“Now in my place.
There are so many others.
Standin’ in the line;
How long will they stand between us?” (1975) “Nights On Broadway” Recorded By: Bee Gees. Composers: Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb
My left turn took me down Pine St. which intersected Jones St. At that vantage point, you can clearly see the old house, the second lot to the right.
My maternal grandparents, Martin and Opal Atherton of Greenville, Texas, bought the old house in 1955. Prior to their moving, they lived in the country on a farm south of Greenville. Because the new I-30 was being built straight through the property, they chose to move into town. My mom was only 11 years old when they settled into the house on Jones St. It was an old neighborhood, in fact the original house itself goes back to the late 1840’s. Driving down the street just a few years ago would remind you of the neighborhood in the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”. High ceilings, large porches and floor-to-ceiling windows. We still have the old skeleton keys which go to the three bedroom doors with crystal-like glass doorknobs. It’s the house I knew first as a newborn.
Photo: A rare snow on the lawn of my grandparents house taken from the west side of the property.
The couple who owned the place before my grandparents were excellent landscapers, and true green-thumbers. My mom described it as a garden showplace on the block, filled with fruit trees, a small orchard along the west side of the house, various flowers, holly hedges, and various items of produce in the backyard. I remember as a small child some of the lush cool Saint Augustine grass, and the trees and grapevines climbing the western kitchen window. However, my grandparents were not of the same fabric as the former owners. Over the years they didn’t nurture much of the plant life on the property. As it turned out, my granddad didn’t want to spend much money on the the water bill. Still, much of the trees, hedges, and perennials remain to this day.
Next door to them, on the west side lot, lived a wonderful middle aged couple. They lived on the corner lot in a simple white frame house. They became dear friends of my folks right away. They had children of their own, although I am unclear of how many. The neighbors shared meals, special dishes, after school snacks for my mom and her two brothers. The man there was a wiz at making homemade candies. He was well-known for bringing a plate of them over to the house for holidays, or special birthdays.
At the time, there was no backyard fence, or border fence. In fact, the former owners of the house had shared a small orchard with their neighbors next door as their gardens ran along the back border of the properties. A line of Bradford Pear Trees grew along the adjoining side yards beside the neighbor’s driveway. When I was a toddler, I actually recall running through the garden and into the neighbor’s backyard without realizing it was their property.
The year the couple moved out of their house, to a newer neighborhood across town, is uncertain. I believe it was around 1967-1968. From that time on, the house next door must have had a revolving door. More than likely, it became a rent house. Over the years, several tenants moved in and out. It seemed like each time I came to visit my grandparents, some new family lived next door. Sometime around 1969, or 1970, my granddad had a backyard fence put in. By that time, most all of the shared garden and orchard were no more. Sad but true. There was nothing to stand in the way of constructing a privacy fence for the backyard.
Years later, maybe by 1977, the old house next door was torn down. If memory serves me right, there was a fire that destroyed a room in the house. After the house was demolished, only the unpaved driveway and front steps to where the porch once stood was left.
After my grandparents passed away, my mom inherited the family house. She lived alone there for several years until she developed mild dementia last year. It became necessary to move her out of the old place where she was no longer able to take care of the house, or herself very well. She has been living with my wife and I ever since November of last year (2021). As for the house, we plan to sell it soon. There’s so much work that must be done before I can even begin the process. The place is an old friend, filled with a lifetime of precious memories for my mom, and for me. Nobody ever said it would be easy to let go of an established family home.
About a month ago, I had made the hour long trip to Greenville to check on the house. I took that left turn onto Pine street, a left turn I have made a million times in my life, and drove to the stop sign where Jones St. intersects. I looked to the right to glance at the tired house from across the empty corner lot, and was absolutely stunned. So stunned, it took my breath away. There, in the vacant lot, construction work had been done to prep for the pouring of concrete for a new home. Even more surprising, our fence on the adjacent west side was missing, showing our backyard open and bare.
Furthermore, my granddad’s storage shed, which sat next to a second storage shed, filled with well-worn garden tools, old auto parts, and storage boxes, was also missing. As I pulled up in front of the house, I could see where property stakes were hammered into the ground marking what the contractor believed to be the property line from the curb to the back border fence.
Photo: From the curb to the back fence line. All the Bradford Pear Trees were uprooted and removed.
Albeit an astonishing view, as it was, what was more disturbing was the stakes were driven into the turf just about 5 feet from the wall of the house. There is also a garden water faucet which protrudes from the ground some 12″ or so, that has always been used to water the lawn. Now, it is on the property next door, and it’s from our water pipes.
