Posts Tagged ‘Martinsville’

Dad and I stopped by the house in Martinsville this morning, my third last time at the house.  The original delayed closing date on the house was tomorrow.  I thought it might be a nice opportunity for Dad to write one last poem while sitting in the backyard.

Dad writing in the backyard

Dad reminded me that writing wasn’t something one can just turn on and off at will.  A writer needs to be inspired.  I reminded Dad that an artist needs to show up at the easel every day, inspired or not.  When brush hits canvas the door to inspiration is opened. Dad smiled …. “We’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we?”  I nodded and reminded him that his paper was in his back pocket.  As soon as his pencil touched the paper he was lost in the world of words and memories.

I retreated to the carport where the gnats were not as hungry.  I made a few necessary phone calls to deal with the latest legal difficulties due to a lawyer taking advantage of a challenging situation.  I cannot express how thankful I am that I have fantastic siblings and an angel named Jane!  Without each and every one of them we would fall prey to those who profess to be knowledgeable, competent, professional and caring. Ahh… I must not omit my gratitude for our amazingly committed real estate agent, a real Mensch.  Thank you, Gary!

With everything settled, at least for the moment, I put pen to paper.

View from the carport

Dad approved of the drawing because the location was properly indicated by the edge of the cemetery showing at the left edge of the drawing.  Dad has come a long way in appreciating my art on all levels.  He even liked one of my abstract pastels that he saw at a gallery opening several years ago.  It is thanks to Dad that I am a wizard at perspective, though I’m not terribly concerned about it when it comes to painting unless poorly drawn buildings distracts the eye of the viewer. ( When my kids were young, I paid many bills doing architectural renderings of renovations that involved absurd perspective challenges.  Thank you, Dad! )

Before too long it was time to pack up and head to Benny’s to meet Jane for lunch.  Dad and I were buckled up and ready to pull out of the driveway when I realized that I ought to snap a photo of the Nanny Bushes beginning to turn color.  I am, on some deep level, connected to the Nanny Bushes.

Nanny Bushes beginning to turn color

I got distracted, snapping away, hoping to capture my entire childhood in one photograph.  Dad unbuckled and got out of the car to investigate the quality of brick laying of the house he had built.  I will document that in the near future.  For now, I will end with Dad’s writing beneath the Nanny Bushes.  When I pointed out to him that the willow trees were long gone from the property he smiled …. “I guess I took a bit of poetic license, Chris.”

“Perfect, Dad.  It sounds much better than ‘below the spreading Nanny Bushes'”

September 22, 2011

In our backyard

Under the spreading willow trees

I sit in a folding camp chair

With pencil in hand.

Saying good-bye to the bricks in the house

That I laid, one by one

With mortar from the wheelbarrow

That I mixed each evening after work.

The dream of a red, brick house

With three picture windows out front

Was turned into fact.  Believe it.

We dreamed it.  The dream came true.

The clouds float silently by overhead

Seen against the deep, deep blue sky.

I marvel at my good fortune

To be here and remember the past.

The kids playing with friends,

Our playing croquet for hours,

Our doing hamburgers and hot dogs

On the handy backyard gas grill.

Ah, yes, those were very good days,

Days of bubbly good times,

Days upon which to build

Many, many more good days to come.


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A few things remained to be dealt with in the tool shed.  I drove over to pick them up and to check the house one last time.

Empty swing and toolshed / workshop


A few boxes of paint, antifreeze and other hazardous materials as well as a box of garbage, two brooms, and a pile of paper plates, bowls and napkins needed to be packed into my car.  The task took too little time leaving me feeling awkward and lost as I stared at the empty hammock, the empty swing and the empty tool shed.  On the other side of the brick wall all the rooms in the house stood empty, screaming to me through the emptiness.

Welcome mat at the French Doors

During our childhood years we were never permitted to use the French Doors, one of our family oddities.  In recent years we have used it more than either the front door or the back door.  We have left a welcome mat for the new owners.

Fireplace and built-in Mahogany Shelves.

I unlocked the door, perhaps for the last time.  I walked through each room, slowly, listening to the sound of my footsteps, listening to the whispers of the past bouncing from wall to wall.  Nothing more to do but to leave and close the door behind me.  One last trip to check the furnace room and the back bathroom provided a relief from the emptiness.  I found a note still tacked to the wall beside the back door, a reminder list Dad made either for himself or for anyone who was caring for the house in his absence.

