You can repaint a house, remodel a house, update a house, but there’s one thing that no amount of changes can erase — the memories.
Some of them came back to me the minute I pulled into the driveway of my grandparent’s old house in Saugerties, N.Y., triggered by the crunch of gravel; more yet when I climbed the wooden stairs where the “Kingston Dairy” milkbox used to be; and even more when I rounded the corner on the vast front porch and was hit with the slight smell of mildew — the same one that was there 50 years ago.
That’s exactly what I came here for — not the mildew odor, but the memories, grown fuzzy over time, covered up by the subsequent layers of paint of my life.
Being there, I found them reinstilled by the sight, smell and sounds of what used to be my grandparent’s house: The hollow thud of my own footsteps on the wooden porch, the giant, climbable sheaths of slate near the back of the property, the sounds of highway traffic darting by — more now than when I fell asleep upstairs, waiting for the next passing car.
Standing outside the home, memories whizzed by as quickly as the cars — of my highly tidy grandmother, of my jokester of a grandfather, of my great grandmother who lived in the backroom, of pinochle and pot roast, of hot tea in the afternoon with tons of cream and sugar, of morning eggs and toast popped from a toaster that, when not in use, was always neatly blanketed with a cover that said “Hot Toast Makes the Butterfly,” of a certain cookie, a raisin-filled wafer whose name eludes me, but that we enjoyed before bed with ginger ale.
My grandparents are long gone, and the last time I saw the house was in 1999, when the Woestendiek family reunion was held in Saugerties and we descended on its current owner, a New York City lawyer, begging for a peek inside.
She kindly obliged back then, so I figured she wouldn’t mind — especially since she no longer lives there full-time — if I dropped by for another look. The house, once white with green trim, is now cream colored with burgundy trim. The old windows have been replaced with modern ones.
I peeked in a window and saw the kitchen, much modernized since the days my apron-clad grandmother would whip up the best dinners I’d ever tasted. And there was one more difference — a “for sale” sign in the front yard.
I called Amy Lonis, the real estate agent listed on the sign, and explained to her I wasn’t a potential buyer — much as I would like to be — but was interested because it had been my grandfather’s house.
She agreed to meet me the next day and let me inside.
Inside, it was a far different place than it used to be — lots of old furniture still, but filled with modern art, painted by the current owner.
The arms of the sofas and chairs were no longer neatly draped with the lace doilies that my grandmother was quick to set back in proper position whenever they got rumpled, as they inevitably did.
Even though it has been majorly revamped, with some new walls put up and some new windows added to let the sun in, with what used to be great grandma’s room turned into the laundry nook, there were still plenty of reminders of the past. While the bathroom has been equipped with a jacuzzi, I’m pretty sure I saw the old claw-footed bathtub — the one I used to watch Ivory soap float in — stored underneath the house.
Seeing the old house rekindled enough sweet memories that I wanted to buy it.
It would be the perfect place to write another book, even with the whizzing traffic, I thought. And how wonderful would it be to hold the family reunion of all family reunions — back at the place where the family got started?
Why didn’t I snap it up? For about 268,000 reasons.
With about 5.7 acres, it’s listed at a pretty reasonable price. Unfortunately, I’ve never been as frugal and money-wise as my grandparents (he was the village tax collector, and grandma did the books at the family laundry in Newark.)
They moved to Saugerties when doctors told him country living would be better for his health.
Apparently, it was. There, they would have three boys, starting with my father.
My father remembers, when he was but a toddler, going into my grandfather’s car, somehow releasing the parking brake and rolling down the driveway, across the highway into the field of apple trees across the street.
If traffic then — on the road from Saugerties to Woodstock — had been what it is now, I probably never would have happened.
After visiting the house, and dropping in on the town of Woodstock, I was headed back to the campground thinking about dinner. I stopped at the only grocery between Woodstock and Saugerties, a place run by an Englishman and featuring mostly goods imported from England.
I did find a can of Spam, though — the last one — and what I thought were those raisin cookies we used to eat at grandma’s. I bought them, too, and opened them up the next day for breakfast.
They weren’t the same thing. These were filled with currants, and had a crunchy wafer instead of a golden soft one. These were called Garibaldis.
When I opened them, even though they were a year from expiring, they crumbled in the package. When I tasted them, I made a face. I threw them away at the next garbage can.
The moral of all this is that — oftentimes at least – you can go home again. You can — at least in your mind — relive your past. You can even find the obscure cookies of your childhood, or at least what you think are the obscure cookies of your childhood.
Just don’t expect them to taste exactly the same.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cookies, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, going home again, grandma, grandpa, grandparents, home, house, memories, new york, nostalgia, past, pets, revisiting, road trip, saugerties, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, woestendiek, woodstock
Maybe it’s in part to pay respects to those who died and suffered, in part to remind ourselves of how evil man can be – that whole business about keeping history fresh enough in our minds that we don’t allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated.
Maybe (last maybe, I promise) that’s also why you still find Michael Vick stories on ohmidog! and elsewhere – not so much because we want to keep punishing a man who has paid what the courts decided was his debt, but because we think the public, and public officials, need to keep it fresh in their heads, and do all in their power to wipe out the ongoing scourge of dogfighting.
