Thursday, July 17, 2008

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot....

In 1961, my grandparents moved in from "The Farm" and bought a little bungalow in Austin. I think one of their criteria was that it be close to the other family members who had also relocated to town. My great-grandparents and all four great-aunts, along with their families, lived within a 4 mile circumference. (Great-grandpa Young had immigrated to this country from Sweden. His people were recruited because they were considered "loyal and hardworking". That would definitely describe this branch of the family.)
My grandparents paid about $10,000 for this home all those years ago. It was two bedroom, one bath with no central heat or air. It had one of those great floor furnaces in the hallway that you could stradle in your nightgown on a cold winter evening, causing the gown to billow around you. There was also an attic fan that pulled air from all over the neighborhood, and blew it through the rooms. I do not remember missing air-conditioning as a young girl.
My grandparents later decided that they needed a den, and had one added to the back of the house. This also put the bathroom into the dead center of the house. The bathroom window that used to open into the back yard now opened into the den. Why didn't they close it over? Well, the man that they hired to build the den (we didn't call them "family rooms" back then) was a fellow Swede from the country. As a child, his hand had been bitten by a rattlesnake. He was only able to use one arm. While the addition was impressive, the removal of the window was too much for him. So it stayed.
We loved this little white house and watched the two pecan trees continue to grow and tower over it for the 40 years that my grandparents owned it.
When we lost my grandmother 7 years ago, we had to put the house on the market. It sold very quickly for $160,000 in 2001. An investor, we later learned. Not someone that loved the hardwood floors, arched doorways and attic fan. Central heat and air were added and a second story to the back of the house. It was an industrial looking nightmare to our eyes and the community at large dubbed these awful remodels in old Austin "McMansions". But someone eventually bought the redesigned house last year for $250,000. Clearly, the central Austin housing market is out of control.
My sister and I went and peeked through the windows when it was on the market, and could hardly recognize where things used to be. The downstairs was basically just one large, hollow open area. We could see little or none of the charm of the original bungalow.
We walked into the backyard and saw that my grandmother's garage, shed and greenhouse were gone and replaced by perfect sod. Every quirky and charming addition of my grandparent's had been obliterated. One of my favorite parts of the backyard had been an old truck toolbed grandmother had turned into a container garden for her yearly vegetable garden. Gone. The shed that held every outdoor toy we'd ever owned? Disappeared. The garage with the secret room for storing clothes that were out of season? (The house only had 3 small closets.) Removed. We felt so sad to see this sterile and lifeless backyard replacing the memories of a vibrant childhood. But then, I looked over in the corner and saw something popping out of the sod.
My grandmother's prized "wandering jew" plant was pushing its way through the newly laid grass. As if it knew it formerly belonged in this place. Forgive my temporary insanity, but there was a part of me that felt this nightmarish redesign did not deserve its beauty. I plucked up the plant and took it to my home. Where it still grows today. Actually, it flourishes. As do my memories of what was the wonderful house that my grandparents picked cotton to buy.

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