The house that built us
Miranda Lambert, Allen Shamblin, and Tom Douglas sang and wrote:
“Mama cut out pictures of houses for years,
From the “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine.
Plans were drawn, and concrete poured,
Nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to Mama’s dream”…..
“Hi, Mama, what you doing?” I asked as I walked in from school.
“Cutting out my pictures,” she replied.
I was in elementary school in Tennessee, and many afternoons I would help put them in a large box. The box held Mama’s dreams, so I knew it was important to trim the magazine clippings just right in case she needed to pick up that perfect dream one day.
The box held pictures of countless houses along with ideas for each imaginary room. One day she might just find a place to implement this or that.
My parents were children of the depression. Daddy bought a car when they first married, borrowing the money from the bank. When he could not make his payment one month he gave the Chevy back to the bank. He swore he would never borrow money again. He didn’t.
We moved many times when I was young, but finally settled for a while in McMinnville, Tenn. Daddy’s career flourished as he worked and toiled. Mama, diligently, saved the money.
Her father, along with most of my family, worked in or owned lumber mills in the east Tennessee hills. I used to think sawdust ran in all their veins.
Many years before Mama had a box, Granddaddy found an area in those hills growing Butternut trees. From these rare white walnut trees, he planned the boards for each of his three children to use one day for their homes. It was his dream.
The day came when Mama cut out a home and a plan rendering from Better Homes and Gardens magazine. It lay on the top in her box.
Before my brother, John, left for college he already had a drafting table in his room. I think we all knew he would be an engineer long before he went to Georgia Tech and long before he owned a slide rule.
Mama finally ordered the real plans and you could find her and John amending and redrawing them under the drafting table lamp most any evening. The dream was now on the table.
In the early spring of 1962, the framing started going up and then the roof. Mama poured through her box of ideas and started refinishing antiques she had acquired for years.
Granddaddy dusted off and waxed the old white walnut. John started gathering parts to make light fixtures. Daddy looked through lumber for the right wood floors, and beams for the ceilings. He was determined that Mama’s dreams never return to a box.
The house was in mid construction when we moved away to Georgia. I am not sure how Mama felt, but I have a feeling she was broken.
We left McMinnville with Daddy’s promise to Mama that he would rebuild the home for her. Granddaddy still had the wood stored and John would save the bits and parts he had collected to be used later. Mama’s dreams were packed and put in a moving van.
Two years later we moved into the new house around an S curve in LaGrange. She had spent every day overseeing the construction.
There wasn’t a corner in the house that Mama had not thought out to perfection. Except one.
My brother had found an old billiard table in Tennessee. Solid walnut, pure slate, leather pockets, and beautiful.
The Butternut panels, antique parts, and the old pool table headed south on a truck to Georgia. The table was so heavy and large that it had to be put in place before all the walls were up on the house!
Finally, we moved into Mama’s dream. White walnut framed the fireplace in the living room and dining room.
Daddy’s hardwood floors were clear oak that he had hand waxed. Beams adorned the ceilings, where light fixtures, made from old gas lanterns and metal parts, hung.
Mama’s dreams came to fruition. The box now contained a magazine article and photos about her own house right on top.
My family lived in the home on the curvy street for eight years. It was often filled with teenagers and parties, laughter and joy. The old pool table came alive with sounds of clinking balls scattering across its slate.
My brother graduated from college and went to Viet Nam. I graduated from high school and eventually got married.
Then we all moved away.
My brother, John, knew he had terminal cancer when he was 52. He had settled back in Tennessee, but found himself one day in front of the old house in LaGrange.
He knocked on the door. After telling the current owner who he was, John was welcomed in.
The house was almost as if he had never left. The light fixtures were still as they were. Granddaddy’s cherished wood still magnificent.
Echoes of he and mother at the drafting table and the sounds of cue balls clinking on the old pool table filled his memory. He was thankful that he was given the moment to return one last time.
Before my mother passed away, she wanted me to take her to her favorite town. She had not seen LaGrange in over 30 years. We drove around the curve where I stopped and she looked at the house that once resided only in a box.
“Do you want me to ask the owner if we can come in?” I gently whispered.”
“No, I know what it looks like,” she responded with a twinkle in her eye.
Our lives are full of dreams we push to achieve. When we accomplish them with perseverance, hope, unity and love, it leaves a legacy and a wonderful memory.
Like the house that Mama built …. That built us.
Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.