A useful ladder left in the tool shed

Croquet set for the new family

We left behind a croquet set for the new family. This set belongs with the house.

Having finished my job of checking the house and clearing out the tool shed, I could return home.  My shoes turned to lead and refused to move until I decided I should take one last round of photographs. Click, click …. click, click, click.  I clicked my way through one entire battery and felt grateful that I brought a spare.  Click, click….  I had to stop and couldn’t.

Ancient Nanny Bush

The Nanny Bush.  In spring it delighted us with a dress of green leaves and white flowers.  In the summer it wore only green.  In the autumn the leaves turned to purple to show off the beautiful red berries that clustered on the branches.  When the bushes grew tall enough to be trees, Dad pruned the bottom branches and created a covered terrace to dine beneath.

Hole for the clothesline pole

Path ending at the clothesline

One of my favorite memories is lying on the grass watching my mother hang the wash.  When she was done, I ran between the damp sheets and watched the shapes change through the translucent fabrics as they dried.  My mother always smiled and often whistled as she hung the wash.  Those happy moments at the clothesline inspired the first and only adult novel I have written.

Rocks for baking mud pies

I never tired of baking mud pies.  These rocks, heated by the sun, were my ovens.  The pies were turned out and decorated with violets and buttercups. I began eating flowers, even poisonous flowers, at an early age.  I don’t remember getting sick.

Toolshed / Workshop

Hours upon hours were spent in Dad’s workshop.  Louise  set up an experiment to see how different colored lights effected the growth of plants.  I smashed tiles late into the night to make mosaic maps for history class.  We learned how to use tools.  I made dollhouses for dolls I didn’t have nor want.  It was making the house that was important.  After building small houses I built an elevator that worked, though not very well, using a  small motor from a model car I made.  One summer I rebuilt an engine for a lawn mower a neighbor had given me to earn a bit of money. Dad was always within earshot to help.

Each tool had a home

The tools hung neatly arranged on hinged plywood; tracings marked where each tool belonged.  My favorite tool was the wood plane, not because of what it did, but because of its shape and the way that the metal and wood worked together as a unit.  Of course, I loved the wood shavings as they curled and fell onto the carport floor.  The fragrance of the freshly planed wood was perfume to me.

Carport Fireplace

The carport was our playground.  When we were very young we roller skated round and round for what seemed like hours.  That was before the concrete cracked.  As we grew older we had a ping pong table set up.  I learned to play well enough to beat the high school students I taught in Brookline, Massachusetts many years later.  It was a special high school for delinquent teens.  I made a deal with them to stay after school and play ping pong with every student who behaved himself.  Through my expertise at ping pong (thanks to my dad) I didn’t end up in the hospital like the art teacher who preceded me.

We toasted marshmallows and cooked burgers in the fireplace.  We also burned paper.  When I returned from Germany in 1970 I was in a mood to purge my past and tossed my high school yearbook into the flames.  A decade later I found it in the attic.  Dad had saved it from the flames when I left to find more material for purging.

Treasures under the Forsythia Bush

These treasures might have been placed under the bush by my siblings or perhaps by the grandchildren.  Carters love to collect stones, shells, nuts and interesting rocks.

The Bench Dad built for Mom

Mom’s ashes are spread beneath this bench, built with love by Dad.

Annette Craven Carter and David Charles Carter

Buddha beneath the bench

Either Anna or Dave placed Buddha with the bench during our last weekend together in Martinsville.

The Beech Tree

Another shot of the Beech Tree.

Roots of the Beech Tree

The roots have spread in a giant circle, perhaps thirty feet in diameter showing above the surface of the lawn.  Like the roots of the tree, each child ventures away from its childhood home yet still is connected, sometimes a bit too tightly.

witness of my grief

From afar, a deer watches as I cry beneath the Beech Tree.

the front window

Whenever anyone left the house, Mom stood in the picture window and waved.  I still see her there, wearing her white, terrycloth robe, waving as I left to walk to the school bus stop.

Dad's note pinned beside the back door

Dad is an eternal optimist.  The first six reminders don’t matter to him anymore.  He lives only by the last … 7.  Enjoy the Day!

Time to go.  Time to let go.  I backed out of the driveway and headed down the hill only to make a right turn and circle around to the house once more.  I justified my return by not remembering if I had shut the tool shed door.  Without getting out of the car I backed out of the driveway.  On my way down the hill I passed a young man, hair hanging loose half-way to his waist.  He appeared lost in serious thought.  I waved.  He smiled.  He is part of a new generation enjoying my childhood stomping ground.  I wish I knew his name.  He set me free.  Somehow, he helped to lift the weight off my heart and break the chains that bound me to my early programming.

