Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

Another piece of my childhood bit the dust yesterday, when Scarberry and Son Excavation and Demolition Company tore down the old Jarrell House next door to Mom and Dad's home.

The little house at 290 Gallaher Street dated far back beyond my memory.

It was the lifelong home of Hurston and Toka Jarrell. I called them Mamaw and Papaw Jarrell, although they were no relation to us at all. Mom and Dad had me call them that out of respect. They had no grandchildren of their own. Their two daughters had died as children during the great Spanish Influenza pandemic that killed over 60 million people between 1918 and 1920. They were a lonely old couple who spent each evening sitting on the sun porch of their home, lights out, watching the comings and goings of the neighborhood, especially the busy young preacher's family who lived in their rental house next door at 292.

Mr. Jarrell was retired from the C&O railroad. He was a kind old gentleman, who never learned to drive a car. He mowed his grass with an old fashioned manual push mower, and worked in his garden religiously. As I remember him, he had a wry sense of humor, and would tip his hat and say "Hello Ma'am" to the mannequins when Dad would take him to the local Sears Roebuck store. His wife, on the other hand, was the old lady in the neighborhood who would shoo dogs and kids out of her yard by knocking loudly on her sun porch windows. An errant ball, accidentally thrown over the fence into the Jarrell's yard became her property until she could point out our carelessness to Dad when he would arrive home from work.

Dad had decided to leave the coal mines of Logan County, WV, when he was passed over for a company house. So he took a job in Huntington with the International Nickel Company where his older brother had previously found employment. At that time, Mom's father, Jerry Stidham, was serving in the House of Delegates with Mike Casey of Cabell County. The Caseys had become good friends of my grandparents and they agreed to try to help Mom and Dad find a house in Huntington. After asking around, they learned that the Jarrells had a house for rent on Gallaher Street, about a block from the Casey's home on Allen Avenue. The vacant house had belonged to Mrs. Jarrell's late sister. It was a small four room house with a detached "wash house" in which the bathroom was also located.

In the fall of 1952, Caudle and Patsy Adkins and their talkative little two year old, rented the cottage from the Jarrells for $25.00 per month. The Jarrells were kind enough to build a bathroom on to the house shortly after our family moved in. I learned later in life that Mrs. Jarrell (whom I had thought to be the grouchiest old lady in the world) felt sorry for Mom and the little boy (me) to have to go out to the wash house to use the bathroom or take a bath. Eventually the rent was increased to $35.00 per month, and finally around 1960 the Jarrells agreed to sell the house at 292 to Mom and Dad. After 57 years, several additions and remodeling projects, the house is still the home that Mom and Dad live in today.

Mrs. Jarrell passed away first. Although their nephew, Police Captain Clifford Jarrell, looked in on the old gentlemen on a regular basis, Dad and Mom saw to his daily well being. Mom would always fix an extra plate at dinner time, and one of my duties was to deliver the evening meal to Mr. Jarrell. Every evening, I would find him in the "sitting room" listening to a news broadcast on the large old fashioned table top radio. They never owned a television set. When he passed away, it sort of signaled the end of an era on Gallaher Street where he was one of the last of the remaining old timers.

Ownership of the Jarrell's house at 290 Gallaher Street went to their nephew after Mr. Jarrell's passing. It was rented out to a few different tenants, and eventually, when the Police Captain passed away, his widow had no desire to remain in the rental business. Dad and Gene Black (the neighbor on the lower side of the Jarrell home) made an offer to purchase the property which was accepted. Dad and Gene decided to rent out the house until it was paid for, and then have it demolished, and subdivide the 40 foot wide property between them.

That plan finally got to the demolition stage yesterday.

I watched with some sadness as the huge backhoe made short work of reducing the neighborhood landmark to a pile of splinters. By today, everything but the front steps, a portion of the foundation, and some busted up concrete are all that remain between Gene's house and our old home place.

My mind wandered back to the summer days of my childhood. Old friends and forgotten back yard ball games came back to memory. Mom and Dad were young and busy. My two brothers came along at five year intervals and our adventures together with other neighborhood kids increased as we all grew older.

As I snapped back to 2009 I looked at my parents. Mom is slipping deeper and deeper into the abyss of Alzheimers. Memory is a luxury she no longer possesses. Dad, at 82, slowly moving about the house, cannot go out now without his walker or cane. My brothers and our families are scattered about in Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, and Louisiana, and now I am only 12 months shy of my own 60th birthday.

As I watched the old house next door come down, it was just another reminder of the transitory nature of life, and the fact that the circle of life continues. Solomon sounded a little on the depressed side when he wrote these words in Ecclesiastes, chapter one:

"A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets;
panting, it returns to its place where it rises.
6 Gusting to the south,
turning to the north,
turning, turning, goes the wind,
and the wind returns in its cycles.

7 All the streams flow to the sea,
yet the sea is never full. The streams are flowing to the place, and they flow there again.

8 All things are wearisome; man is unable to speak. The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Can one say about anything,"Look, this is new"? It has already existed in the ages before us.

11 There is no memory of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no memory among those who follow them ." (HCSB)

In a world where generations come and go, and eventually no evidence of their existence remains, I am thankful that this world is not my final home. If all that there is, is here and now, our lives would indeed be sad. I thank God for the experiences of my life. I cherish my loved ones and the memories of nearly six decades, but I take comfort in knowing that this world is just a "getting' ready place. It's a place to prepare for the wonderful existence to come in the very presence of my Redeemer.

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