LC's Take: Two very brave women, I am not one of them

Posted Wednesday, May 1, 2013 in Features

LC's Take: Two very brave women, I am not one of them

Vera Coking, who won an eminent domain suit against Donald Trump, flashes the peace sign in front of her home.  Coking later sold the home for $11 million, instead of the $251,000 Trump had offered.

by LC Van Savage

Traffic, three abreast, was thundering around that rotary on that very hot August day, the noise nearly deafening, a stench of exhaust searing my nose, a blur of metal and squealing tires piercing my ears.

I was standing in a parking lot after dining at the all-grease fast-food joint next to that rotary, dreading my having to dive into that speeding death trap to resume my trip. I squinted my eyes to see something in the middle of all that. It was in the very center of this vehicle inferno. I could not quite make it out but it was something, something that didn’t quite belong in the roar of that vehicle bedlam.

I stared at the large island of grass at the rotary's center as it came into focus, and gradually realized that on it stood a beautiful, old, dark grey Victorian home, replete with gingerbread at all the corners, turrets, chimneys and a wrap-around porch with a bench swing and hanging plants. It was hard to see between the blurred, speeding trucks and cars but soon I could see it all and the roaring vehicles became weirdly transparent as they sped past. And then to my astonishment I realized that out on that velvet-emerald patch of well-trimmed grass sat an elderly woman in a red rocking chair, surrounded by a vast, wildly flowering garden. She wore a long white dress and wide-brimmed lavender straw hat. And, she was knitting! There she sat, rocking calmly, centered in serene beauty, unruffled by the metallic roaring din whirling about her. 

Her courage? Clearly obvious. It was certain that when the highway kingpins coldly advised her of the meaning of “eminent domain” this intrepid old woman stood her ground and told them delicately where they might best place their eminent domain, that she'd been on that patch of land and in that lovely old Victorian all her life and her parents and grandparents before, and no amount of money was going to budge her. 

And so they built the highway around her.

Do I know this story for a fact? No. But that tableau made it obvious that this grand old lady had the fortitude to stand up to the Big Guns, and she got them to back down.  When there was a lull in the traffic, I yelled over to her and clasped my hands above my head in a victory cheer. She smiled and nodded, and looked back down at her knitting and continued to rock.

The next act of courage is similar. I’d read about a very old woman who'd lived all of her life in a tiny, wooden house on a strip of land on the beach at Atlantic City, N.J. A gang of money-hungry scoundrels were unfeelingly planning the destruction of the lovely old elegant town in order to build huge gambling casinos. They had to destroy her home along with hundreds of others to make way for a new emporium, and they offered her vast sums of cash money for it.

"Nope," said she, and she sat on her front stoop with a shotgun across her lap, staunchly guarding and refusing to sell the home she loved and had raised her family in on the quiet, beautiful beach near the memorable old boardwalk. And so Da Boys gave up and let her stay, and became oddly respectful of “dat old broad”  and built the huge hotel around and above her small home. And there it stayed, a minuscule, brave and frail wooden structure surrounded and nearly swallowed by a cave of glitz and marble and very bright lights.

Of course we all know that the powers just hovered like vultures until these two intractable ladies died, and they then stomped in and quickly usurped the land, tore away their homes and hauled them off to the dumps, leaving not even a trace, a memory, but maybe a few faded magazine stories.

I wonder if I'll ever have the chance to test my mettle this way, if in fact I've got any mettle. I don't think I do. But I’d like to pretend I’d have the brass ovaries and unflinching courage to protect, keep and guard what I felt was rightfully mine and say “no thanks” and mean it even when a bunch of large guys handed me huge pots of cash. Luckily for me I’ll never have to find out.  But I send my thanks and cheers to those two brave old ladies and hope they can somehow receive my kudos, wherever they are. Now that I too am an old lady, they have in fact occasionally given me a touch of pluck when I’ve needed it and when I’ve brought them into memory. I send them thanks. 

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