The backyard fence once extended some 10-12 feet beyond where they staked out the borderline. Gone were the line of Bradford Pear Trees where the perceived property line was, just east of the neighbor’s driveway. The grounds look so naked without them.
A thousand emotions ran through my mind and heart. Honestly, I couldn’t think straight. My first recognizable emotion was outrage. I was angry! In fact, I was steaming. I am grateful there were no construction workers there at the time. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My granddad’s fence and his storage shed had vanished, as well as about 10 feet of the side yard. There was no mail in the mailbox. No note on the door. No phone calls from the contractor involved. Zero communication.
After I caught my breath, a deep, sickening sadness invaded my spirit. There was a mammoth gratitude overwhelming me as I thought what my grandparents would’ve done if they saw what had been done. They were long gone to their new eternal home, not to be bothered by earth’s troubles. Thank you, God for the delay of the purchase of this vacant lot until after my folks left.
Looking at the stakes in place I couldn’t help but tear-up as I thought of 62 years of my life knowing and playing on the encroached ground which suddenly was no longer owned by my family. My earliest memories of running through the trees, the strawberry bushes, and the clusters of red berries on the Holly shrubs were vivid in my mind. The dozens of times I mowed the thick Saint Augustine from the time I was in Jr. High raced through my mind. Mental videos of the mounds of enormous Sycamore leaves just waiting for my cousins and me to dive into the crunch were racing through my brain. And now, some unknown stranger took that strip of land for their own. At least that’s how I saw it.
I just knew there had been a mistake. Somehow, someway, this contractor got bad information, an incorrect survey, or maybe a zealous real estate agent decided to take advantage of an old vacant house. There had to be a solution to this issue before they started pouring the foundation. Immediately I took a snapshot of the contractor’s sign sticking up by the curb. I emailed them about my displeasure over the removal of the fence and the storage shed. I mentioned how we would get our own survey done without delay. I called the local county tax office about the matter. The clerk on the other end of the line was very helpful. They sent me the measurements of our lot, as well as a bird’s eye photo of our house. To my shock, the picture from above, looked as if the marker stakes were accurate, according to the deed of the property. I quickly called a cousin of mine who lives just 10 minutes away. He came out with a measuring tape and marked it off to the exact footage listed for the width of the property. You guessed it right, didn’t you? My cousin’s survey put it as exactly the footage published in the original deed. It came out right at the border stakes in the ground.
Don’t get me wrong. My anxiety hasn’t vanished from this stark revealing. Moreover, I am unable to discover just how this happened, and when it happened. Questions popped up right away. Was my granddad a land grabber? NO WAY! He was a righteous man from head to toe. He was a straight shooter with God, family and neighbor. Never would he ever take land that wasn’t his…knowingly. Of course, I wondered how far back this mistake goes. Was this property line blurred over 100 years ago for some reason? Could it have been a friendly agreement between neighbors who shared the lush gardenwork of the couple who lived in our house 70+ years ago? I keep thinking of that “over-the-border” garden facet. How old is it? Could the contractor, who built my granddad’s fence back in 1969, have made an eyeball judgement without a surveyor? Who knows? One thing is sure, everyone that would have the answers are long since dead. There’s no one alive to ask.
Even though the way our fence and storage shed, along with its contents, was uprooted and taken away was harsh, and frankly, rude and inconsiderate, I have been humbled by the experience of finding out the unfortunate truth. I have to be settled in my core about the facts, beyond the sweet lifelong memories I have of the grounds.
Here’s a truth that is marked out by the stakes in my heart. I will not sell to the broker who was involved with the lot next door. Someone else will get our property when the time arrives. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.
Spiritually, there are deep reminders as I see the new borderline on the west side of our property. In scripture, God set out some stakes for healthy boundaries to be observed. From the Garden of Eden and onward, God set up boundaries we were not to cross. In doing so, peril was a surety. Very much like buoys marking the drop at the edge of the shallows. Stakes were firmly placed in the ground by ten commandments. Today we see them more as suggestions. Borders, boundaries, property lines mean something. It’s supposed to show the thief to be aware of trespassed ground. It’s turf to be honored. However, in today’s crime-gone-bonkers, boundaries are ignored. Borders, boundaries, stakes, property lines are there for a reason. It matters. Just ask the tax office.
You can see the deed of eternity with the Pro-Border Maker in fuel for the race.
“And I placed boundaries on it (the sea) and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘As far as this point you shall come, but no farther; And here your proud waves shall stop’?” Job 38:10-11 (NAS)