Monday, March 08, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: Poplar Street

If eccentricity had a home in Silver Creek it lived on Poplar Street. Known as “Popular Street” it was a tree-lined lane only one block long but absolutely unique.

Every house on Poplar Street had a personality. And a name. Names usually found only in Agatha Christie novels and most rare in the colonies.

When the town was first founded, the houses clustered on Poplar Street made up the bulk of the residences. Their age and the wealth of their builders rendered them free from the dull taint of the tract homes and 50s style ranches that populated the majority of the city. They were, and are, fascinating structures full of whimsy and unanswered questions.

On the corner of Poplar and Lincoln was “The Lilac Bush.” This was the first and only house I have ever seen painted lilac. With purple trim, yet. It was a big, square, boxy place with a wraparound porch on the ground floor and a widow’s walk on the roof.

The Lilac Bush was the home of the Barrow family. For my entire childhood, Mr. and Mrs. Barrow were about 100 years old, but never aged. They remain somewhat fuzzy in my memory, with the exception of their corduroy-covered rumps, perennially up-ended over their flowers. They weeded a lot. Their garden was their pride and joy and full of color and scent though never, oddly enough, lilacs. And they were never seen sitting on the white wicker rocking chairs on their porch, though Mr. Barrow was once observed sitting on the front steps, most unexpectedly eating watermelon.

Next to the Lilac Bush was “The Cattery.” This all-female establishment was a bright canary yellow A-frame with a rotating army of cats sunning themselves on the lawn. It was home to, at any one time, between 5 and 7 women, all of whom were members of the Honnering family. These sisters and cousins were, sadly, completely interchangeable and nobody ever bothered to learn their first names – not that anyone would dare call them anything other than “Miss Honnering.” Aside from being safe (not risking using the wrong name) it seemed entirely appropriate. They were the most Victorian of women, wearing skirts down to their ankles long past the time it was even remotely fashionable.

On regular intervals a contingency of Misses Honnerings would all pile into an ancient black Cadillac and drive out of town. Nobody ever knew where they went and nobody dared ask. But speculation was both rife and ribald; each suggestion more outrageous than the last. They were strippers over in Hampton. They had a secret gold mine in the mountains. They were in the mob.

The rotating cast of Honnerings was also a mystery. One Miss Honnering would appear in town for a few years, and then she would be gone and another in her place. No questions. No explanations. Never any sign of a moving van or a hearse to resolve the mystery of the disappearing Honnering. They were the Stepford family. In retrospect, this seems more than a little disturbing but at the time it was just another weird Silver Creek entity.

The fence that divided the Cattery from its neighbor was unique for being white on one side (the Cattery) and black on the other (Mole House). Yes, you read that right: Mole House, which was named for…..moles.

Not a family named Mole. Not the gopher-like creature. No, Mole House was named, disgustingly enough, for moles on the skin. At least that was the story told by the Flannering family. Legend said the builder of the house was a man named Dr. Watson (shades of Sherlock!) who made a fortune on patent medicine designed to burn moles and warts off the skin of the gullible. However dubious this provenance, and despite the creepy name, Mole House was the most cheerful black house ever.

I remember my father once asking Mr. Flannering why he’d painted the house black and received the reply “what other color would you paint a house named after a skin growth?” Good point.

Mole House was warm and welcome thanks to a rainbow of flowerbeds outside and the sweetness of the Flannerings inside. They were a sweet and generous duo who offered a shoulder to any friend in need and who welcomed every stray dog and cat in town as if the SPCA had given the critters a map.

There were a half dozen or so other houses on the street. “The Birdcage” which looked like…well, you know. “Bluebell,” which was a Jane Austen-worthy cottage that had never been painted blue to anyone’s memory but which was noteworthy in having four chimneys in spite of its small size. “Magnolia” boasted six magnificent flowering trees that every winter rained white petals down upon the street to the point where the yard looked covered in snow. And “La Paloma” was a sedate, yet graceful dove-gray structure with bright red birdhouses hanging from the rafters and trees.

The one oddity on the street was the house with no name. It was just 7 Poplar Street. A nice enough house, but I always felt sorry for it and always wondered why the owners didn’t give it a name. The other houses all had plaques or signs with their name on it. But 7 Poplar Street just had a sign that read “7 Poplar Street.”

How inadequate that little house must have felt.


Kittie Howard said...

Loved your story. Could visualize Poplar Street...and can see each house's story coming together into a book. You gotta do more with this, Decca!

Duke said...

Nice post. I wonder if anyone ever looked in the back yard for the missing Honnerings?

Decca said...

Thank you both for reading and for your kind words. You two are so sweet and generous with your time. I am truly grateful.

Fo said...

Ooh, that was an extra good one. Sorry it took me so long to read it.