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Uncle Henry

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Vita Sua in a Bygone Mobile

Part 9 in a series: Haggling, the wistful past, onward to the future, its wrecking  balls and parking lots.

Previous installments: 1, 2 , 3 , 4567  and 8.

By A.D.
Mobile Bay Times
Albert S. had proposed innumerable deals over the past few years (to acquire the old house on S. Lawrence St., raze it and put in additional parking for his adjacent apartment building.)

He'd come by my office and tell me, "Well, I'm all ready now. I just need to go over the papers with my
lawyer and accountant. I can make you an offer of about $25,000."

The stories and the
amounts proposed
would vary with
almost every visit
and his various
deadlines came
and went without

He visited me in
May of 1964 and
this time he was
serious. He
haggled about the
price, the size of
the lot and finally
made me have a survey made. But we closed the deal. The
gross sales price was $18,292.80 and he made a substantial down payment, giving me a note for the balance.

I employed my attorney friend, R.D., to handle the transfer, in as much as I was completely inexperienced in real estate transactions and I did not trust Albert S. even a little bit.

At the time of the sale June 15, 1964, Albert told me that he planned to pay off the note in its entirety in a few months. I devoutly hoped so, for I did not look forward to the task of collecting payments from him each month for ten years.

I established the First National Bank as collecting agent. Of course, Albert did not meet a single payment on its due date. Every month, I would have to call him and ask him about it. He would eventually pay.

Since the interest on the note was only five percent, I had little hope that he would actually pay it off in advance. It appeared that, for 120 months, I would have to haggle with Albert S.

I could not believe it when Albert came to my office Sept. 1, 1964 and gave me a check for the balance due. I hustled it over to the bank for deposit, fearing that it might not clear. It did and I was out of the landlord business.

Well, not quite. One of the conditions of the sale was that I was to continue to operate the house as Albert's unpaid agent for a time. He had some tax wrinkle that required that he show that he had purchased the house as a rental investment before he demolished it for his parking lot.

I suppose he was going to depreciate the entire value of the house in 1964 and claim this as an income tax deduction. I seem to remember that he had some trouble with the IRS about this.

With the check safely cleared by the bank, I suppose I could have left Albert in the lurch, since we had no written agreement that I was to serve as his rental agent. He wasn't exactly a trusting soul, but I guess he knew that I had little guile and that when I agreed to do something, I would do it, even if he was late with his monthly payments.

In all events, my
days as agent
lasted for just
about three
months and, in
1964, I informed
our dwindling
roster of tenants
that the house
was to be
Rumors had been
floating about
before this time
and it wouldn't
have been very
long before all
of the tenants would have moved.    

H, J and I and the DeVilliers (mother's brothers' family) all made a last visit one late September Saturday afternoon when a hurricane watch was up with its light, driving rain, the type weather the house had survived so often in the past.

Mother's will specified that H was to receive all her furniture, so this was moved by her family. We went
through the old attic, that gloomy repository of discarded possessions of a century or more. I took many of the ancient books which were there and we all took out some
fragile steamer chests whose manufacture dated back, I am
sure, a century or longer.

Finally we bid the old place farewell that gloomy Saturday afternoon. I took one last glance at the ancient structure which had seen more than its share of tears and laughter,
joy and despair. Over the years it had been home to probably well over 100 people. It had welcomed a few babies over the years and had been the final abode for many more people.

Now it became the victim of the wrecker's ball. Its demise was mercifully swift.

The pine siding readily gave way before the ball. The sturdy old timbers were something else, however, as was the marvelous pecan floor which graced mother's apartment. These were carefully saved. I do not know who wound up with these.

I very much wanted to keep mother's dining room table, which had been a joy and delight for her, especially when, its mahogany surface polished to a mirror-like sheen, the extra leaves added and her children and grandchildren gathered about her, she sat presiding over a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

H did not want it and I could not talk C into buying it, since she reasoned that it was too large for our tiny dining room. One of the DeVilliers bought it.

I always defer to my wife in matters of furnishing and I am sure that this is the wisest policy. But I should have insisted on keeping that table and perhaps also the many-colored canopy-like chandelier, with part of one of its glass segments missing. That table and the chandelier were home to me.

And I would have liked to have kept our big front door with its many colored glass panels at each side. Even now I can see the sun hitting those panels in the late afternoon as I returned from play, vaulting the five steps to our porch in a single bound.

But this is a practical generation and, practically, there was no reason for keeping any of these artifacts. So they exist for me only in memory.

Now, occasionally, I drive by the neighborhood of my boyhood. Guarding that asphalted bit of land on which my ancient home stood are only three familiar objects, the massive magnolia trees, which weep each spring over the scene and an old crepe myrtle bush whose brilliant colors had filtered the view to Barton School Yard while I sat lazily in the old porch on our swing on many summer days.

(Chapter X: The doctor operates in the market and I'm happy to assist.