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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The House That Built Me

The House that Built Me.

This prompt came from Mama Kat's Losin' It

Mama’s Losin’ It

I don’t generally go seeking writing prompts. In fact, I did not go looking for this one. However, my wife, Suzanne, shared with me a writing prompt she saw on Mama Kat's Losin' It Writing Prompts and it just seemed like I had a story that needed to be told.

When I was a kid, we moved a few times. When I was born, my family brought me home to a house on Dora Drive in Doraville, Georgia. I lived there until I was five years old. Then, my family had a house built at 1824 Greenwood Drive in Norcross, Georgia. I lived there until I was eight and in the third grade.

We moved from Georgia to 410 Wedgewood Drive, Inman, South Carolina. There, we lived in a 3,000 square foot house in a typical middle class neighborhood. I lived there until I was twelve years old.

Then, we moved to the corner of West Green and Betsy Streets in Iva, South Carolina. That is the House that Built Me.

At that time in Iva, the city did not have address numbers for the houses. There was no mail delivery in the city. You had to go to the post office to get your mail. Everyone either had a post office box or they got their mail over the counter in the post office.

Back in 1973 my father, Robert Bruce McClendon Jr., was working for National Cash Register (NCR). He was the number one salesman for the company pretty much the entire time he worked for them. One of his most prized possessions, and now one of mine is his CPC pin, which he earned for being in the top sellers. He was making pretty good money at this. His income exceeded $60,000 a year in 1973. According to webanswers.com, this is worth about $300,000 today.

The company got a new president who put all salesmen on a salary of $20,000 which basically cut his income by 2/3. He knew he had to make a change. He had some savings and he began to research business opportunities. He decided on buying a Western Auto Associate Store and building it in Iva, South Carolina. We began looking for a place to live in the area of Iva, South Carolina.

We had been driving around Iva in early 1974 looking for a house to buy that would be suitable for us to live in. My father and mother, along with my then 14 year old sister and my 6 year old brother and I (then twelve years old), rode everywhere looking for a house. My father promised us that we would be able to have mini bikes and horses and all sorts of things when we moved to Iva. What we found was the Gailey Place.

After looking everywhere we could find, my father pulled the 1967 Cadillac Calais into the parking lot of Cliff’s Diner in Iva. Outside was the owner, Smiley Powell. My father asked him if he had found him a house yet and Smiley told him yes he did and pointed just up the street to a white, two-story house on the corner of West Green and Betsy Streets. We pulled up front and waited for the real estate agent to arrive. Soon the man pulled up to the house and we went in to take a look.

The house had been a boarding house. Mostly “old maid’ school teachers had lived there. Now the house was empty except for the couple who were supposed to be taking care of the house, as well as their daughter. We entered through their apartment and went out into the rest of the house.

While walking through the house, I got this very strange feeling. It was sort of like Déjà-vu, only different. I did not know what I was feeling but it was a feeling I would have many times in this house.

The house itself smelled of insecticide used to kill fleas on dogs. My father called it “B Brand.” The electricity was old. It was the type with exposed wires and ceramic insulators. Bare bulb fixtures hung from the ceiling. The house was dark and very dirty. Past tenants had left piles of things that they did not care to take with them. There were old slop jars in the house. For those of you who don’t know what a slop jar is, back in the days before indoor plumbing was common people would keep pots to potty in at night or when it was very cold outside. The next morning, the person would take this to the outhouse and dump it. There were several of these and old five gallon buckets where people had relieved themselves years ago.

On the walls were as many as fifteen layers of wallpaper that had been painted over several times. There were many places where the wallpaper was missing and the lath showed through.

The kitchen was not to be believed. To start with, it leaned. When you walked into the kitchen, you started walking downhill. There were old metal cabinets and holes in the walls. The back porch was falling off the house.

We walked outside and my father asked the man how much the house would cost. They settled on $12,000 and my father wrote him a check. As my father leaned over the trunk of the car filling out the paperwork, my sister cried her eyes out.

My family and I returned to our house in Inman and began our plans to move to Iva.

Sometime later my mother received a phone call that we had a delivery for the Western Auto Store down in Iva. The problem was, the store had not been built yet. Because of excessive amounts of rain, the ground had not even been broken for the building yet. So, here we were with a transfer truck load of fixtures for the store and no store in which to put them. So, off to Iva we go, my mother, my brother, my sister and me. We drove down to Iva and we, that is everyone except my brother, unloaded this truck load of fixtures into the house. This would not be the first time we did this.

As time went by, we unloaded more trucks than I can remember and stored it all in that house. We had bikes, television sets (the old huge console type too). Tires upon tires upon tires were rolled and stacked into this house. There is something unique to the smell of a new tire. Today I smell them and get a little misty about the “good old days”.

