The House on Hammond Drive: Chapters Four and Five

 

When they returned in July, Emma wasn’t sure yet, but she was already pregnant with their first son. Sadly, something else began during Emma and Phillip’s honeymoon: the Korean Conflict. Phillip’s letter of induction was waiting for him in the huge stack of mail that had been held for them.

As a wedding gift, Phillip’s parents had given them a beautiful lot in River Oaks. Meeting with architects, interior designers, and landscapers, occupied much the time between their honeymoon and Phillip’s leaving.  They were both happy, of course, but their happiness was undoubtedly subdued because Phillip wouldn’t be here for the arrival of their newborn, the move into their new house, or even their first Christmas as a married couple. Their happy married life would last for only three months. He was to report to Camp Lee, Virginia on October fifteenth, after which he would commence fourteen weeks of basic training and officer training. Phillip was included among the first medical draftees of the Korean Conflict, and would be stationed in Korea as early as January of 1951.

 

Chapter Five

Nothing in his life of privilege had prepared Phillip for what he saw in Korea. He was very near the front line, the surgeon in a “forward collecting station” where jeeps and sometimes other soldiers bore litters carrying injured soldiers. After being assessed by medics and nurses, those with the most serious injuries were seen by Dr. Andrews. If he felt the wounds were survivable, he would, with the assistance of his staff nurses, complete whatever triage could be performed on the scene, and then helicopters would transport them to the battalion aid station. In many instances, Phillip was the one person standing between a soldier and his death. Soldiers came to him sometimes in pieces,  missing limbs, and sometimes even missing faces. He sifted through the wounded like someone might sift through fruit on a conveyor belt, tossing aside those considered to be unsalvageable. He dealt with this monstrous responsibility by gradually developing a cold detachment.

The forward collecting stations were in constant danger of being attacked. Phillip always worked with the sound of gunfire in the background, and often with the sound of grenades exploding nearby. What he saw while stationed there, he never talked about after his return to the states, but the stories of soldiers who survived make it clear that there we more than physical scars carried with the men and women who served during wartime. While some men returned from war missing a limb, Phillip returned missing his heart.

The House on Hammond Drive: Chapters Two and Three

Chapter Two

Their courtship was short-lived, but in a good way. They seemed perfect for each other, both sets of parents approved, Phillip finished his residency in May and had already secured a lucrative contract with Hermann Hospital. All agreed it was time for this handsome bachelor and his beautiful debutante girlfriend to marry.

The wedding was celebrated at the First Methodist Church on Main Street in June of 1950. It was, of course, what many would say was a veritable who’s-who of Houston society. Their fathers’ connections with the oil and real estate industries along with Phillip’s recent connection with Houston’s rapidly growing medical community ensured that. Emma was quite literally breathtaking as she appeared on the arm of her father at the massive double doors that opened to the aisle that would lead her to become the wife of the man she thought was the love of her life. Phillip, looking confident and handsome in his dark grey morning suit, his eyes focused on Emma. Her Christian Dior dress, requiring twenty-three yards of pearl-white satin, accented her narrow waistline with its full, princess-style skirt and three-foot long train. The bodice, embellished with imported French lace, was off-the shoulder, and accented with seed pearls and Swarovski crystals. She wore her hair elegantly in a simple French twist, which accommodated the tiara from which her cathedral-length veil gracefully draped. One-carat diamond teardrop earrings and a matching necklace, gifts from her grandmother, completed her wedding ensemble. Emma took a deep breath as the seven-thousand pipe Aeolian-Skinner organ signaled her entrance into the sanctuary with the first chords of “Canon in D.”

The reception, held in The Rice Hotel’s recently air-conditioned Crystal Ballroom, reflected the station of their parents in Houston society. A sit-down dinner for seven-hundred followed by cocktails and dancing well into the evening was the topic of The Post’s and The Chronicle’s society section on Sunday.

“Happy?” Phillip inquired during a rare moment the two had alone on the same balcony from which both Presidents Harrison and Taft had addressed their public.
“Desperately so, Darling. Desperately so,” Emma answered.

Chapter Three

On Monday morning Emma and Phillip boarded a Pan Am flight at Howard Hughes Airport for New York City, where they would embark on a four-week long Mediterranean cruise aboard the Cunard Line’s Caronia. They both had every expectation, and with good reason, that they would live a long and most fortunate life together. Emma Richmond Andrews was the kind of wife any prosperous, handsome, respected man could hope for and he was sure she would make him proud in every way. Phillip represented the same for Emma.

The Caronia, or the “Green Goddess,” so designated because of her distinctive pale green color, was christened in 1947 by then Princess Elizabeth II and was dwarfed only by the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary. She boasted all of the most luxurious amenities of the day, an outdoor swimming pool, en-suite baths in each stateroom, and seven air-conditioned salons, including a smoking salon, a writing salon, and a library.

