Mack Williams: Memories of house on Maupin Avenue
By Mack Williams
When I was growing up, my mother’s half-sister, Lessie and her husband Ross Garrison lived somewhere on Maupin Avenue, but as to exactly where, I can’t recall. Aunt Lessie was somewhat older than my mother and was past the point of venturing forth from home very much during the years in which I knew her. While I was growing up, my mother often told me of her and Aunt Lessie riding the train to Kansas City when they were young, but I don’t recall which Kansas City.
Uncle Ross and Aunt Lessie’s house was one of those older homes whose grandeur was stated eloquently, modestly, without boast. The dining room was formal and spacious, with a very substantial table made of dark wood .While typing this recollection , I can still picture a bowl of Aunt Lessie’s delicious chicken and dumplings on that table in front of me, and upon such picturing, can almost imagine my right hand, through subconscious direction, fumbling around somewhere next to my computer’s keyboard in search of a spoon.
The porch had ample room for porch-style seating, and its railing was an invitation for guests to prop up their feet and enjoy the “outside” comforts of home as well. Great trees dominated the yard, including a featuring of magnolias.
Visitors would often encounter Aunt Lessie in her little, enclosed, back porch-sunroom, watching her favorite daytime television programs and enjoying the light. She was always accompanied by a vase of cut flowers and several potted plants (the potted plants enjoyed the sun just as much as she, if not moreso, and I’m sure that the cut flowers also welcomed it for as long as they could). Aunt Lessie always gave a friendly greeting, and one time told me that I was becoming a handsome boy (such statements are always happily received by boys entering their teenage years, even if presented to them by much-senior relatives). Oftentimes, on her formal dining room table, Aunt Lessie would have a single magnolia blossom sitting in water within a crystal bowl (no other decoration was needed at table, since one magnolia bloom equals a dozen of anything else.)
Close to the house’s exterior was that characteristic smell of boxwood shrubbery, the same smell encountered by me just outside the Rowan Public Library and just outside the office of Doctor Frank B. Marsh. Our house had a set of French doors leading from the living room to the dining room, and in one room at the house on Maupin Avenue, there were French doors leading outside.
I recall taking a nap there on the large, plush, living room couch. Just before dozing off, I glanced up at bookshelves and saw some of the great classics, a number of adventure stories, and many manuals pertaining to scouting, since Uncle Ross was a leader in the Boy Scouts for a great number of years.
One time, while Uncle Ross was camping with his scouts in the Uwharries, he found a piece of petrified wood which he gave us. That was the very first fossil which I had both seen and touched. It was that mineralized wood typical of the Triassic Age (200 million years ago) found in both North Carolina and Virginia. Unlike the rainbow-colored wood of Arizona’s Petrified Forest, specimens of this more local wood are generally grayish-brown, but that particular piece from Uncle Ross, to this very day, has streaks of red and green put there by me as a child with my crayons. One of the advantages of owning your very own fossil as a child, is that if you don’t like its original color, you can change it yourself, something frowned upon when visiting the great specimens of the great museums (or even the lesser specimens of lesser establishments).
Returning to Uncle Ross and Aunt Lessie’s living room-library, there always was a dish of complimentary candy available for guests (and for the residents, I’m sure, while reading). Framed family pictures were placed about the living room, the clothing styles dating them to somewhere in the 1930s, bringing to mind some of the Art Deco settings of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
One lasting, restful, almost idyllic reverie of memory from that house on Maupin Avenue is still in my mind today. That recollection is of a sunlit Sunday afternoon, sometime in the 1960s during late summer or early fall. I recently tried to find my aunt and uncle’s former Maupin Avenue home on Google Maps, and couldn’t locate it , but I did notice that the Google Street View people filmed the whole area on a day similar in prettiness to the particular day of my memory.
On that distant afternoon, I was sitting on Aunt Lessie’s porch (Uncle Ross had passed on by then) with my feet propped up on the porch’s railing. The expanse of clear sky was interrupted only by some “framing” leaves and the sight of a characteristic, anvil- shaped cloud off to one side, the source of very distant thunder. As I sat there, I looked more directly upwards and saw a spiderweb stretched from one corner of the porch’s roof to a supporting column, the fine pattern of web spanning a space of clear sky. The spider’s “net” had already snared candle flies, moths, and a few specimens of stinging insects. From my perspective,they, along with the spider, were silhouetted against the blue, as a far-off jet in the same line of sight made its own linear “web”, speeding past the silhouetted spider and its similarly-silhouetted, bound-and-wrapped “future meals.” In the spider’s chance scurrying within that same line-of-sight lineup, it seemed to almost make a try for the passing jet, but just missed.
Though a spider’s web is purported to be much stronger than steel, neither it, nor the spider’s grasp were sufficient to catch the jet that Sunday afternoon on Maupin Avenue, both minuteness and great distance playing no small parts in the failure.