Friday, November 8, 2013

I'll Never Be Hungry Again...

It’s full-on fall here in Tennessee. The ticks and snakes have retreated into their wretched, little lairs and Cheryl and I are free to dive into deepest, darkest, seemingly virgin woods to dig up crushed Budweiser cans, 12 inches down.

Which we do.

Since my epic skunking of the last post, we’ve returned to our construction site (we’ll dub it Double Buckle) quite a few times and have even gotten to know the weekend crew of Latin American construction professionals. One hot day, they disappeared and came back with ice-cold bottles of juice for us. In their broken English, they told us about the ancient broken pottery they’ve unearthed in their home lands.

I, who am scared of anything large and loud, have even become comfortable with the massive bulldozer and dump trucks that we share the site with. When one heads our way, I just saunter out of the way. Sounds obvious, but it’s been a bit of a breakthrough for me and I am rather proud.

Here’s me in my headphones and ball cap, covered in construction site mud, looking and feeling pretty bad-ass if I do say so myself.

Don't f**k with the dance major.

No. I didn’t find a buckle, though I surely tried. I did manage to dig some very nice buttons and a few other cool odds and ends. Here’s a visual recap:

This button makes my heart sing a radiant song.

Yup, this site was generous with the
buttons. Cheryl, too, found some
beautiful ones. 

I knew you wanted to see this "dragoon"
button up close.  Lots of gold left on it.

From left: harmonica reed, clock or watch guts
suspender clip that looks like a tiny valise.

One day, we ventured into the woods that border the site (you remember? the woods with the murderous branch that nearly brained me?… ). We didn't find much in there but I took the biggest outdoor pee of my life and if that is too graphic for you, then your sensibilities are too delicate.

This is what I found in the woods.

That's right. It's a rare and valuable
Civil War elephant.  I understand
your feelings of envy, but you must
learn to deal with them. And don't
go telling me it's a bent and broken
hoe handle. That's ridiculous. 
Last weekend, with nothing else on the docket, we headed back to Double Buckle to see if the bulldozers might have flipped over a good spot. It’s sad to see the natural topography of this land get all flattened out and readied for the $500K houses. (You may insert something about “progress” here, if you like; I can't.) We got busy and dug for a couple of hours, dodging 'dozers. The ground was mostly orange clay by this time, but there were a few areas of black dirt that looked interesting.

Here are a couple of things I found.

This looked promising.

Here it is, cleaned up.
Still not sure what it is. Any ideas? Jakson
insisted on being part of the display. He liked
the textural dissonance of metal and fur and I
have to say, I do too.

Cheryl and I found these within minutes
of each other, but far apart.
About 3, Cheryl and I were taking a break, when a massive white truck pulled up and the man inside began talking to the workers. Now, I don’t cotton to this type of interference. It can only be bad. So I began my fervent prayer, PLEASE DON’T COME OVER HERE AND ASK ME IF I’M METAL DETECTING PLEASE DON’T PLEASE DON’T PLEASE DON’T.

The truck pulled up next to me. “You gals metal detecting?” said the man, who had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. The kind of eyes that report metal detectorists to the authorities.

“UM, well? Not right now! I, uh, mean, we WERE, or might have been? But as you can see, we are merely eating sandwiches!”

I’ve never flourished in these situations. (See page 38 in my book, Not About Madonna, for another example of this).

Well, the man said, leaning out his truck window and staring at the Fisher F75 detectors in our hands. “Over on Cracked Stump Road, the fire department just burned down a 100-year-old house. You can hunt the whole property. You can’t miss it – it’s still smoldering.” The man – head of a huge construction company handling a bunch of local sites – gave us his card and permission to hunt all we want.

And that’s how, at the end of the day, Cheryl and I found ourselves in a huge field next to a seriously burning house. We walked around in amazement. Two barns burned in the far corners of the property. Two matching chimneys stood stark against the darkening sky.  There was hissing, crackling. A flaming branch fell off a tree I was standing under and nearly set me on fire. Of course.


Then Cheryl had to leave and I found myself alone at the burning Southern house at sunset. I fought the urge to drop to my knees, scrabble in the dirt for a parsnip and sob, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” because that would not have been cinematically accurate because Tara did not burn, (though Twelve Oaks did) and this house, though old, was not that old as evidenced by the satellite dish in the front yard.

I kept saying (out loud, to no one): “How did I end up here?” There was something a little buzzards-circling-the-carcass-y about my presence on this property, even with permission. Was I “profiting” from someone’s misfortune by digging here? Then I remembered that whoever had just sold this property to the developer was probably a millionaire now AND I was about to unearth cool clues to the people who’d lived here for the past 100 years. And that, my friend, is just a teensy bit sacred. When the bulldozers arrive, it’ll all be lost forever.

I took a breath and got to digging. Here’s what I found.

These were together, clearly from the same harmonica.

Maybe from a desk? So pretty.

1920 -- my grandfather had arrived from
Armenia only a year or two earlier.

The next day, Cheryl and I checked out a wooded area in a brand-new subdivision that the construction guy had told us about. Just a year or two ago, this had been a remote site on a dirt road with a 200-year-old log cabin on it and a real, live spring house. Now, the cabin was gone, but the spring house remained, tucked into some woods, next to a neat and tidy cul-de-sac. We didn’t dig anything fun but the spring house was pretty sweet.

So then we went back to the burn-out for round two but didn’t stay long because Dirt Girl had signed up for a food writing workshop in Nashville.

But here are a few more things we found.

Mama's coat button.

This this is huge! I'm guessing the fin off an old car?

I'm a little teapot. (This was a pin.)

So, yeah. Fall. I’ve been thinking about the burning house all week long. My van still smells like smoke. I can’t help but wonder about the 100 previous falls that fell there. How there’d been a house, nothing fancy. No columns. Just a house. Grannies. Babies. Well water. Turkey dinners. Folks sitting out on the front porch, staring at a particular sky. A man looking out the screen door, saying, “Whoo-boy, feel that chill, darlin’? Let’s have a fire tonight, after I get home.”