft.  It will need central air, air conditioning, and other modern improvements.  The agent in charge is Chris Parker, 864-491-2963 of Chris Patterson Realty.