My family and I also had to move stuff from Inman to Iva. My father had bought a 1967-68 green Chevrolet pickemup truck from a local used car lot. A man in Iva loaned my father a set of truck bodies to use for the move. A truck body is a set of wooden slats that go around the bed of the truck. They are meant to contain whatever you put on the back of the truck. The man that loaned them to my father was a cattle farmer. He used these bodies on his truck to contain his cows when he hauled them places. The thing about hauling cows is that they leave a little of themselves behind. It was my job to remove the evidence of cows gone by from the bodies.

So my mother and I loaded up the truck many times over. Sometimes my sister would help and sometimes she and my brother would stay in Inman while my mother and I hauled things to Iva. We made many trips in that truck.

Finally the day arrived when we were to move to Iva and our new house. I dubbed the new house McClendon Manor. My father liked the name so much he had a rubber stamp made that said
McClendon Manor
Corner of West Green
and Betsy Streets
“The Gailey Place”

The original owner of the house, the person who had the house built, was Preston Brooks Gailey. He was named after a great South Carolina Representative.

A Side Trip

On May 22, 1856 Preston Brooks, a Democratic Congressman from South Carolina, entered the senate chamber and beat Charles Sumner with a wooden cane. Sumner had given a speech three days earlier in which he singled out Andrew Butler. He made several disparaging remarks about Mr. Butler and mocked him about a physical disability.  Preston Brooks walked into the senate chamber and beat Sumner while other senators watched and did nothing.

The senate voted to remove Brooks from office. Brooks survived the vote but resigned anyway. He returned to South Carolina. South Carolina had to hold a special election to elect someone to fill the now vacated seat of Preston Brooks. Guess who won the election?

Back to the Gailey Place

In Iva, whenever people asked where we lived, we had only to tell them “The Gailey Place” and everyone knew exactly where we meant. It was almost like a scene out of Green Acres. Whenever Oliver Wendell Douglas would mention “The Haynie Place” everyone knew exactly where he meant and that the house was a catastrophe.

When we first moved in the house, there was no heat, no air conditioner, and the electricity was doubtful. My siblings and I slept on army cots in what would become the den and my parents slept on a mattress and box springs in their room
Outside the house was a forest. Not really, but kind of close. The yard had been untended for years. There were large growths of bamboo. There were bushes and rocks and all sorts of undergrowth.

Behind the house down a little path was what we called “Raymond’s House”. A man named Raymond rented this house from the Gaileys and now from us. It was a very small house with one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a den. It was small but quaint. Behind this house was a path that led to a Shell Station and Drennon’s Produce Market. I walked that path many times going to get food and beverages for us as we worked on the house and the yard.

As time passed, we worked on the house as best we could around the things we had stored. Finally, we were able to move stuff out of the house to the store. While the house was being re-plumbed we had no running water and no electricity. This went on for weeks. My sister and I had to haul water from a hose connected to the house at the bottom of the hill. This house was owned by Ms. Jane and her nephew Everette. Ms. Jane was a sweet old lady who always wanted to help. She let us take baths in her tub while we had no water at the house.

When I was twelve years old bathing in the tub at that house I had no idea that about twenty-two years later I would be living in that house with my pregnant wife Suzanne and that the room I was now bathing in would become a walk-in closet.

Through the years we put tons of work into that house. My sister and I swept and mopped and vacuumed. We hauled water up the stairs and we helped paint. We had the house completely rewired. We had new sheetrock put up all over the house. My mother worked countless hours stripping layer upon layer of paint and varnish off of the baseboards. We put new hardware on all the doors and we painted the inside and outside of the house.

I remember having to stand on a ladder propped on a lower roof of the house to paint the eaves of the upper roof of the house. We, my mother and I, scraped and painted every inch of the outside of that house. My sister cooked and cleaned inside the house. My father worked at the store getting it going and my brother, well, I don’t know what he did.

I won’t say the house is haunted and I won’t say it isn’t. What I will say is that strange things happened while we were working on it. When we unstuck old windows they would raise and lower on their own. We would be standing looking at a window and it would open. Newly installed light switches would flip themselves on and off several times then stop. The electrician who had just installed that switch would replace it and it would happen again. But, after a while, it would stop, never to happen again.

When my mother would put toilet paper at the bottom of the stairs so that the next person who went upstairs could take it up with them, it would, somehow, get thrown to the top of the stairs. No one ever saw how this happened.

