On the northwest corner of Shepherd and Moore sits a barnacled cocoon transforming into some new species of working class home for an up and coming young family with scrimped down-payment and heads full of dreams.
When I arrived in Blue Springs—lo these many moons ago—the house resembled Tom Bombadil’s abode set off from the street atop a rocky crag. The landscape was a cacophonous collection of Found Art, some incoherent combination of the kitschy and surreal with shadows of sundials and chipped plaster gnomes and vintage farm tools all reddened with rust melting over tableau edges of handmade berms and small circles of stones sitting sentry over the field of smaller stones covering the ground from the sidewalks to the property line so no one ever had to mow.
It was either an eyesore or the pinnacle of folk art.
The back yard sat behind a tall privacy fence of pale, weathered planks that failed to conceal a ramshackle garage or carport or shed shambling behind the house, drunkenly clutching it to keep from collapsing. And obviously holding the horded memories of three quarters of a century or more.
The old man who lived in this house had bought it when he returned from the war—the last declared war—the Great War—the one that had heroes who defeated the greatest monster of history. Or that’s how it’s billed.
He came home fresh mustered and battle-hardened to tickertapes and claps on backs and crowds of younger kin—and older, too—who wanted to know what it was like over there when all he wanted to do was forget and find some kind of normal that the brothers blown to bits beside him would never see. And he found a normal job—at a Ford plant that hadn’t even been an option when he was drafted away from the dust bowl farm in the midst of what History knows as the Great Depression though when he was growing up it was the only reality he ever knew. The shooting of rabbits and squirrels for a morsel and breaking up dirt clods with a much-mended hoe and hauling wood and water up from the crick and eking out existence on a piece of dirt that had been in the family since great grampa’s grampa had unhitched the Conestoga from the ox and set up shop.
Somehow Roosevelt and the Great War had shifted everything, had yanked the rural west into the Industrial Age and somersaulted the city/country ratios and lured the bulk of the population if not into the cities than into the suburban hives where millions of worker husbands returned each night to their sundressed wives and 2.3 children. And since eight out of ten people were no longer needed to produce enough food to feed the world we let two do it and used our American Ingenuity to invent a cornucopia of trinkets the modern housewife just couldn’t do without and whispered to husbands that Jones was way down the road ahead of them in displaying the fruits of his earnings. Having bombed the rest of the First World into the late Middle Ages, Americans bought up Park Place & Boardwalk, cornered the markets for a generation, and persuaded ourselves what we called prosperity was because we were Exceptional. It was our birthright.
The man who lived here worked one of those good union plant jobs that let him buy this house and provide for a wife and raise two strapping sons to expect a life better than their parents had known which was better than the life their parents had known and on back to the wagon-training forebear cresting the wave of Manifest Destiny. The man who lived here put forty years in that plant and retired with a pension and a watch just as Ronald Reagan was raising the banner of American Triumphalism again—after the ugly, tumultuous 60s and post-Viet malaise—like Ira Hayes over smoldering Iwo Jima. Between his plant pension and social security the couple enjoyed their retirement in a house where the mortgage was paid and wondered that the boys could never seem to get ahead and that their wives found it necessary to work outside the house which was kind of against God, to hear Preacher tell it. They knew the world had changed yet still could not connect the matrices that skewed the playing field. The oldest boy was at the plant and seemed to do well for himself, he always had late-model trucks, though why his wife still had to work was anybody’s guess. The youngest joined the service and is stationed far away most of the time so they never saw him but didn’t see much more of the elder, who moved to Wyandotte county and rarely comes to the Missouri side except to work.
The sleepy little town had grown into what they called a city, though it was still just a bedroom community for workers in the city and the county. There were lots of retail shops, that come and go.
The neighborhood had changed, too, from when he first bought the house. The gentle wooded slope across the street that led to the railroad cut grew thick with other houses. Most of all the old neighbors had died or moved away. Lots of the homes were now rentals, many of which were revolving doors for the kind of kids who couldn’t pay their bills. The kind who let their houses go to pot.
People in the neighborhood rarely saw the old man who lived here, but puttering about the back or on the porch with back half-hunched and a wary squint from out his leathered hide and they never saw the old woman except as shadowy shape behind the screen door or in the blinded window. Until one day neighbors noticed they had seen no one for a while but unfamiliar cars parked beside the drive on Moore. And then one day the cars no longer came. And the odd pieces of lawn ornamentation disappeared. And a truck came and scraped away the rock. And Tom Bombadil’s abode looked just like every other property on the street.
A new family is coming to make it their own.