The Carter Home in Martinsville

In 1952 the roof was higher than all the surrounding trees.  Goodbye house, you have served our family well.

I’m ready to spread my wings and fly to heights I’ve never dared fly to before.  Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Louise, Anna and Howard.

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Months will pass before I will process the emotions of the past weekend.

The Good China

Hurricane Irene left us without power.  The food left in the freezer and refrigerator two weeks ago, in preparation for this last weekend’s marathon clean out, spoiled.  Dad’s house lost power on Sunday morning not to return until Saturday morning, then kicked out again until Saturday evening. Nourishment came from Helen and Benny, two of the most loving and generous people I know.  They own a catering business and coffee shop in Martinsville, Benny’s Kitchen and Catering.  We feasted on gourmet food from Cypress, olives, goat cheese, roasted peppers ….. as well as an occasional pizza.  Anna kept the water boiling for tea to supplement Benny’s coffee, beer and wine.  We didn’t suffer at all.

Benny with his new lawn ornament

Not only did Benny and Helen feed us, Benny also helped me clean out the tool shed.  He was rewarded with this amazing lawn ornament.  We believe its original use was to pump something out of something else.  We hoped, since it was used a long time ago, Dad’s long term memory would come to our rescue.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.  We are left to the notions of our imaginations.

Oil cloth template for making sails

Hidden deep within the pile of lumber under the eaves in the attic we found the giant oil cloth rolled round a 16 foot pole.  Dad designed and built small sailboats in the 60’s.  Anna made the sails.  We found bolts of nylon sail cloth as well as the pattern template.

Treasures to draw and paint

I gathered a small pile of objects from the tool shed to draw, hoping that by doing so I can let go of the house I helped to build, one or two bricks of it at least, almost sixty years ago.  The devastation caused by Hurricane Irene added an eerie dimension to our experience of emptying the contents of the house into the dumpster in the driveway.  Less than ten miles away, hundreds of other families were emptying the ruined contents of their flooded homes onto front lawns.  The dumpsters would arrive later, perhaps even the same dumpster that we packed solid with the contents and memories of our lives in Martinsville.

Genus Microcentrum - Angle-wing Katydids

The closets were empty except for a red floral dress I brought with me to attend a wake on Monday afternoon.  Nancy Miller’s father had passed.  The doors to the house were wide open without screens, both for illumination and fresh air.  At one point I heard Anna cry out that a hummingbird had just flown through the front door, turned the corner, flew across the music room and into the closet where my dress hung.  What we found clinging to the front of my dress was not a hummingbird, it was an Angle-wing Katydid.  It continued to cling to the fabric as I carried it outside, flicked it onto the bush and took a picture of it.

Backyard dining area

I’m having a hard time accepting the fact that we won’t gather again together in the backyard eating, talking, playing croquet.

The Coffee Mug Shelf

Dad and Dave cut sections from a limb of the Beech tree to turn into small somethings for each of the family members.  The beech tree is, I believe,  the most significant symbol of the Carter Family.  It is the hardest thing to leave behind.  The shelf in the foreground is a perfect example of Dad’s useful creations.  The cherry tree was taken down by a storm decades ago, but continued to make itself useful, thanks to the custom cut scrap of plywood.

Saved by a piece of pizza

A story for another time…….


Wow….. I couldn’t believe this gem of a find.  Clearly, Dad’s conversations inspired Dave to carve Think into a piece of wood when he was a wee bit of a lad.  The piece on the right is also my brother’s art work, a glue-colored-gravel-by-numbers activity that we talked about earlier in the day prior to finding it.

Gramps, Dave and the Beech Tree

No writing, no drawing…. Dad and I will return to that in the weeks to come.  We worked together, side by side, sometimes quietly, sometimes not.  We missed our sister, Louise, not because we needed her two hands to help but because our hearts were beating as one.  That heartbeat traveled the many miles to join hers and I am sure she felt it.

We have laughed, we have cried.   We have been kind and unkind to one another as we grew up in the house in Martinsville and as we have scattered across the country creating and nurturing our own families.

The Good China

I am grateful to be part of such a strong, resilient family.  I am grateful for the multitude of friends that are an extended part of that family.  I am also going to make a point of throwing away half of what is currently in my own house so that my kids won’t have to do it for me in another thirty years.

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