Early on demolition day, I blindly pulled this quote by May Swenson as a writing prompt: “Am I the bullet / or the target / or the hand / that holds the gun?”
The destruction was unexpectedly and utterly fascinating. Yes, there went the bedroom then the room with the radio, the staircase — but what an efficient and powerful brutality! I was no longer the target, I was the gun. Sometimes the bucket chewed on support beams like a hungry beast. Other times the operator used it to nudge weakened walls into collapse, not unlike a mother animal nudging her wayward young. How did the operator know when to grab and claw and when to shove and tip? I was the finger pulling the trigger.
It was 19 degrees that morning. Gloves off to use the camera, my fingers quickly froze. Finn had hopped up onto the rock wall at my back, so when he started shivering I could feel it immediately. Oh but I wasn’t ready to leave!
I slung my arm around the dog and pulled him close. Like a gory car accident that you can’t look away from, the floors and walls being compressed into rubble kept us standing by.
Close to dusk, I went back only to be shocked at the uniformity and anonymity of the debris. It seemed to consist only of wood and bits of insulation. Where did the bed springs go? The yellow velvet cushions of the couch? Naturally, not a chip of the praying figurines showed up, but the pink bathroom tiles? How did they so thoroughly vanish? The crocheted afghan that had occupied the end of one of the beds just hours earlier might as well have been vaporized.
There were two very large stuffed creatures, pierced and toppled in a gruesome fashion. There was a piece of wood (part of a closet wall?) on which an oil change had been noted. A coil of wire. A glove. But not much else except round back.
Since the basement was still intact after day one, I went back to see what I could grab, not quite remembering earlier rationales for restraint. Perhaps the linens? Maybe that strange collection of incense burners? But to no avail. The basement door gushed pieces of the caved-in house like a barfing mouth.
On the second day of demo, they wrecked the last of the wooden structure and removed most of the debris. Again the utter lack of identifying detail in what was left seemed physically inexplicable. How could there be so little evidence of all those things — of all those years of living?
I told myself that if I found anything I would treat it as something important.
And that will be the third (and final?) post about this wreckage. Incredibly enough, the prompt in today’s writing class was: “the empty lot was a constant reminder of… “
Oh my …
this series of posts has been chilling. deeply thought-provoking. just look around.
The observance has triggered all sorts of questions both about what we value when living and what is left when we die.
The whole operation is deeply shocking for me – but I love your text.
Though it’s a frequent occurrence around here, it seems to matter that I not become numb to it.
Your writing is superb ..
although I am only 66 years of age tomorrow for some unknown reason I started giving things away. Things I treasured and yet knew my children would not. I just started looking at things .. quilts .. paintings .. pottery. Some handed down from my parents or collected. Well they are now being treasured in homes of nieces and nephews. Fabrics that have been collected over the years have been made into quilts gifted to friends and people in need. I will say my family was starting to worry and really I have no idea what has been happening in my head but your story of the Yellow House has only added fuel to my endless looking at what would make this or that person love something that I have that could how much they are loved.
What a beautiful way to usher in a new year. It’s inspiring. Happy Early Birthday, Tina!!
It’s a symbol of our throwaway world, , just demolish the house/home and someone’s life and replace it with new. Every time I have to go to the huge shopping plaza I am appalled by the amount of “stuff “. I have stopped buying except what we really need, and then I buy quality. Like Tina, I am 68 and trying to give things away already, family things that I have treasured. Sometimes I feel hopeless about change and other times I feel that if I have changed then others will too. I’m hoping that our grandchildren will live in a world where things are not so easily disposed of. Seeing that house, that could have been saved, demolished, was so sad.
Consumerism really is the modern religion. Others have said this. We are hypnotized by buying, saving, shopping and spending. I STILL think money will make me happy! (Not all the time, but more of the time than I care to admit). I haven’t really started doling our treasures yet and really need to. The business of “radical hope” is something I’m reading about right now and plan to address more going forward — mostly because I need the encouragement. There is certainly plenty of evidence to persuade a rational being that we are fucked. So how to rise above that or go through it or continue to act in the face of it?
there is something deeply satisfying about demolishing a house, when I was in my mid twenties a friend tendered to demolish a beautful old home in Melbourne for the materials to build his house out in the bush. We were a team of 7 young hippies with sledge hammers and crow bars salvaging windows, doors, bearers, joists, floor boards, architraves, etc etc, it took us ten days, then the bulldozers leveled the site, hard yakka but great fun!
You are the gun.
I get it. On Fixer Upper, demo days are their faves.
I hope your views have changed Mo.
(((Sue))) I haven’t had the chance to demolish any more houses but it is equally satisfying to pull out old shrubberies, sheds, fencelines and weeds in a neglected garden in my work as a gardener to make way for my customer’s dreams.
Absolutely! I’m a gardener too. And there’s nothing worse than a half dead shrub; hope you didn’t take offence at my comment Mo. I’ve changed about a lot of things in the last 10 years, we are always learning 🤔
I have just been for my walk. What did I see but two huge munchers up on the hill demolishing the old house!
