When I moved into my house, my neighbor who is in his mid-90's told me that he’d lived in the house since 1954 and raised his family there. That his wife had recently passed a few years prior, and that he regularly visited her grave.
Over the course of the last few years I've seen him tend to his house with love and respect. At the start of the pandemic when I was working from home, I would watch him mow his lawn and pull weeds as I sat at my desk looking out the window. Ashamed by my own laziness and entranced by this man who couldn’t hear and was legally blind going about his daily chores. He hung his laundry to dry in the backyard. White socks and tank tops hanging from the line reminded me of my own grandfather. I wore those same tank tops, as house dresses, along with my sister during summer visits to my Grandparents’ house in New Orleans. When the summers were thick and sticky with heat his tank tops were cool.
After the Texas snow storm and ERCOT's execution of rolling blackouts and power outages, I realized I had not seen him. His son- in-law took over mowing the lawn, and I worried he had passed. I finally saw him one summer afternoon with his daughter, while sitting on my stoop with a friend. She told me he was now in assisted living and was happy. I didn’t believe it. I assumed he did not want to be a burden to his family.
The house was put up for sale, and very quickly sold. Soon huge ditches were dug around the property. The house was gutted haphazardly, sloppily. Debris scattered over the yard he cared for so lovingly. If he had seen it in this state, I wondered if it would affect him in the same way it was affecting me.
This past week I was supposed to go out of town, but very quickly and intensely got sick. I stayed melted on my sofa or in my bed most days. During this same week I awoke to the sounds of the house being torn down. I lay in bed forcing myself to listen, as if it was my burden to bear, feeling as if I was the only witness with knowledge of the history and memories the home held. It began to rain and the bull dozer stopped. I lay there listening to the rain in silence until sleep took over.
The house that stood is now rubble. I mourn it, knowing that I will not see him again. My grandparents were forced to move into a retirement community after the home they lived in for more than twenty years was sold and renovated. Their home held so many sweet memories for me. The elephant ears which towered over me as a child, the stray cats who scattered at the sight of everyone except my Grandfather. He brought them scraps of chicken, and when he called out to them, they came running. He was gentle, kind, tall and lean with warm brown skin and a distinctive soft laugh. I miss him.
This week has been difficult. Sick and foggy headed, witnessing this house being torn down. Knowing it is an end. Knowing that a new home will further gentrify the neighborhood I love so much.