As Bob Dylan said, the Times They Are A Changin, and I mean this in the nicest sort of way. As a historian of sorts, a scavenger, an urban archeologist, a hunter and gatherer of remnants and particles of the past, I have seen how change has left family homeplaces….. in odd places.
Sometimes they crumble and cave in, and sometimes they get lucky and get loved again, found by a new family building their own history.
Luckily, this is what happened for the sprawling Dutch colonial that had been built on a long rural road in the county, in 1920, and abandoned in 1990. What happened in between is speculation and this is where I use my imagination.
Baking bread made the family their dough, and distributing the brand all over the state made them millions,
but in the end all that was left was cat litter and pigeon droppings, liquor bottles and movie star magazines, or so I thought.
My initial visit to the remains of their homeplace left me cold. It was winter, the house was creaky,
yet it beckoned me to come back and explore and I accepted the challenge.
The house had basically been closed and locked, and what vagrants didn’t take, was what I found. There were lots of movie magazines; they were waist deep in the den. They buried an old maple rocker and a bakelite paneled rabbit eared television set. The magazines dated from the 1930s. There were covers with portraits of starlets with rosy cheeks, and blue tinted eyes. Magazines like Picturegoer
and Photoplay, with images of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis,
Olivia de Havilland, Dorothy Lamour. They brought the Golden Age of Hollywood to a house in Guilford County. There were scandalous covers on magazines like Movie Star, Photoplay, and Photo Screen. There were photos of Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Julie Christie.
The front foyer, as large as most living rooms,
was filled with cat litter. The holes in the ceiling gave way to pigeons in the rafters and there were droppings throughout.
What happened, where did this family go, why did they leave this behind, and what made them vanish? As I dug deeper I learned a little and I imagined a lot.
Mother and father had doted on their 3 children.
I could see it in the old photos. In the twenties and thirties they were children of privilege. While many suffered and struggled to find food, they had miniature horses and play houses and fur hats and snowboots, sleds and dogs and kittens and dollbabies.
Mother loved to shop and she had her purchases delivered to the estate in the county, and her invoices delivered to her husband’s office in the city. There were 143 pairs of shoes in their original boxes,
their matching dresses and suits and coats and hats remained in the home, long after Mother was gone. Montaldo’s and Meyer’s loved Mother. The store boxes held tissue and taffeta, felt and feathers, and rhinestones and receipts.
Her three devoted children had worked in the family business, although two got married and had adventures away from Greensboro, they eventually returned to operate the business.
But one, a daughter, never married nor left, until she had to be forcibly removed for health and sanitation reasons and she was placed in a facility. This is when the doors to the mansion were closed and locked.
Research tells me that the family business shut down around 1974, and the building itself burned in 1989, about the time the mansion was closed and the daughter carted off.
I imagine that Mother’s glamourous outfits, her metallic trimmed platform shoes and sequined dressing gowns
reminded the daughter of Hollywood, of starlets she read about in her magazines. Stars like Shirley Temple, Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Marlene Deitrich. She had been a curly haired princess growing up in the south. A little girl who’s holsum childhood had been filled with dance lessons and voice lessons,
piano and ponies. A little girl who never grew up, who never left, who never trusted anyone but herself, who never left her magazines and her homeplace and her mother’s closets. A girl, a woman, who must have had dreams of becoming a starlet herself, at one time.
On my second explorative visit I went into the attic, up a dark narrow set of stairs that opened into a huge third floor former playroom of sorts.
Hidden in the eaves were old toys
and surveying the floor I discovered a square of dirty red plastic. It was a purse, and inside it I found a label, “Shirley Temple” was the logo and there was a mirror and comb, all with Shirley’s signature.
This might have some real value I surmised, so I carefully cleaned it and photographed it.
I spent the next 4 weeks cleaning out the remains of the home, and eventually I made myself and the home’s new owner enough money to get us both through our first winter, his in his “new” home and mine in my new business.
Going through the family photos I found so many wonderful images. Father and son in front of the business, of the girls playing in the yard, of flowers and children and parents and automobiles. But one grabbed my attention. It was one of a cute little girl with curls, standing in front of a gigantic tinsel tipped spruce pine Christmas tree.
Standing in her nightgown she was surrounded by toys and with a twinkle in her eye and she was holding the Shirley Temple pocketbook that I had found on the attic floor.
The little girl who stood in front of the tree that Christmas, 1934, holding her new Shirley Temple pocketbook, well, her good ship never came in, and liquor replaced her lollipop,
as she spent her days daydreaming and drinking and watching tv.
I imagine that Christmas of 1934 had been a special one for the girl. The girl who had Hollywood dreams, and Greensboro nightmares. The girl who grew up but never out, of the house, that sat on the rural road. The house that ironically sits near the new by-pass, that now ……heads out of town. The homeplace, that ended up in this odd place, the homeplace…….where no one knows what really happened…… if only those walls could talk!
WLLSqpYyPD8 ( listen and watch the adorable Shirley Temple sing ” On The Good Ship Lollipop” )