Ah! Another one bites the dust
I’ve enjoyed the story with a bit of sad nostalgia along with some anger that “things that could be used” weren’t shared with the likes of Habitat for Humanity Restore or a similar model. Do you wish you’d taken some small token? I saw art materials all around…..
I took several things but after the fact I very much regretted not taking a more aggressive approach. There is a donation center 1/4 mile down the road!
There is so much here, I barely know where to begin! Your writing is just right with these photos/video clip…and I love the quote as it pertained to a conversation I had today and this story so we;;, and the prompt too (I would love the time for a writing class)…with that said: I could bare look/watch for the overwhelm at this loss of a life lived was so huge to me. Not so much the actual ‘stuff’, but the life, the people it represented, while still thinking of the ‘stuff’ as still useful…why would they do it this way?? Someone’s chair where they sat smoking – gone…dishes from a life feed oneself – gone, special trinkets meaningful to them, gone…gone…gone into a pile of rubble. So sad. At least Mo took things to be reused…this was a whole different story. I need time to recover. xo
I wish you had the time to take a writing class too. This year I’ve really started to see the poet in you.
Provocative subject, evocative text, gut wrenching photographs.
As I read all the yellow house posts I kept hearing:
I close my eyes, only for a moment
And the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water
In an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
(All we are is dust in the wind)
Dust in the wind
(Everything is dust in the wind)
Everything is dust in the wind
As usual, Michelle — a worthy and apt reference and one that gets right at the heart of it. Thanks.
As someone who had to empty out a parents home, I have a different understanding of all of this. It is not that most of their possessions were not cherished but they were their possessions, not mine. Both my sister and I had households of our own and simply had no space for furniture, etc. Some of the furniture simply was too painful for me to even consider saving for myself as in the bed where my Mother died, me holding her hand as she did so…why would I want that bed? Luckily for me, others did and were not bothered by its history.
My parents little home was not demolished, instead it sold to a son of one of their dear friends so that was good. What was less good was the heart wrenching work needed to remove 40 yrs of accumulated stuff- doilies, afghans (kept those), dishware/cookware, some donated, some divided between my sister and myself, knick knacks, many like what you found Dee in the yellow house. Many households in the 40’s and 50’s seemed to have ceramic objects in many forms. My mother had many such objects and especially ceramic figurines of dancing couples ( my parents loved to dance and when I was 13, we got our first TV. The Lawrence Welk show was on every Sat. evening and my Mom and Dad would push back the carpets and dance in our living room- this is one of the most wonderful memories that I hold in my heart.)
One item held mixed emotions for me-a glass fronted bookshelf filled with storybook dolls, well over a dozen. that we were never allowed to play with because they were my Mother’s treasures. See as a little girl in Spain, all her parents could give her in the form of a doll was a carved corn cob doll so as a grown woman, one of the first things that she purchased was a doll and thus began her collection..As a grown woman, I understood the poignancy of this collection but as a child, I resented the fact that I was never allowed to play with these storybook dolls let alone hold them and when it came time to decide what to do with them, I found that my childhood resentment came rolling in…didn’t think about the future, how one day I would be the mother of daughters who might like these dolls- in fact, I had never planned to get married or have children. The dolls were donated to my mother’s beloved Catholic Church to use as a fund raiser.
This is somewhat of a long winded winded way of saying that although none of my parents stuff w as destroyed or discarded, most of it was sold or given away, I kept very little preferring instead to hold onto memories…memories of the loving good times as well as the hard times- they don’t take up space and can come and go as life dictates when they are needed…
What did I keep besides what I already mentioned: my Mother’s beautiful black lace mantilla, brought from Spain, a farewell gift given to her by her Mother, the grandmother that I never knew, when she came to America; my parents wedding photos, photo albums, the white silk blouse that my Mother wore under her wedding suit (it fits me but I have never worn it). I kept their wallets filled with family photos and prayer cards; my Father’s army papers, he enlisted during WWII, their ration cards that are a piece of fascinating history and their 1940’s set of cream colored, silver rimmed china dishes, place settings for 12 plus assorted bowls, sugar and creamer, etc. When we lived in CA, I would bring them out for Christmas, lovely pieces that have no place in my currrent life style but every now and then, I do get out the soup tureen because it is such a lovely piece- round with little curved handles and a lid with a curved little top. We have moved many times since we sold our home in CA in 2002 and that sturdy box of china has traveled with us. One of our daughters would love to have the set but has no room in the tiny apartment that she shares with her boyfriend so I hold onto the box…and somehow, whenever I go out to the garage and see it, it brings comfort…
What a delicious comment. So full of the flavor and detail of both your and your parents’ lives. I was particularly moved by the dancing and the dolls. Thank you for taking the time. You could start a blog, you know, merely by collecting some of your comments from around the web and posting them!
I realized yesterday that I was not very subtly siding against the children and that to do so with absolutely no information was ridiculous. Dealing with our parents’ belongings is often fraught with emotions and histories that have nothing to do with the objects in question. Also, it’s likely that a lot of the house contents were removed.