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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The House that Built Me

Last night my dad sent me this photo in a text - no words.

It appears to be a construction area of a house being torn down possibly for renovation.  This is happening all over older Dallas neighborhoods.  It might seem an odd text to receive with no words, but it didn't need any words or any explanation.  I knew exactly why my dad sent this photo and I knew exactly what it was when I saw that white brick wall.

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes filled with tears.  It was on that brick wall that I watched my daddy put up a sign with a jumble of numbers and letters that I couldn't yet decipher because I was only three years old at the time.  He took it upon himself to read it for me and told me that the sign said, "The strongest man in the world lives here".  And I believed him.  And I knew that I would be safe and sound in that house with my strong daddy.  I lived in that house in Dallas from the time I was three until I was nine.  Really not that long.  A mere fraction of the whole of my life.  So, I couldn't figure out why it made me so sad.  And just because I'm a real sappy mush of a gal, I punched up THIS SONG on my Iphone.  And I cried some more.  (Seriously - what is it with me and the songs and the sap and tears?  Gah!)

There is a saying that we really don't know what goes on behind the walls of even the most perfect looking homes with fresh paint and manicured lawns.  That every family has its secrets.  Our family was not perfect, but the only secrets I remember being in that house were the whispers of two little sisters giggling into the night on side by side twin beds.  Or the whispers of a big brother - so much braver than his wimpy sisters - peeking around the stairwell to see what Santa Claus had left us.

The ages of three to nine should be carefree and easy and mine were.  This is the time before I worried about what size jeans I wore or if that boy I had a crush on liked me.  I didn't know anyone who had gotten divorced or anyone who had died of cancer.  My family protected me inside that house.  Many years have passed and though I have found that the world is not always carefree and easy, our family's foundation is still strong. Even though we live under different roofs in different states and rely on smart phones and computers and all manner of things we could have never comprehended in 1975 to stay connected, we are connected.  The house that built me was full of love, forgiveness and loyalty and the family that built me still is.

And because it's Throwback Thursday and Facebook erupts with photos of plaid polyester pants, blue eyeshadow and Farrah wings, I started to think about what else I remember about that house that built me.

It was from that brick wall that I stepped up high to try to climb a tree and came crashing down to bump my head.  As a reward for that little maneuver I earned three stitches and a pass to eat ice cream on the couch and watch the Miss America pageant that night.

It was on the front lawn of that house that my mom cried and cried on the hot summer August day when Elvis died.  She said the only way she could explain how awful it was to me was to say that it was for her like it would be if Donny Osmond died for me.

Oh, the horror.  She didn't have to speak another word.  This was clearly  devastating.

It was in that house that I colored states red or blue on the electoral map in my Scholastic News that I brought home from 2nd grade during the 1976 Presidential election.  I was stunned to realize that even though my parents voted for President Ford, he would not be elected.  I suppose that's when I knew that maybe things don't always work out like you think they should.

It was on a lawn chair in the front yard that I sat on my grandfather's lap being comforted after I'd been stung by a bee.  He had brought a giant stuffed animal to me from the Texas/OU Game at the State Fair of Texas.  I don't remember how much that bee sting hurt.  I do remember that stuffed animal and the gentleness of that man.  He died later that month.

It was in that house on the blue velvety sofa that my mom led me to sit down when I asked her what all this "period" stuff in my book, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?, was about.  I knew it was big when we sat in the formal living room.  She told me everything.  I was a little horrified.

It was in that house that my sister and I watched Mr. Rogers and Zoom on the enormous TV console with an attached record player.  It was in that same room where we turned cartwheels on the shag carpet as we watched Nadia Comaneci from a country far away win the gold medal in the Summer Olympics.

It was in the backyard of that house where a  big brother convinced his sister to pool all their Halloween candy together and put it up in the tree house to share.  It was on that tree that he showed her how to climb so that she felt special and important.

It was in that house that I remember catching a glimpse of my dad as he stood with his coffee cup at the living room window staring out at the trees, a tear rolling down his cheek.  His grandmother had died that morning.  And I knew that even the strongest man in the world could and should be able to cry.

The house was idyllic, white clapboard with black shutters and a backyard sandbox surrounding a huge tree.  There was a pool and a diving board.  There was a swing set and a dog and a two car garage.  It was utterly perfect.

But the thing I know in my heart this morning is that it wasn't the house that built me . . . not any of the four houses in which I lived before I left Texas really built me.  It wasn't the gleaming white brick wall, the twin bed covered in a sunny yellow comforter, the deep blue pool or the monkey grass that lined the walk that built me.  It was the people in the family to whom God gave me that built me.

It was a mom who put my hair in pin curls the night before my very first ballet recital.  It was a dad who told a little white lie to make sure his daughter felt like there was no one in all the world who could hurt her.  It was a brother who peered out the bathroom window late on Christmas Eve promising that the blinking red light we saw in the distance was Rudolph, even when he knew full well it was an airplane.  It was a little sister who shared not just Barbie dolls and coloring books and record players, but secrets and dreams and her heart.

So thanks for the memories you held for us little house.  My people and I grew strong among your walls and trees and green grass. We loved our years with you.   Good-bye, 6315 Glendora Avenue.  You were good to us.


Sue Watson said...

I don't know you or your sister or brother, but I do know your parents. I can visualize them talking to you and I had tears come to my eyes even though I had never seen the house. Your a beautiful storyteller.

Anonymous said...

I too see this everywhere when I'm in Dallas.It's a shame!!! How many people
REALLY need MEGA-MANSIONS?????SO sad where we put our priorities!!!!

Jenn said...

Hi, Mary Elizabeth. I know that house was getting really old, but it makes me sad, too. I just wish I could have gone in it one more time. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

Jenn said...

Sue, Thank you so much for your kind words. So, like me, you are a lucky one to know my parents, right? Of course, I'm a little biased, but I think they are the best! Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Dawn Perotti said...

The first house we bought when we moved from Virginia to Dallas was bulldozed last week - 4104 Hanover. You are an incredible writer! Hope all is well in Virginia. My brother and his family live in South Riding . . . it is such a small world.

Jenn said...

Nice to hear from you again, Dawn! It makes me sad that all of those houses are being torn down, but I'm sure some beautiful homes are replacing them. Thanks for your kind words. Have a great day!