Our travels having taken us to Virginia — and having recently finished reading “The Lost Dogs,” the new book by Jim Gorant that recounts the horrors that took place at Vick’s country estate and the redemption of the dogs that survived them — a trip to 1915 Moonlight Road seemed, while morbid, somehow in order.
So Ace and I headed from Norfolk up Highway 10 through Virginia’s tidelands, past the meatpacking plant in Smithfield, and turned left down the narrow road, where homes are few, far apart and – unlike the one Vick had built — mostly modest.
It’s a two-story, 4,600-square-foot, white brick home, with five bedrooms, four and a half baths and master bedroom suites on the first and second floor. It has several outbuildings, a pool and a basketball court; and the real estate listings — which make no mention of the former owner — note that there’s a kennel, too.
Yes, Michael Vick’s former house is available, and has been ever since Vick sold it before heading off for his prison sentence.
The private individual who bought it then has it listed at $595,000 – a price that is $152,000 under its assessed value. In other words, it’s a bargain – if you don’t mind the fact that it’s haunted. How could it not be – after what the 51 dogs seized from Bad Newz Kennels had gone through, not to mention the eight more murdered dogs that were dug up behind the home and removed as part of the investigation?
The house, which has sat empty for nearly three years, has more recently — amid the sluggish real estate market — been offered for rent as well. The price is $2,500 a month.
There was no open house on the day we dropped by — no one around at all. Taking heed of a sign on the gate that warned “Keep Out, Private Property, Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted Even the U.S. Army,” Ace and I kept to the perimeter of the property, across the street from a small white Baptist church.
Usually, when Ace gets out of the car he commences to sniffing and excitedly exploring for minutes on end. But here he behaved differently. He walked up to white metal gate, sat down and stayed perfectly still, staring inside for what had to be three full minutes.
I won’t read anything into that.
Vick bought the 15-acre property in 2001 – for the purpose of setting up a dogfighting operation. For two years, only a trailer occupied it. In 2003, he had the custom built house constructed, though he never lived in it full time.
A Long and Foster agent told me yesterday that the house’s prolonged period on the market is probably more a result of the housing slump than its shameful legacy — my words, not her’s. She said there is a prospective renter, but that a deal has yet to be finalized.
Not too many who have looked at it have been driven away upon learning its history, but then again, that history is not on the property sheet.
While there was an animal welfare group that sought to raise funds, buy the property and turn it into a sanctuary for animals, the agent said that plan was apparently dropped. The group thought that it would be a triumph of sorts to turn Michael Vick’s old house into a place that helped dogs.
But it’s hard to get over an awful past — whether you’re a dog, a person or a house. While Vick’s dogs have shown it can be done, and while Vick insists he has reformed, his former house remains in limbo.
As for Ace, he eventually came out of his trance, sniffed around the shrubs in front of the house and did his business.
I won’t read anything into that, either.
Posted by John Woestendiek August 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 1915 moonlight road, ace, ace does america, animal welfare, bad newz kennels, dog fighting, dog's country, dogfighting, dogscountry, empty, estate, for rent, for sale, history, house, legacy, mansion, memory, michael, michael vick, moonlight road, nfl, past, philadelphia eagles, quarterback, real estate, redemption, rent, rescue, sale, smithfield, surry county, unoccupied, vick, vick's house, virginia
Yesterday, I went searching for a piece of my past and found Hilton and Hyatt instead.
The house where I spent my seventeenth year – not quite 40 years ago – is gone, erased without a trace and replaced by a Hyatt Place hotel with, for your pleasure and convenience, Starbucks coffee and ample parking.
One purpose of my continuing journey across America, with my dog Ace, is to revisit some places of my past – both those I have recollections of and those whose memories, like some dog’s used-up bone, are buried in my head and difficult to locate without help.
On this trip, we’ve tried to dig some of them up. The triggers, we’ve found, can be a road once traveled, a scent once smelled, a song once heard, or a human reconnection, be it with childhood friends, or college buddies.
It was on Wake Forest Road, just a block or two off the beltline (I-440), once a sparsely populated stretch that ran from the town of Wake Forest into downtown Raleigh, lined, back then, by lots of woods and homes spread far apart.
Now, as it nears the beltline, Wake Forest Road is a lot less foresty. It’s Anyexit, USA, with a Denny’s, a Day’s Inn, a Marriott, a Hilton Inn and, on the property where I once lived and roamed, a Hyatt Place. Once nearly rural, it’s now upscale suburban – an area where weary travelers can get a tasty meal and a decent room exactly like those they got in the previous town and will get in the next one.
But 40 years ago, I can tell you, that same swath of land, now mostly paved over with parking lots, had character. Man, did it have character. Read more »
Posted by John Woestendiek August 10th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, bahama breeze, biggs, childhood, dog's country, dogscountry, front yard, hilton, house, hyatt, hyatt place, j.c. biggs, james c. biggs, memories, north carolina, nostalgia, parking lots, past, paved, progress, raleigh, ruffin, travel, traveling with dogs, wake forest, wake forest road, wakeforest road