Saturday, July 17, 2010

Myrtlewood Part One: An Informal Inn

It’s beautiful. Oh so swell in such a wonderful neighborhood!

Such a steal at this price!

Fully furbished with the latest appliances, creating the kitchen of her dreams.

And how quickly will laundry become so much less of a chore with a brand new gas powered clothes dryer? No need to line dry ever again!

A thirty six bedroom, fourteen bathroom mansion in the middle of suburbia. This sprawling home was built in the middle of a quiet Calimesa neighborhood by a man called Wheeler back around the turn of the century. Grass grows thick and green on the plush lawns with topiaries and other landscaping works that smatter the well manicured yards. And inside, you can take a nice refreshing dip in one of the five pools that the previous owners had put in, hoping to turn the place into a spectacular resort of some kind.

Pride of ownership.

You’d have to be independently wealthy to own a place like this. Luckily for Joan Wilcox, her husband just happens to be so, and when she fell in love with the idea of this house he fell in love with the impossible square footage. But what was to be done with all of the extra space? Certainly they couldn’t live in all thirty six bedrooms, and once the Myrtlewood Inn became an ill fated venture and a highly publicized town failure it went unsaid that the idea of ever proposing any similar plans would be completely absurd.

“Perhaps,” suggested his lovely bride Joan, “we could keep it as an informal inn. Like a boarding house for people who want to settle into the area permanently but don’t like the idea of being alone.”

Ah, that was Joan. Simple minded, unable to do very much on her own, let alone think. Of course people would want to be alone, isn’t it the American Dream to own your little bit of land and stake your claim? Charles dismissed the idea as foolish and stated his desire to acquire art and have a series of galleries that he would open to the public, or perhaps turn it into some kind of museum.

Truly, it was the idea of strange people in his living quarters that turned him away from Joan’s idea. She had come up with absurdities in the past such as gathering up all of the loose hair from the salons and somehow making wigs out of it, but Charles argued that there wasn’t anyone who needed hair badly enough to want to put someone else’s discarded and disgusting mess on their head. Or the time she thought that maybe cleaning other people’s houses for money would be a “fun thing to do.” She was so silly, Joan.

“It isn’t that I like cleaning,” she said defensively, “it’s that I know other people dread it so much.”

How completely backwards could she possibly think? She had a few wires crossed for sure, and her husband often dismissed her and her ideas.

But Joan wasn’t barmy. She came up with ways to do what she wanted despite what Charles would have to say about it. She mentioned her idea of renting the rooms out at the salon, and who should overhear it but a woman whose sister lost her husband in Korea not more than a few weeks prior. Her sister wanted to move out to California to be with her, but she had no place for her to stay.

To help a woman in a situation such as this, who had two young sons no less, would be nothing less than noble. And she could stay free of charge, Joan assured the woman.

Charles would later be quite angry. Especially when Claire told a friend who told a friend, and Joan kept on taking in her strays.

When the word “homeless” comes to mind, a person might imagine a scruffy man with stained and tattered clothing, maybe resting heavily against a wall, his bag of possessions by his side. Nobody thought about war widows whose husbands were their only family. Or folks just down on their luck. Men who couldn’t find work enough to keep everyone fed.

And so Joan would take these people in, always with their promises of not staying long and finding a means to pay her back for her kindness, but it never panned out. Joan cooked most of the meals for a long time, until a few other women joined her. One man even began to write the book he’d always wanted to, and wouldn’t you know that Charles actually made friends with a few of them? He even converted one of the larger dining rooms into a bowling alley at one point. The mansion on Myrtlewood was its own little self contained unit, and eventually there were less and less reasons to be going outdoors. With the chain of gasoline stations that Charles owned and the increasing amount of cars on the road, money was never of any issue to anyone who had moved in. Christmases were spent in the home, and during the 4th of July the children would trot through the yard with sparklers.

Decades passed and life was just like this. In the mansion on Myrtlewood, anyway. For even with the conveniences of grocery stores who deliver, things outside were changing fast. It seemed that the paper brought news every day of a society that had banged its self apart like an engine that had run out of oil. Everything was doom and gloom and nobody who lived in the mansion wanted any part of it.

And so they had no part in it.

For nearly 70 years.

And though Joan and Charles have passed, and many of the original inhabitants are buried in the garden by one of the widow’s boys who grew up to be the undertaker of the mansion on Myrtlewood, life still thrives there as pleasantly as it did in 1953.

Until Gary knocked on the door one afternoon.