Music City Demolition Blues
NASHVILLE — There’s a mechanized tyrannosaur biting a hole in the roof of my mother’s last house. It moves hesitantly, lifting its heavy head and widening its serrated jaws before clamping down, then nosing around a little bit, finding purchase between bites, backing up and moving forward to accommodate its long reach, its powerful orange neck swinging right and left to bump walls that stubbornly refuse to fall. I stand at the edge of the yard and watch my mother’s house reduced to rubble.
It stood directly across the street from mine — I could see it from the window of my home office — but I almost missed the demolition. Between the nail guns of the framing crew five doors down and the blaring radio of the masonry crew on the other side of the street, more than half the house was gone before I even noticed. You would think the noise of a whole house falling into dust would make an instant impression, but I have lived with so much construction noise, and for so many years, I’ve gotten good at tuning it out.
There’s a kind of heartbreak that comes of watching whole swaths of houses scraped from a neighborhood, but this particular heartbreak is in no way tied to issues of historic preservation. The original houses were small brick rectangles, less lovely than a double-wide mobile home. Built after World War II for working-class servicemen buying on the G.I. Bill, each house followed one of two simple floor plans, with small variations — a covered stoop on some, a gable on others — to make them distinguishable from one another.
When my husband and I moved here in 1995, we had a small son and a baby on the way. Back then, there were only a handful of young families on this block. Most of the houses were occupied by the original postwar owners aging in place or by couples buying starter homes. As families grew, they mostly moved away, and a new young couple would take their place.
It’s a neighborhood of old shade trees, a quiet street with no through traffic. When our boys took their first solo rides on two-wheeler bikes, all the dog-walking and stroller-pushing neighbors would cheer them along their route, helping them up after the inevitable crash and comforting them till one of us could catch up.