Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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Fallen Castle

As I wrote in my previous post, I relived 20 years of my life on May 24th.  This is part two.

It was a joy to see Robert Pelfrey in the parking lot.  He is a tall man, 6’ 7’  He approached me with wide open arms and I embraced him, twice.  Hugging a person that tall makes me feel a bit like a child.  Which is convenient, because my childhood was about to be on full display. 

Robert and I went to his mother’s home, which is new to me.  She moved into Amarillo from their place in Canyon a few years ago.  Canyon is a small town south of Amarillo.  It is the town closest to where I grew up.  We went to church in Canyon.  I am a proud graduate of Canyon High--go Purple and White, go Eagles!

We spent a pleasant time with Betty Pelfrey before going to lunch at Rosa’s.  Rosa’s is a fast food restaurant that we don’t have in Nashville.  As I told Robert, if they had one in my town I’d be there every day.  Well not every day, but every week. 

A good part of our day was spent in Canyon.  We went by the old High School, which is now the Middle School.  We drove by houses that used to belong to our friends' parents.    We went by the church where Robert’s band rehearsed and where we smoked cigars in their Sunday school rooms and slept in the pews.  We stopped for gas at the Taylor Food Mart, home of our near immolation (a story for another time). 

We went up to “the Point,” aka “the Judas Rock,” which is not on any map, but where our younger selves spent many nights with our friends in packs of two to ten, philosophizing on the meaning of all things while sitting in the beds of pick-up trucks.  Robert and I drove out to the middle of nowhere (which isn’t far from Canyon) where we spent a good long time having a deep conversation about life and ministry, and life.  We ate dinner very late before falling asleep at Betty’s that night. 

Before any of that happened in and around Canyon, we drove out to Timbercreek.  That word, “TImbercreek,” may sound like any other housing development or gated community.  At this point in time, that’s pretty much what it is.  But when my father bought 70 acres of unused ranch land back in the early 1960s, it was an unspoiled canyon.  On one side of that canyon, the western rim, he started a colony for artists, named Colony Catherine after one of his business partners.  He built some oddly shaped buildings out of concrete and steel, including three modified geodesic domes.  Two of these were built right into the side of the cliff wall. 

In 1969 Robert fell in love with Ginger, they married and had a baby boy.  Robert was 22 years older than his bride; this was not his first marriage.  I was his first and only son.    I was born in a hospital and brought home to a dome built into the side of a cliff.  Soon after, my father brought the wheat barn that had been on his family farm.  He had it moved in its entirety to a perch high over the canyon.  He converted it into a house, where I lived with my parents and, later, with my baby sister. 

My dad had another plan.  He went about building a dream home for his family. No architect, he crafted that house like a giant sculpture.  Though it took three years, and though it was interrupted by a botched surgery that paralyzed his legs from just below the knee, he completed it and we moved in. 

It was a castle.  Built of Robert’s favorite materials, white concrete and steel and plexiglass, it was rooted deep into the canyon wall on one side, while part of it jutted out far passed the cliffs and into thin air.  A high white wall surrounded it, and a round tower looked out over the trees and rocks and creek below.  Each bedroom opened up onto the walled courtyard, a courtyard with a mosaic floor, fruit trees, and a built in swimming pool (my mother’s one great request).  Guests entered down a walkway, through a great iron gate in the barrier wall, through the courtyard, through the doors that used to hang in the Wrigley Mansion in Chicago, and into the domed great room. A large living tree grew in that room, a 19th century French carousel cow “leapt” below it.  Banners hung over the long, oval dining table.  The art of many young and/or respected artists hung on every wall.  Two fireplaces kept the room warm. 

I could go on about the wonders of the house, of the natural beauty we saw every day out of those huge windows, of the resentment my dad had at first when houses began to be built on the other side of the creek, of the way he ultimately teamed up with the newcomers to make the whole canyon safe and welcoming.  I could go on about the way the house made me feel.  I won’t.  I will use one adjective, though, which might convey my feelings.  I felt special.  For good or for ill, I felt that living in a castle made me a kind of prince.  I will leave to your imagination the kind of spiritual and psychological lessons I learned, and those I have had to unlearn, from that experience. 