The years went by and we continued to work on restoring this house. At one time it was a show place. Former tenants would come by just to see what we had done. We would show them around the house. Everyone had a story to tell. All of them were interesting stories.
Strange things kept happening. It got to a point where my brother would no longer sleep upstairs. He moved down to what was supposed to be the living room. My sister did not like to be upstairs by herself but she would go up there alone from time-to-time.

I would go up there by myself and had some strange encounters. There would be times I would hear the old floor creak in a pattern .The pattern would creak up to where I was sitting at my desk doing my homework and stop. We gave this experience the name “Pres” for Preston Gailey. Sometimes I would talk to this odd presence. It was weird, but I actually felt like it was trying to communicate with me. So, I would talk to it. I would tell it what I was doing. If I was doing my homework, I would tell it what subject and what we were studying. I really felt like it understood.

There would be times I would lose things and after searching everywhere, I would give up I would say out loud what I was looking for. Often when I returned what I had been looking for would be found in plain sight, like on the bed or the desk. Could I have been looking for it so hard that I did not see it? Maybe.

Uncle Carl and Uncle Herman

Uncle Carl was always a little on the anxious side. To say he was easy to spook would be an over simplification. In short the man was very apprehensive about going upstairs at McClendon Manor, which is what we named the big house at the corner of West Green and Betsy Streets in Iva. The house had been known as The Gailey Place after the original owner Preston Gailey.

One Friday after school I got just a little bit devilish and decided to have a little fun at Uncle Carl’s Expense. I had a rubber mask that looked like an ugly old man. I took this mask and stuffed it with rags and paper and then took some clothes and stuffed them with other clothes and newspaper.

 Then I got some spooky blood shot eyeballs I had from a Halloween decoration and put them in the eye sockets of the mask. I took some brown work gloves and puffed them up with toilet paper to make hands. Then I put screw eyes in the ceiling over the bed and ran invisible fishing line from one of the hands through the screw eyes to the door and connected it to the door so that when the door was opened the hand would pop up and make the creature move. I named the creature “Uncle Herman.”

I had Uncle Herman lying on the bed in the room we called the yellow bedroom which is where Carl would spend Friday nights of most weeks. Carl would work during the week for a faucet company and would work Friday afternoons and Saturdays at the store. On Friday nights he would stay in the yellow bedroom. So, Uncle Herman was waiting on Carl to get home from work.

When I finished creating Uncle Herman I went across the hall to my bedroom and listened to some music through my headphones in anticipation of Carl’s arrival. I heard Carl coming up the stairs. I was as quiet as I could be because I knew that Carl was scared to death to be upstairs by himself. If he knew I was upstairs he would not be quite so afraid.
I eased across my room and peeked through the door to watch Carl as he and Uncle Herman met. Carl opened the door and Uncle Herman’s hand shot up. This worked better than I had planned.

Uncle Herman even rolled towards Carl a little bit as his hand shot up. The next thing I knew Carl had thrown his suitcase to the bottom of the stairs and run down the stairs. He was pulling at the seat of his pants yelling “Bruce, Bruce.” He had pooped his pants. The funniest part is that when he threw his suitcase from the top of the stairs somehow he managed to beat it to the bottom of the stairs.

The next week Carl was very apprehensive about going upstairs. He opened the door to the yellow bedroom slowly and peaked in. No ghosts, no Uncle Herman. He was safe.
The following week I was back in a devilish mood. I took my camera tripod and put two of the legs of it through the legs of a pair of jeans. I put the Herman head mask on top and put a shirt on a hanger and filled all of this up with rags and old clothes. Then I put a pair of gloves on Uncle Herman.

 I took a fishing line and ran it from the door to a screw eye in the ceiling. Then to another set of screw eyes and attached it to Uncle Herman’s hand. I cranked the tripod head up so that Uncle Herman’s head would be about eye-ball to eye ball with Uncle Carl. Problem was that Uncle Herman had no eye balls. So, I made some. I got some ping pong balls and painted them to look like eyeballs.

It was almost time for Uncle Carl to arrive so I went back to my room and watched. Up the stairs comes Uncle Carl. The door opens to the yellow bedroom. Down the stairs goes Uncle Carl. I carried him some toilet paper. Everyone thought it was funny except, of course, Uncle Carl.

The years past and I spent time alone upstairs at the house. After my sister went away to college, I pretty much had the run of the place to myself. I had a great deal of fun there. I had all sorts of electronic gadgets that I had rigged up. I even put a telephone in my bedroom. This was a major feat since it was illegal to hook up your own phone back then.
Soon I went away to college and the place was never quite the same. I moved back in just before Suzanne and I were married.  The last I heard McClendon Manor was up for sale. My brother inherited it.

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