I had a really nice surprise when I came home from work the other day.
The folks from Houston who bought my Mom's house "Cliff Edge" a few years back finally got around to knocking the old girl down in late October. I took off from work for my birthday and went to the gym. On the way back I stopped to see what was happening at the place I had called home for over fifty years. There were several workers slowly dismantling the house. The windows and shutters were gone and they were piling pieces of wood on the front lawn. Loud banging and crashing was coming from the inside of the house and it made for a curious sight. I couldn't figure out what the hell they were doing.
As luck would have it, John, the contractor from Lynbrook General Contractors, pulled up and I walked over and introduced myself.
"Are they going to gut the house and keep the shell?" I asked as a guy walked out with a large piece of maple flooring and threw it on the pile.
The lady who bought the sister house, built by THE contractor of his day, George Shelton, gutted her house when she bought it back in the early 90s from the Lazenbys, but she kept the original exterior. So, it looks the same as the day it was built, a new home inside an old one. There was an undeniable style to those two lovely houses, with their three graceful dormers and symmetrical lines. Both houses had real character.
"Nope. We're removing everything of value and all of that wood will be re-purposed by another company out of Davidsonville," replied John with a big friendly smile.
I thought that was pretty cool. Much of the old house would, in a sense, be reborn somewhere else.
This Old Porch
I nodded, not really feeling anything emotionally when I heard the house would be demolished. I was never a thing guy. And a house is really just a big thing. A big thing filled with memories. And what power on earth could possibly demolish my memories?
"Would you like to see the plans for the new house?" John asked.
John laid the construction drawings out on the hood of his truck and I looked them over. I used to be a surveyor and I am familiar with engineering plans.
"It's going to be smaller than the old one. Two floors rather than three. And it will be made of stone and cedar."
It looked lovely and very tasteful. And I was overjoyed that they weren't going to build a big hotel on the top of that lovely cliff overlooking the Severn River and the Naval Academy. These days it seems like there's a competition as to who can build the biggest monstrosity along the river, and that had always been my biggest fear.
"We are custom builders and this project is going to take a long time to finish. You're welcome to come by whenever you want and look around," said John as he climbed back into his truck and drove away.
A few days later they started knocking down the old house.
I went by the following Sunday to snap a few photos. I would have liked to walk through the remains, but the new owners were there and I think I sort of creeped them out. I felt sort of like a peeping Tom. We all kept our distance and I stayed out in the street and on the Wards' property next door. It felt really weird. But I shed no tears. In fact, I just felt a mild sense of fascination. I had said my goodbyes a long time ago.
Many people were deeply saddened by the demolition of the house. And they quite naturally assumed that I feel the same. I explained that I made my peace with the fact that the house would be knocked down the day I sold it. The new owners paid a pretty penny for their dream spot and they had the right to do whatever they liked.
I went for a walk with my old friend Jeannie right before Thanksgiving and she was pretty bummed about the house coming down. She has spent most of her life visiting the place – she never missed the Blue Angels – and she obviously was deeply saddened by its demise. And she seemed surprised that I wan't.
We were standing at the end of Greenbury Point on a lovely fall day, looking out at the sailboats sailing on the Bay, and she turned to me and said, "You need to go and grab some sentimental piece of the house before it's all gone."
The idea struck me as silly. And I told her that she was crazy.
Jeannie shook her head defiantly. "You'll regret it if you don't. And what do you lose? I mean, if you grab something that brings back a sweet memory, you can always throw it away later. But if you don't take some memento now, you can never get it back. So do it."
I begged indifference.
And what would I grab? A board? A piece of glass? A door hinge?
I did not follow her advice.
For several weeks they left the three white chimneys in place, like sentinels over the Severn. I'm not sure why. Many people asked me if they were going to keep the old chimneys and I told them that I didn't know. It remained a mystery until they too came crashing down and then the lot was completely cleared and regraded. A few days later the new foundation went in.
A few day later I rode home from work on my bike and sitting on the doorstep was a package from my old friend Billy Moulden who I hadn't seen in over a year.
I crossed the Old Severn River Bridge two weeks ago. My sincere condolences to you and the memory of your family. Most likely, a number have opined at the loss of your iconic Severn River home. I'd like to join their ranks with this opine and a few relics.
The chimneys left standing at your home is mindful of Sherman's March to the Sea. Notably, Sherman's Sentinels, left in his wake - the chimneys of burnt iconic properties in his total war vision.
Seeing these Severn Sentinels was bit provocative for me. I recovered a few items for you. The presented brick is from the foundation facing the river. The original 1917 construction nails are from the kitchen entrance to your home which was always the way people entered the house.
Billy had shellacked the brick so that is shined and then he painted the following words:
I totally lost it.