Their first stop was Madeira, where they rode a basket sled with greased runners through the streets of town. From there it was on to Tangiers, where the Moorish architecture astonished them – so different it was from the Houston skyline. They dined on fresh seafood caught by Majorcan fishermen and rode in a surrey in Malta. In Egypt they rode camels and climbed into the pyramid of Giza to see the pharaoh’s tomb. They visited Israel and Jordan, Turkey and Romania. They toured the Livadia Palace in Yalta, where Allied leaders met to discuss Europe’s post-war reorganization in 1945. From there it was on to Athens, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast. It was the kind of honeymoon most couples only dream of.  But honeymoons are short-lived, and life doesn’t usually turn out the way we expect it to turn out.

The House on Hammond Drive: Chapter One

Chapter 1

Emma Richmond loved the country, at least she thought she did. Though she’d grown up in Houston, a city of 400,000 people, she never really felt quite herself surrounded by all that hubbub. She liked to say God couldn’t live in the city. The thing is, she really believed that, so when the attractive son of a prominent Texas cattle rancher invited her to go horseback riding on his family’s land south of the city, she eagerly accepted. It was a beautiful early spring day in 1949, one of the few precious days in southeast Texas when the sun and humidity weren’t oppressive. Phillip Andrews was tall, muscular, square-jawed. The kind of man you’d expect to see in a western movie. They’d met at The River Oaks Country Club at a reception honoring one of her father’s friends, both of them children of money, whose parents traced their roots back to Texas’ founders.

Phillip parked his white 1948 Alfa Romeo in the garage connected to Emma’s high-rise. Despite the fact that Emma made a respectable income from the writing she did for the society section of the Houston Post, her apartment was well beyond her means. Daddy, an oilman, picked up the tab, of course. Phillip took the elevator to the 14th floor, found apartment 14C, and rang the doorbell.

“Hi, Emma. Hope I’m not too early. It’ll take us a while to get out there and saddle the horses, and I wanted to be sure we had plenty of time to enjoy this beautiful weather.”

“Oh no, you’re fine, fine. Just let me get my scarf and sunglasses. I’ll be ready in a jiffy.” Emma tied her scarf beneath her chin, covering her sleekly tied-back, blonde pony-tail, and picked her stylish brow-lines off the counter separating the kitchen from the breakfast room. Glancing toward her and also out the window at the expansive view of downtown Houston, Phillip smiled at the sight of her obviously-never-worn-before jodhpurs and boots. This was a good sign, he thought to himself. This date must have been important to her if she went to the trouble to buy them. She looked great in them, too. Emma had the perfect figure to go with the riding gear – just enough curve. Not too much, not too little.

The two stood, somewhat awkwardly, as the elevator descended the fourteen stories to the ground floor. They’d only known each other casually and never had any conversation other than the one which led to this invitation. Emma knew he was in medical school – actually just finishing his surgical residency at the brand new Texas Medical Center, founded by M.D. Anderson.  She knew his father was in real estate, and that his mother was a descendant of a prominent Texas family, the Bensons. The land on which they would ride today, had come from her family – 800 acres which had been in the family for generations, Emma’s mother had said. Emma was nervous about the horseback riding. Even though she was a Texas girl, born and bred, she’d been raised in the city, and had very little experience with horses. Phillip assured her that he’d put her on the gentlest of horses, and that he’d show her everything she needed to know, but this nervousness, compounded with her unfamiliarity with Phillip, made the silence in the elevator all the more uncomfortable.

Phillip had the top down on this gorgeous Texas morning, so the rush of the wind compensated for – or perhaps nullified the need for – conversation. The drive into Fort Bend County took about thirty-five minutes, south on US 59, then several miles on the two-lane blacktop farm-to-market road that led to the long oyster-shell drive of the Benson family property.

“Do you come out here often?” Emma asked, as Phillip saddled his own horse, Bill, then the horse he’d chosen for her to ride, Princess.

“I come out as often I can, but unfortunately, my residency has me working some long hours. I’d never be able to keep a horse if it weren’t for the hired hands. I can’t complain, though. Med school’s kept me out of the draft, at least for now. This place . . . this place is where I feel most grounded. Maybe because it’s been in my family for so long. Maybe because I spent so much time here as kid. My little brother and I used to camp out here when we were teenagers.  Ever done any camping?”

“No, Emma answered. I’ve always thought I would like it, but my parents didn’t camp. Our vacations were always spent at five-star resorts.”

“You’ll never see a night sky like what you see when you’re camping. You have to get away from the city lights to really see stars. I can’t wait to show you the trail along the creek. It’s beautiful and lined with live oaks. If we’re lucky, we’ll see some wildlife. In the evenings the deer come out to drink – um, I mean, if you don’t mind staying that long.”

“What about snakes?” Emma inquired apprehensively. Do you see a lot of snakes out here?

“You don’t have to worry about them, Emma. Horses are smart. They’d sense a snake long before you or I would. As long as we’ve got ol’ Bill and Princess here, we don’t have to worry about snakes.”

