VOL. 132 | NO. 149 | Friday, July 28, 2017
Love in the Bones
DNA IN THE TIMBERS, SOUL IN THE PLACE. We drive by them at the edge of fields, just there in the woods, or just here abandoned at the edge of progress, beneath the tumble of vines and what remains of a roof or a wall, the dark eyes of broken windows and missing doors, the lost welcome of sagging porches, of warmth gone cold from crumbling chimneys, reminders of a life and lives, of another time – and every time I wonder who they were, what happened there.
“Of course you love it,” Nora says as we pass yet another and I wax on yet again, “It’s falling apart.”
I do love them. I love them because I’d love to know the stories they could tell.
The inspector was looking at the support beams of the roof and original studs in the old farmhouse dating from 1848. “They don’t make this anymore … this thick, this long, this wide. These were custom cut, actually finished by hand. Look at that. Put your hand on it. Those are ax marks.”
The inspector was talking to a group of us looking to turn the James Lee House into offices 30 years ago. That simple 1848 farmhouse grew into a magnificent towered mansion in Victorian Village, later into the Memphis Academy of Arts, and by when we looked at it, into a decaying memory abandoned since 1959. We were a group of small businesses occupying the Heartbreak Hotel … developer, lawyer, architect, ad man, interior designer, health care consultant, couple of dogs … and we loved the place and the idea. Our love couldn’t overcome the financial and spiritual challenges of converting something in that shape into something it deserved.
The love of Jennifer and Jose Velazquez and the vision, support and cooperation of private and public resources they inspired has turned the James Lee House into the most singularly charming and spectacularly restored historic bed and breakfast inn – in my gobsmacked opinion – in the known world. I saw what it was. What they’ve done is impossible, but love can do that.
Another inspector crawled out from under another old farmhouse, this one dating from 1870. “The beams under there are huge. And you can see the ax marks. Found the old brick hearth from the original fireplace, too.”
That inspector was talking to my son. He and his wife are considering taking on a project that started as a simple farmhouse outside the village of Germantown in 1870 and added additions as it became completely surrounded by suburban growth, yet completely separate in its own world of ancient trees and untamed property.
Whether or not Gaines and Courtney pursue it is still undecided, and much is in that decision – much money, time and sacrifice certainly, and much love. The story of that house may well be over, or it may be starting all over again.
Like people, falling in love with places can save them and love will determine their worth.
I’m a Memphian, and what we love tells our stories.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.