November 2001. After retiring from twenty years in the military, I returned home to find little, but everything had changed. Though the houses in West Eaton still exist, the town was now little more than a ghost town. The store had closed years ago, and the last gas station had boarded up its windows. The few inhabitants left accepted this fact and decided to adhere to the town’s withering lifeline until they’re called from this world. Fortunately, or not for me, I wasn’t one who desired this fate.
Being a true upstate New Yorker, I pulled up my roots from there, settled down in nearby Hamilton, the home of Colgate University. Being only eight miles from West Eaton, Hamilton was familiar territory to me. Back when I attended high school, my friend Mark used to work in the movie theater there, and Gordy, a son of a minister was someone to whom I could always talk. But the one person I was closest to resided at 11 Payne Street, and that was my dear grandmother, Leona Beebe.
Now, Leona was a woman who was ahead of her times. She nearly died in a car crash in the 1920’s, divorced her cheating husband in the 1940’s, and remarried in the 1950’s. She was outspoken person and never failed in expressing her opinions, and as a storyteller, she was the master.
When I was little, my mother used to visit her every week and I would go along with her. The times they were talking and had forgotten about me, I would explore her house. It was a large early nineteenth century townhouse built from brick. The exterior was painted white, and the interior was decorated with antique furniture and turn of the century artwork. Hand knotted Persian carpets adorned the floors of every room. But in all its perfection, laid one fault. At the bottom of the staircase, the newel cap wasn’t fixed in place, so I was able to easily remove it and handle it with my fingers. This became a ritual I would perform every time I visited there. Strange, how unimportant things can be so fascinating to a child.
When I reached my teenage years, I would ride my bicycle to Hamilton to visit my grandmother alone, so she could give me her undivided attention. For some unknown reason, I could open myself up to her like no other person. No subjects were off limits with her. For hours at a time, we would sit on her front porch and talk freely with each other as we watched pedestrians walk by. It was a beautiful time in my life, and I will always cherish those memories. Sadly, the memories are all I have left, for my grandmother passed away two years ago at the ripe age of ninety-nine. So many pleasant memories I’ve had in this town, and now you can see why I wish to live here.
Moving to Hamilton was a painless process, but as to finding a job, which was another story. It wasn’t that there weren’t jobs in Hamilton, but beyond teaching jobs at Colgate, most jobs paid minimum wage. But after two weeks of fruitless searching, I got a break.
Bill Parry, the owner of a mom-and-pop electronic store, was expanding his computer repair shop and needed another technician. Lucky for me, I had all the skills he was looking for and began working for him. The wage wasn’t much, but it was enough to live on. My duties consisted of repairing computers that would come into the shop, as well as going on site to service them.
Life was good for me. I had a job and a small pension from the Army. As well as paying off my bills, I was able to save some money for a rainy day. Same time went on, Bill gave me a raise along with more responsibilities. Then one afternoon, Bill sent me out on a job.
“Howard,” he said. “I’ve got a computer down at Colgate. I need you to go there and see what you can do. The address is 11 Payne Street.”
My heart skipped a beat when Bill said this. I thought to myself, “This was my grandmother’s home, and now it’s an office?” I was overwhelmed with dread as I began to imagine what they had done to destroy my cherished memories of what I once considered a safe haven.
The shock I experienced must have been written on my face, because Bill asked me what was wrong. When I told him how that was once my grandmother’s house, he asked me if he should send someone else there. Though his offer was tempting, I decided to go. I decided I needed to let go of the past and face reality. So, I picked up my tool kit and headed up the street.
When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the front porch was still intact. Though there were no chairs on it, everything else was the same. The first thing I noticed different was the office sign on the front door, indicating Grandma wasn’t home anymore. When I opened the door, I was greeted by the familiar stairway and hallway leading down to the further side of the house. Beyond that, I was surrounded by a foreign atmosphere.
To my immediate left was a doorway, which once led to the living room, adorned with a wood burning fireplace and beautiful antiques on the mantel above. Now the living room was stripped of its couch and Lazy Boy chair. The Persian carpets were no more, and the fireplace is sealed, with only a bare mantel as evidence of its once existence. All evidence of a loving home has been erased and in its place is an office desk, with a receptionist sitting behind it, waiting to greet me.
Upon acknowledging who I was, he escorted me upstairs to check on the computer. The rooms I entered were unrecognizable. The bedrooms which once existed were replaced by bland offices, cluttered with overstuffed folders and unopened boxes. I forced myself not to cry.
Fortunately, the computer only had a minor glitch, and I corrected the problem quickly. Trying to remove the images from my mind, I dashed downstairs and told the clerk I was done. Again, the look of agitation must have been written on my face, for he asked if I was all right. Having nothing to hide, I told him about the history I had with the house.
When I finished telling my story, the receptionist invited me to tour the house. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought. I stepped into the adjoining room and found another office where the television room once was. Another clerk was sitting behind a desk talking to someone on the phone. Next, I toured the once dining room and finally the kitchen. If I had never been in the building before, I never would have guessed anyone had ever lived there.
With nothing else to see, I walked towards the front door, but when I passed by the clerk who was on the phone, I glanced at her desk. My jaw nearly dropped when I read the name on her name plack. Jana Truett. I had to ask, “Are you Jana Truett who graduated from Morrisville in 1974?”
As my heart leaped for joy when she said yes, I smiled for the first time since I saw Bill. Jana was the last crush I had in high school. I was extremely shy in high school and never expressed my feelings for her, but now I told her how I felt without reservation. I was a little disappointed she didn’t remember me, but what did I expect? Over twenty-five years have passed, and our lives have taken different paths. Still, we reminisced about the old days and told each other what we’ve done since then.
I’m not sure how much time went by, but when we were finished, we said our good-byes and I proceeded to leave. I recalled how I dreaded coming here, but now that I'm leaving, I'm glad that I came. The ashes of old memories gave root to the joys of the recent past. But before I stepped out the door, I had to do one more thing. I grasped the newel cap at the bottom of the staircase and laughed as I pulled it free. Even in a dynamic world, some things never change.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I had a special relationship with my Grandma. Sometimes I think she was the only person in the world that I trusted. Years after she died, my father allowed my wife and I to store things in the old rental house I used to go to with her as a child. It was interesting how my memories of the place crashed against what it had become. As a child it was filled with the stories of my Great Grandparents that settled there from Italy. As an adult it just seemed like a dusty old house that had seen better days.
The memories of my Grandmother's house were shattered the moment Bill Parry told 11 Payne Street is now an office space. The suddenness of this revelation rocked me and I struggled to prepare myself before going there. When I arrived, reality, like molten lava slowly eradicated my prior memories as I went from room to room. I guess that's why the experience still haunts me, even after twenty years. Thank you for sharing your experience with me and hope to hear from you soon.