Emma was proud of her natural athleticism, so when Phillip offered to help her into the saddle, she insisted she do it herself. Luckily, she had seen it done enough in the movies to have a pretty good idea of how to go about it. Hands gripping the saddle horn and reins, she slipped her left foot into the stirrup and threw her right leg gracefully across the horse’s back. Princess was a pro. She stood tall and steady and showed no sign that she was uneasy with Emma in the saddle.

“Princess knows to follow me and Bill, so all you really need to do is sit there and hold onto the reins,” said Phillip, as they exited the barn. “If your rear-end gets tired, put your weight on your feet,” he laughed. Emma wondered how long it would be before that happened. She guessed not long. While she was athletic, her butt wasn’t used to the bouncing up and down of a horse-back ride. She hoped Phillip wouldn’t notice when she got to that point.

The ride started out slowly, and Emma gained confidence enough to appreciate the wide-open spaces of the Texas prairie. This part of Texas is coastal – flat as a pancake. A person can see for miles and miles. As they rode east, they disturbed a covey of quail in the brush. Emma startled as the birds took to the sky. By this time the sun was high. It must be nearly noon, Emma realized. The morning had slipped away while she silently acknowledged her deep physical attraction to Phillip Andrews. She’d had just enough time to admire his quiet self-assurance as she rode along behind him – and just enough time to admire his incredibly handsome physique.

“To the southwest, of here,” Phillip said, “is a lot of swamp land. Great for duck hunting, but you do have to watch out for gators.”

“Alligators?” thought Emma. “That hadn’t even occurred to me until now. Phillip said that horses can sense snakes, so I guess they have enough sense to stay away from alligators, too,” she tried to convince herself. Before long the path became more wooded, and Emma could hear the sound of Oyster Creek nearby.

“I packed us a light lunch. Thought we could picnic here in the shade by the creek,” Phillip said as he dismounted and tied Bill’s reins loosely to a small tree near enough to the water so the horse could drink. By this time Emma was more than willing to accept Phillip’s offer to help her from the saddle. Her inner thighs were stretched and tired, as was her aching backside. After securing Princess’ reins to the same tree, Phillip opened up his saddle bag and retrieved a bottle of a nice pinot noir, a block of gruyere, a chunk of hearty French bread, and a couple of apples. All foods that could handle a couple of hours on the saddle without adverse effects. He tossed a blanket on the ground in the shade of an ancient live oak and said, “This is my favorite spot on the property.” His eyes were smiling toward her. “I hope you’re having a good time,” he said, as he reached in his pocket for a corkscrew and opened the bottle of wine, poured two plastic cups full, and offered her one.

Emma hoped he didn’t realize just how much she was enjoying this time. Not only had she fallen for this beautiful land, but, she realized, she was also falling for this handsome man who seemed so much a part of it, so completely comfortable in it, that it was hard to say where the man stopped and the land began. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the romantic horseback ride, maybe it was the fresh air, the sound of the water running over rocks, but when Phillip reached to turn her face toward his and kiss her lips, she felt no inclination to resist.

 

Next week, Chapter Two

The House on Hammond Drive: Forward

Dedicated with love to my husband, Dennis, and our two greatest accomplishments, Sarah and Daniel.

 

The following is a work of fiction, based partially on fact. The house is real, but the story around it is entirely a work of fiction, created to satisfy my desire to understand what chain of events could lead to a beautiful home’s being left, just left, in the middle of a growing subdivision. No one who knows the real story is telling, so I’m left to create a story of my own.

 

Forward

 

I had always been curious about that house, but that didn’t set me apart from most everybody else in the neighborhood. The stories surrounding it were many, most of them unsubstantiated, of course. Teenagers enjoyed accessing it from the golf course, slipping in at night through a breach in the fence, engaging in God-knows-what behind the privacy of the thick line of bushes surrounding the eight-acres which hadn’t been sold off to realtors after the place was abandoned. Moms on their way to the grocery store or to swim team practice nearly break their necks every time they drive past the only space from which you can actually get a decent view of the house, the driveway gate. It’s a wonder there haven’t been more accidents at that curve.

The thing that makes everyone so curious is that there it is, right in the middle of a bustling subdivision, for the most part ignored. I say, “for the most part,” because someone regularly mowed the lawn during the many years it sat empty. The property has always been maintained to some degree, and taxes were paid, but no one lived there for over forty years, a modern day Satis House, without its Miss Havisham.

The house had been built – and this is substantiated – by a couple from the city. He and his wife had hired a prominent architect to design the Frank Lloyd Wright-style home. They’d had stones shipped half way across the country to build it. In its day, it was undoubtedly magnificent. The family had used it as their country estate. Thirty miles outside of the big city, it was nestled on several hundred acres of pasture which had a creek running through it. If you’re really interested, you can look it up on-line. There are a few photos and some details about the people who built it. What came after, though, that’s what makes my imagination run wild. It’s high time somebody explained why a beautiful, multi-million dollar home was just left, sitting empty for decades, while a whole new community sprang up around it. Since no one else is talking, I’ll make up my own story.

Stay tuned for Chapter One