NewsPub Notes

A Prince Avenue Resident Observes the Passing Scene

Kemp Jones here, speaking from my porch perch at 735 Prince Ave., overlooking what feels to me like the River Prince. I’ve been in this house 40 years and have come to feel like I live on a riverbank. I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to have this perch. Mine is a familiar story around town: I couldn’t afford to live where I live if I were buying now.

Mrs. Harry Merk, or Marguerite, my wonderful friend and lovely landlady, did me good. I moved into 735 four decades ago and never left. Mrs. Merk and I didn’t know that I was renting to own. When she left for the Eastern Star Home in Atlanta in 1984, she felt like she was passing the house on to me. Mrs. Merk saw me as a caretaker, not a buyer. The house was built in 1889, and only three different families have lived here since. Thank you, Mrs. Merk, for my deal of the century.

Lewis is my son, and Laurie is his mother and my wife. Like me, Laurie moved into 735 and never left. Lewis first learned his numbers by counting cars as they passed by. Laurie moved in already knowing how to count. The street was good to Lewis. He majored in mathematics and statistics at UGA, then earned his Masters in stat.

Another familiar story: I’m a UGA graduate who wouldn’t be accepted to UGA if I were applying now.

Harris Street empties onto Prince at the town side of the pink house past us. Next, as of last fall, comes the marvelous Cobbham Triangle Park. With the park, something finally came that was worthy of such a prime spot. There are three square granite tables with engraved and polished chessboard tops—chess pieces included. People sit and eat at them, too. And there is a granite-slab ping-pong table, with paddles and balls also included. There’s grass to lie on and water to drink and use to brush your teeth. It’s a beautiful place that offers entertainment and calm.

“Learn from every single being, experience and moment,” Eve Carson said, and “What a joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.” Eve’s spirit and her words, commemorated on two tiled walls at Cobbham, are her gifts to the park. I believe that Eve would find both the homeless and the housed suit the park equally well. 

Looking straight ahead across Prince at 740, I see one of the coziest office complexes in all of Athens: one level, red brick, lots of trees. The landscaping is tidy, and best of all, you drive up and simply walk into your doctor’s office.

When the Olympic Torch was carried down Prince in 1996, we had a Front Torch Party to celebrate its Prince Avenue route. That day is memorable, and for a few days Athens became an international city.

I read about a certain Richard Bellah in a newspaper article about the homeless in Athens. Richard revealed that he was basically living under someone’s house. One night, soon after I read the article, I heard a noise under my house. I got a baseball bat and entered the unfinished basement through the small outside door, only to discover it was my house that Richard lived under. I told him he was going to burn the place down, and this was too sad, and the basement was no place to stay in. In the morning, I took him outside of town to the Potter’s House. Richard lived there off and on, and worked up the street at the Potter’s House store, which used to be behind Emanuel Episcopal.

Not long ago, in the winter of 2018, a man named Anthony kept his belongings outside our bedroom window. After a few weeks, I left a note asking him to please relocate. 

After a cold, rainy night, at a time when Anthony still had his things outside our window, I woke up to find him sleeping there. He stayed there overnight a few more times and left me with a shame I couldn’t shake. This wasn’t a story from somewhere else. He was right under our window. Friends tried to assuage my guilt, but I never felt like they or I came up with one reason good enough to justify my not taking Anthony in.

People can walk by for the last time, and sometimes I’m even conscious of it—John Seawright, with his long strides, for instance. A line from a song that’s in my mind’s soundtrack pops up all too often: “But I always thought that I’d see you again.”