Archive for July, 2014

Contract Pending

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on July 11, 2014 by onlookerslowdown

On July 9, 2014, the house at the corner of Maurice Avenue and Sears Street in Denison, Texas, went to closing. Mae Cummings, who had owned the home for almost 60 years, sold it to a young man looking for a starter home. And a starter home it is — two bedrooms, one bath, no central air conditioning. It is a corner lot, but the lot is just a block away from a fairly depressed retail strip. From the front porch, you can see the building that a psychic uses to tell fortunes. Over the past four decades, that building has also been a hair salon, a fried chicken joint and a thrift bakery.

When you walk inside that house from the front, you see carefully polished wooden floors in the living and dining room; a small but warm kitchen; and a hallway leading to the den, bedrooms and bath. But this house is also about just a bit more — at least to me. In other ways, it isn’t, but that might not be important.

For one thing, we never entered the house from the front. We always entered at the side door, at the garage. Mae is my great-aunt, and her husband, Harold, was my great-uncle. Somehow, they always knew when we were pulling up for a visit, so at least one of them would have piled out onto the top of the stairway at the side door to greet us. I would run up those stairs and hug them both, running past them, through the small contained porch into the kitchen. There was a yellow Bakelite kitchen set with four chairs — the kind you see in museums and retro stores now — and a stove with the only timer that used hands (instead of digital numbers) that I had seen.

The drawers in that kitchen contained mysteries by the dozen, because Aunt Mae never threw anything away. There was a penny contained inside a metal disc that was actually a campaign tchotchke for Rep. Ralph Hall (“All for Hall from Rockwall” was the slogan). Actually, there were a bunch of them. There were old church bulletins that Aunt Mae had saved for scratch paper. There were enough old plastic butter tubs and lids to store food that would fit in six refrigerators. There was a set of dominoes — one in every room, it seemed.

But back to that kitchen table. In the summers, my parents would sent me to visit Aunt Mae and Uncle Harold for a week or so, and at 10:00, Aunt Mae and I would watch “The Price is Right” while I read the newspaper to her. She would watch “The Young and the Restless” at 11, but I would wander out and find something else to do. In the evenings, we would eat dinner and then play dominoes until we could barely stay awake. I still know how to play 42, Mexican Train, Shoot the Moon, games that brought much more laughter than anyone has gotten out of “Flappy Birds.”

The dining room table barely fit into the dining room, especially with the chairs and the glass cabinets that stood in there. But that didn’t keep as many of us as possible from trying to cram there for holiday dinners. A small table on the side held an impossible pile of that wacky green jello salad with fruit, corn on the cob, ham, turkey, snap beans, creamed spinach, cornbread, and that table groaned as loudly as any feast of the Greeks. I don’t know how we all fit in there, just as I don’t know how Jesus fed all 5,000 of those people with a few loaves and fishes, or how the Texas Rangers ended up in two consecutive World Series, but I know that all of these things happened.

We almost never went into the formal living room. There was a couch, love seat and two rocking chairs in there, but we weren’t supposed to sit down on anything, unless it was time to open Christmas presents there. We spent our time in the kitchen and in the den — which was where I would sleep when we spent the night there — where we would all sleep (my parents and I) while my great-grandfather lived in the second bedroom. We didn’t watch TV much — there was only one reliable channel, a hybrid of NBC and CBS that always seemed to show soap operas and evangelists.

When I look back at it now, I wonder how anyone slept on that foldout pleather couch, which didn’t really fold out but begrudgingly flattened and widened, the protozoan Futon, held up oddly by five volumes of the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica. Uncle Harold would sit in that room and smoke at his desk until he finally went to bed, while I slept with one eye shut, listening to him ruminate and cough to himself until he finally turned the light off and went to bed. In the absence of air conditioning, Uncle Harold would position fans at either end of the long hallway and one pointing at me, moving the air around to keep us cool throughout the night. But while we all sweated in our spots in that room, somehow it didn’t matter. We were still all able to ramble through that one bathroom and all get ready for church on Sunday, even though it took us a lot longer to get ready in bathrooms of our own at home.

If you drive by the house now, the yard is wild and overgrown inside a chain link fence. You can’t see where Uncle Harold and I would sit outside in the hot summer nights, listening to the great Jon Miller, then later Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel, narrating the games through a transistor radio that was a little larger than our iPhones are now. You can’t see the clothesline where Aunt Mae would hang her laundry; even though they had the money for a washer and dryer, their house didn’t have a laundry room and wouldn’t until Aunt Mae put in an expansion a few years after Uncle Harold passed away. Aunt Mae and I would go to the laundromat and run everything through the wash. I would buy a glass bottle of Mountain Dew (“It’ll tickle your innards!”) out of a machine that was decades old, and we would throw everything (wet) into the baskets and then hang it up on those lines, with clothespins that lived in an old bleach jug with the handle cut so it could perch on that line.

None of this is unique to the house at 321 Maurice, though. Every old house has its ghosts and memories, and in a few years, it will have another set that the young man who is buying the house now will pass down to those who come after him. I just didn’t want you to think that this was just another house. I mean, it is, but it isn’t.