“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.
And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.
And He went away.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
Candy and I sometimes like to go to estate sales. Midweek we receive emails with lists of various sales throughout the city and, if I have time, I’ll go through the list, looking for interesting sales.
I don’t go to the sales so much to buy anything other than the occasional art object (I have enough useless crap already) – I go for the stories. You see, an estate sale – especially one where the owner has passed away after a long and interesting life – is a mirror into the past. It’s a museum displaying a person’s… a complete stranger’s entire collection of heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. These timeless treasures are arranged and papertagged with a string and a price so the slouching horde can shuffle through, pawing at the lot.
It’s an afternoon’s entertainment.
A few months ago, I was clicking through the emails, looking at the collections of photos, trying to find something a little more curious and compelling than the ordinary run-of-the-mill when a certain address caught my eye.
I knew where Arcady street was. That’s the heart of the most expensive neighborhood in the most expensive town in the Metroplex – Highland Park. That’s where the rich and famous cavort in their multi-million dollar mansions. Plus, it is mostly old money – the rarefied world of the bloated upscale opulent set – a world I will never see, a life I will never lead. Maybe a glimpse.
I printed a map.
When we arrived, the place was not quite what I expected. The house was beautiful, an old Mediterranean Style two story with a red tile roof. And it was old. For Dallas, it was very old. It was like stepping back into a time machine.
There wasn’t much for sale and that was ancient and worn out. Still, I loved the old house, loved the high ceilings, loved the original windows – opened by metal hand-cranks with cracked ropes leading to sash weights inside the walls, loved the tiny white hexagonal tile in the bathrooms and kitchen (sometimes called “Dallas Tile”) loved the formal staircase, loved the deep wood of the floors… I even loved the thick old dust that coated everything like a blanket of compressed time. I wanted to find out more, so I headed to the huge bookcase that lined one wall of the living room.
There were University of Texas Yearbooks from 1942 and 1943. There were a couple of scrapbooks filled with old cartoons clipped from magazines in the 1950’s along with jokes written in a careful, elegant script (the kind everyone used to write in). Now, I wish I had bought the scrapbooks, but I put them back. Nothing else gave a clue.
I went out to the garage to talk to the person putting on the sale. He said, “The house has already been sold, I heard it was for three million. After this sale, it’s going to be torn down. The buyer is going to put up a new house on the lot.”
That made me sad. I looked down the street at the rows of fake Gothic mansions – all intended to look like English Manor homes shrunk down a little and plopped down right next to each other in the blistering heat of Texas. They all looked the same.
Now, I understand a little. The Arcady house had a tiny kitchen, and only a couple of miniscule bathrooms. That would never do. But it could be saved… a cleverly designed addition… a modern attached kitchen….
No, it would never work. People that live on Arcady street in Highland Park don’t understand uniqueness or preservation. It is an exclusive club they desperately want to join and to fit in you have to live in the proper house.
At home I did some searching. I found that the property had been bought by a builder and he had a replacement already designed by an architect named Wilson Fuqua. Ok.
I also found out who had lived in the house. It was a woman named Catherine Duls. Her father was a well-known Harvard educated attorney named William H Duls. I believe he built the house and moved his family there when his daughter was three. She lived there her entire life until she passed away at the age of 89.
Catherine played tennis at the University of Texas and worked at the SMU law library. Her friends called her Kitty. In her obituary, someone wrote, “ I loved her beautiful voice and Southern drawl, her gorgeous hair and complexion, and her fabulous sense of humor. She was complicated, intelligent, and wise. I appreciated her so very much. She will truly be missed.”
The other day, I had some work not too far away and because the traffic was lighter than I thought, arrived early enough to take a short detour down Arcady.
The house is now a vacant lot.