It’s been busy across the alley from our house: two older homes and a one-car garage have just been demolished. I miss one of them already–just because I was used to seeing it from the kitchen window–but the other couldn’t disappear soon enough. We knew it as “the crack house”, not because actual drug manufacture was going on, but because more domestic disputes than I can count spilled from its side door into the alley. And most of those seem to have been driven by altered consciousness of one sort or another.
I’ve lived in this neighborhood since about 1981–long before living downtown was trendy; in fact you couldn’t give property away down here in the 80s. So my neighbors were enthusiastic when I moved in and upped the owner-occupant ratio. The pattern hereabouts had been absentee landlords and rental occupancy, so I was bucking that trend. Not being one to ring doorbells and introduce myself, I met Marcella Depute and Minnie Renquist as many neighbors do, the old fashioned way: we became garbage can buddies on Tuesdays, commiserating about traffic, power lines and what was then a general disinterest in the welfare of inner city single-family homes like ours. I attended a public presentation once where someone from the City Planning office spoke of our neighborhood as “Oh, those are just some sub-standard houses we want to get rid of.” Happily, there’s been a change in staff since then.
Minnie and Marcella must have been Catholics, because I often ran into them at the former Hardee’s restaurant across from St Mary’s Cathedral, part of an after-Mass coffee klatch. Minnie’s house is still standing–temporarily–but Marcella’s has become splinters, as has her garage. The Crack House followed suit after the weekend. The Claw parked for a day or two, until the dust had settled, and then the foundations disappeared. As of Thursday, several new loads of black dirt have topped both lots. I wonder what will replace them, come spring.
I mention these neighborhood changes so that I can make a simple observation: my landscape (and yours I suspect, as well) is peppered associations. I can’t walk from here to there without memories bobbing to the surface. And most of those memories are not the stuff of Steven Spielberg movies. Marcella was a fine human being who did me no harm and was, no doubt, loved by her family and friends (I count myself only an acquaintance). But she never swam the English Channel or disappeared while flying across the Pacific or hid Jewish children in her attic during WWII. Yet each day that I brewed a pot of coffee and looked out my kitchen window, Marcella’s name invariably came to mind.
Last week I met with my friend AnneMarie Fitz. She works at Touchmark, a senior residence center in South Fargo. We’re strategizing an oral history project with her residents, asking them to reminisce and consider the narrative of their lives as it relates to that elusive “sense of place” we all desire. Just now, AnneMarie and I are exploring how to open those doors with them and get the stories flowing. You might be wondering what the hell this has to do with Agincourt.
Earlier in this blog, Howard wrote about a local history project sponsored by Toni Benedetti, CEO at Kraus Foundry (still known to most of us as Kraus Bridge & Iron). KB&I are celebrating their 125th anniversary and working with history students at the college to do a similar oral history project. Antonia’s idea (she’s the great-granddaughter of company founder Anton Kraus and, in a sense, bears his name) is to summarize these stories that link people and place and make them a semi-permanent part of the environment as manhole covers–footnotes. The city will be peppered with “footnotes”, making the stories of our lives place-specific.
When AnneMarie and I have gathered similar stories and edited them, we hope to turn art students loose on their interpretation. We won’t ask the students to cast 36″-wide disks of iron. Instead, we’ll shoot for 8″ maquettes. But imagine as part of the next Agincourt Exhibit (in the fall of 2013 at the Plains Art Museum) a display of a dozen or more collaborations. It will be interesting to invite the Touchmark residents, to have them meet their artistic interpreters and watch their reaction to being a part of the show.