Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cormac McCarthy Childhood Home Goes Up in Smoke

Dear Cormac,

I know that I just wrote, but I had to drop you a line when I saw all of this on the news. Fire! At the old homestead.

Yes, I know it has been a long time since you lived here, since anyone has lived here, and yet, a part of a person's heart grows attached to a place where one spent childhood years. It doesn't go up in smoke without causing just a little part of it's former dwellers to singe also.

The paper said,
McCarthy, who was born in 1933 in Providence, R.I., moved to Knoxville with his family in 1937 when his father got a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. When his family bought the house and its three-acre lot in 1941, it was advertised as having 10 rooms, two baths, and "automatic heat."

Well, this week that automatic heat caught up with the house. The bamboo and honeysuckle that shielded the house from the street was lost too.

My childhood home was in a little neighborhood, not unlike South Knoxville. I remember little bamboo-like growths and honeysuckle havens that afforded protection to small children from the wind and heat. I know that I loved to crawl between the stalks, with or without a book, and enjoy their sweet embrace. Did you huddle like that in front of 5501 Martin Mill Pike? Have I ever told you about the time I crawled beneath one of my favorite brush shields and found a dime? It was a magical moment. Imagine. I thought that surely no one else had discovered this hideaway. And yet, here, a sign of human life, and not just that, a treasure to boot.
So now, the last remarkable treasures of your childhood are up in smoke. Knoxville heritagers are shaking their heads. A tourist trap, lost forever, before it had even been renovated. "This was a senseless loss," said Kim Trent, executive director of the nonprofit preservation group Knox Heritage. And he had tried to preserve your place. It was at the top of the "Fragile 15" list. Let's hope that the Eugenia Williams' home fares better.

Well, as we get older, I suppose places like childhood homes and honeysuckle live better in our imaginations than they do at ground level. And this week, in Knoxville, it was certainly no country for old men.




brd said...

Note: Wes Morgan, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Tennessee and McCarthy devotee, said he believes the Knoxville home remained special to McCarthy and was the model for the father's homestead in McCarthy's 2007 Pulitzer-winning book "The Road" about a father and son travelling through a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

"The day following some few miles south of the city at a bend in the road and half lost in the dead brambles they came upon an old frame house with chimneys and gables and a stone wall," according to a passage from the book. "The man stopped. Then he pushed the cart up the drive."

"'What is this place, Papa?"' the son says.

"'It's the house where I grew up,"' his father replies.

cadh 8 said...

This was a great post. You are such a wonderful writer.
It is funny how childhood homes grow large and magical in our minds. When I went back to the home that I grew from 5 year old to adolescent in, I was shocked at how small and raggety it was. In my mind it was a warm and happy place where i had spent some of my most joyous times. Granted, time had probably not been kind to it either. But even though the reality of the place was not the same as I had remembered, nothing about the reality of it now can diminish the magic of my memories. And even though Cormac's home is now gone, it reality is that the place he remembers was gone long ago already, to live on only in his mind anyway.
I think sometimes it is good to be able to actually physically let go of a place. To know that you can really never go back there again, but that the memories are still there. That is how I felt when we left my old home. I had put it to rest. It was bittersweet, but I know now that there is no need to dream of going back. I almost wish it was burnt down and physically gone because "that place" of my memory really no longer exists.

brd said...

Thanks for your kind words. Yes, once you leave a place for good, it freezes. Going back is tricky.