Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dust in the Wind

As the strong southerly wind blew away more than a hundred years of dust, I was thankful the memories couldn't be swept away as easily.

On April 29, my Grandma and Grandpa Neelly's house came tumbling down. It had stood for more than 100 years in Pratt County, though we're not exactly sure when it was built. My grandparents, Shelby and Lela Neelly, moved into the house in May 1942 with their two small girls - 6-year-old Janis and 4-year-old Merlene.

(This photo was taken in 1943 at the house, a year after they moved in)

It was the house where they spent their growing up years, the years before they became wives and mothers and grandmas themselves.

On April 29, my mom, Janis, was the only one of the four to witness the end of the era.

Janis Neelly Moore, April 29, 2011

Grandma died in 1989, really before either of my kids could know her. Grandpa celebrated his 100th birthday in 2004 and then died the next spring in 2005. Merlene died unexpectedly in 2007. To be sure, we all carried their memories in our hearts and minds that morning.

After people had removed doors and other salvagable items, it was definitely a little worse for the wear. The "bones" still looked like my home away from home, a place where my sisters and my brother had built memories with my grandparents, who lived only 7 miles away from our house.

The house had stood empty since 2004. At age 100, my Grandpa still lived in the old farm house. A few months after we celebrated his personal centennial, pneumonia finally forced him to move to a nursing home.

The great-grandkids and Grandpa at his 100th birthday party, July 2004

The excavator made quick work of the demolition job. The demolition man arrived at 8 AM and dug a huge hole in the backyard. It was where my Grandma's irises once blossomed. I never see iris without thinking of her backyard.

My brother Kent and Dad watching the progress of the hole

By 9:30, the machine made the first "chomp" with its massive jaws and the walls began tumbling down. The garage had been added when I was a kid. It went down much more quickly than it went up.

It was a morning of mixed emotions. No one had lived in the house since Grandpa moved out. It wasn't a practical candidate for renovation. It was poorly insulated (though Grandpa insisted otherwise). It would have cost far more to renovate than it would to start from scratch.

With the propensity for old farmhouses to become havens to meth labs and other criminal activity, my parents felt fortunate that the house escaped that fate.

So it was time ...

... time to say goodbye to a house whose very rooms were stuffed to the brim with memories, even though the people and the things that made it a home were long gone.

It took little more than an hour for the entire structure to look more like the pick-up sticks we used to play with as kids.

And not long after that, many of the remnants of the old two-story house were pushed into the hole.

By 2:20, all that was left was broken up concrete. The cement was from the slab by their garage, where my folks would park during our visits and we kids would run through the garage and through Grandma and Grandpa's back door.

The brooder house also ended up in the cavernous hole. Grandpa, a K-State fan through and through, painted it and many other outbuildings purple after Grandma died.

That little brooder house was the first home for each spring's arrival of chicks. We didn't have chickens at home, so it was an adventure at Grandma's and Grandpa's house. We'd run out and watch the fluffy yellow chicks grow and change as they got stronger under the glow of heat lamps.

We grew and changed, too, at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Tomorrow: What makes a house a home? Memories live on ...


  1. Wow! I don't have nearly as many memories in that home as you do but I do have memories of the last 10 years of Grandpa Neely's life and the time I spent there for a short time each summer. I know no one lives in that house now, but it was still sad to watch it be tore down!

  2. My mom and your mom talked about the what ifs for when grandpa died but it still makes you shed some tears when it happens. As a child and as an adult I have had many memories there and it is sad to see the house go. It is one more end to grandma, grandpa and my mom dieing. Thank you Kim for sharing.

  3. We did this very thing with my grandparent's house. The house had deteriorated so badly that the memories were better than the reality of the structure; so it, too, was time. The feelings you expressed in your article are the very same ones we experienced. When I go home, I am compelled to walk around where the house once stood and remember. To everything there is a season. Thanks for the article.