I had visited my old house many years ago.  At that time, I found a couple living in it who had not taken good care of it.  I did not know what to expect this time. 

Driving to the house on May 24th, the road became very rough.  The house is at the end of a private road, and the owner of the house must keep it up.  Frankly, it was close to impassible for my wife’s Jetta.  I was just saying to Robert that I hoped whoever lived there owned an SUV when I saw a Jeep parked in the driveway.  It was one of those with huge, oversized tires.  As we parked next to it, two girls in their late teens were coming up the walkway.  I noticed that there were several signs posted around the parking area: “Posted, No Trespassing, No Hunting, Violators Will Be Prosecuted.”  Given that the house is at the edge of civilization, with not much but wild land on the other side, I figured they must have had some recent problems.

One of the two girls spoke first, “have you seen a dog? My dog took off and we can’t find him.”  Robert asked about the particulars of the dog, which she gave.  She then said “I’m sorry, I know we’re not supposed to be here.”  I guessed the signs had had their intended effect.  “That’s O.K.,” I said, “I’m not supposed to be here, either.  I used to live here, and I’m just coming by for a visit.  Do you know who lives here now?”  Then she said words I did not expect.  “No one lives here, it’s abandoned.” 

They got in their jeep and drove away.  I looked at Robert.  I said, “if it’s abandoned, I guess that means we can go inside.  If we can find an unlocked door or window.”  We went down the “family way,” into the garage.  We didn’t have to look far to find a way in. 

Every door in the house was either gone or wide open.  Many of the windows were broken.  Some interior walls have been torn down, leaving the place even more open than it had been in my childhood.  There were no more closets, no place to hide anything.  Robert and I walked all around, through utterly empty rooms.  We went upstairs, into the tower that was my father’s studio.  It is still round, with an amazing 360 degree view of the canyonlands.  It is empty; the doorway to the deck was lying on the floor.  We walked out onto the roof, which I loved to do as a child.  From up there I couldn’t see that much had changed, except the fruit trees are dead and the swimming pool only has the dirty remains of rainwater in it.  And a table someone had thrown in.

Standing where the dining table used to be

All this sounds very sad, and I would be lying if I said I did not stand on that roof and cry.  I did just that.  But there was something else, a kind of hope I don’t know how to explain. 

It was a gorgeous day.  With many windows gone, a refreshing breeze was blowing through the house.  It was a brilliant, bright day.  There was no need for any artificial light.  The place seemed airy and peaceful.  Also, the house looked like someone was purposefully deconstructing it.  There was no graffiti, no beer bottles, no cigarette buts, nothing that would indicate it had become a “den of iniquity.”  Though windows were broken, there was very little broken glass.  The interior walls that were gone looked like they had been removed purposefully.  All in all, I had the sense that someone was taking it apart on purpose.  Kind of like de-construction site.  

This gave me two possible hopes.  My first and greatest hope is that someone is going to take the house over and restore it.  I would love to think of some other family, some other princes and princesses, living in that castle.  What a wonderful place for someone to grow up!  My other hope is that someone will put the house out of its misery.  The land must be valuable by now, with all the construction around the canyon.  Perhaps someone is going to bring it down.  At least then it could rest in peace. 

I mentioned in an earlier post that Amarillo is my dreamscape.  Many of my dreams are set there.  I used to dream every night of my house.  I still do, though not nearly as often.  Still, even last night as I slept here at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, I awoke briefly, recognized I had just had a dream set in my old house, and then went back to sleep. 

The disconnect between my dreams and reality should now be complete, though I doubt it is.  There is at this moment a part of my brain that does not believe anything has changed.  I took many pictures of my abandoned house, in part to remind myself--to reteach my mind. 

I love my memories in that place and of that place.  But I must let the place itself go.  It has gone the way of all flesh, the way of all things.  “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field … The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:6,8)