We’re in Ft. Lauderdale, spending some quiet time together at a small, secluded resort before taking our cruise to the Caribbean.
When Clyde was a child, his grandmother — Mama Erin — kept a winter home in Lake Worth. Clyde has vivid memories of it: the one big central room; the bedrooms that bordered one side of that room; the tiny kitchen, so small that the fridge and oven couldn’t be open at the same time; the bizarre detached garage, complete with a toilet that, inexplicably, placed right out in the open, with no privacy walls at all.
Clyde remembers playing in the mango tree out back, climbing up and swinging from the branches. He remembers the white apartment building next door and the hotel across the street. He remembers sleeping on the couch in the big room, while his family slept in those little bedrooms off to one side. He remembers driving for pie at Lucille and Otley’s, where the lemon meringue pie was teased as high as a woman’s beehive hairdo.
So, with these memories swirling around us, we jumped in the car and drove north to Lake Worth. We didn’t expect much — from space, via Google, we could see that Erin’s house was very likely now a vacant lot — but we wanted to see what we could see.
After some initial confusion — all the old landmarks were there, but things looked very different, thirty years later — we found the place (but not without a call to Clyde’s dad, to check the address).
And — there it was. The house is gone. In its place is a well-tended lot, green and trimmed, surrounded by lantana and the occasional youthful evergreen. We parked alongside it, and I snapped a photo or two.
The white apartment building is still there, and from it, an angry-looking fellow appeared. He was about our age, brown-faced, expensively-dressed, stout — the sort of fellow who keeps Rottweilers as pets. “Can I help you?”
“This was his house,” I say, smiling. “His grandmother’s house was here, on this lot. He spent summers here, climbing a mango tree out back.”
The man is transformed in an instant. He beams at us, calling us over. We shake hands. His name is Warren; he’s an architect. He bought the apartment building five years ago, “when everyone thought I was crazy for buying property in a place this run down.” Back in the day, he used to watch prostitutes and drug dealers saunter up and down South Federal late into the night.
Now, though, the neighborhood is coming back, thanks, in large measure, to people like Warren. Rather than tear down the apartments, he appreciated how sturdy and modular the old concrete structure was. He combined the four units into one house, took concepts from Finnish design, and created a sleek, white, modern marvel out of the place.
He leads us to the back yard, along a little gravel path. In back, he has a walled oasis: green, cool, shaded. “We’re taking off the roof, next, to open up a place for a deck up top. The ocean’s just right over there. You’ll be able to watch the sun rise over it.”
We chat a bit more — about neighborhoods, about change, about things worth saving — and then we take our leave.
Before driving away, we pause for one last photo: Clyde, standing on the sidewalk, in front of a house no longer there.