In Memoriam: The House That Built Me1
It was the summer of 1971 and I couldn’t believe it was ours. After living in row houses and apartments all of my life I finally didn’t have to share a room with my little brother. Even the 30-minute drive each weekday for my senior year in high school wasn’t bad. I got to come home to Dad, Mom, Randy and Jon. And Mom even bought me a red furry mushroom-shaped footstool I wanted to match my new room – even though all it was used for was to hold clothes I was too lazy to hang up.
That house was more than bricks and mortar. It was where I traded Daddy’s false teeth soaking in the cleaning solution for the tiny toy ones that a quarter bought from that goofy vending machine. Mom cooked meal after amazing meal. We had a yard big enough to host my 18th birthday party to show off the engagement ring Benny gave me. My wheelchair-bound brother Randy taught me to laugh through suffering when he called out on the intercom, “Hey, Sis! Can you come down and help me? I can’t get one foot in front of the other this morning!” Jon played endless games of Clue and Risk and Monopoly with the older brother he came to love with all his heart. Daddy snuck frozen hotdogs to snack on because they surely didn’t have as many calories as thawed ones.
Then one day as my senior year was winding down and I was sitting in the living room looking out the big bay window I sensed the Lord say: You will raise your children here. Months later I left Rockwell Road to begin a new life with a new husband.
Only God knew what I didn’t. In September 1975 Randy was found dead in the front of that house in the wheelchair- accessible van he was so proud of after a likely drug-induced murder at a party. Just eight months later Daddy left that house on a hot July day to get on over to the hospital just to get checked out; he never returned due to worse than expected effects of his third heart attack.
So with our three children, including a newborn, Benny and I moved back to Rockwell Road. We celebrated birthday parties and Christmases and met with a group of people in the summer of 1979 who wanted to help us start a new church. Our three then four then five then six kids played knee football and “unrealistic” Nintendo games on the dusty pink carpet in the basement; launched “The Mediocre Magicians” and did air bands to “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”; and performed family piano recitals and recited Romans 5-7 to surprise their dad on Father’s Day. And then we all helped drive nails to build a small but cute addition for Nannie to move in with us for her final eight years where “the candy drawer,” repeated stories about her childhood, and kids sneaking to watch things their mom and dad wouldn’t allow created an ever-deepening bond between a grandmother and her littles. And I homeschooled 7 kids at the dining room table where I had once placed the huge wooden knife and fork set from the kitchen wall next to Daddy’s dinner plate before one of our first dinners there back in ’71.
Then it came time to leave Rockwell Road again. This time I knew it was for good. Just two weeks prior Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. Driving away from that house in July 2000 was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Then within days after the move I got the call to come back home. Mom also left Rockwell Road for good that July, joining Daddy and Randy at His feet.
In a few days there will be a "For Sale" sign in front of Rockwell Road for the first time in nearly 45 years. When we moved to Florida my sister and her daughter and family bought it so my dear sister lived in the apartment we built for Mom. My niece’s kids became the ones to be homeschooled in the dining room, have birthday parties and celebrate holidays. I hope whoever moves there has children who will continue the tradition of making memories there. They will be the first non-Phillips/Pates/Fowlers/Hodges to decorate a Christmas tree there.
Today I’m sad. Sad that Daddy and Mom’s great-grandchildren won’t be able to see the apartment Granma and Papa built for the Nannie they’ve never met or walk on the hardwood floors I loved or sit by the fireplace in Granma and Papa’s room or play basketball on the slab in the backyard where moms and dads aunts and uncles learned to shoot 3’s (some learned better than others).
But I’m also glad. Glad to say goodbye to a beautiful place where intense joys and equally intense sorrows blended together to make me realize I don’t ever want to love a home that much again. Leaving Rockwell was among the hardest things I’ve done, but doing so yanked something out of me that’s been replaced with something new. Rockwell Road grabbed my heart too strongly and now I know I will never be truly at home until I walk on streets of gold.
I love my current home. I love the birthdays and holidays and hearing the laughter of grandchildren playing in “their” room upstairs. I love hosting Super Bowl parties with 70 people and enjoying adorable chalk art on my driveway. But I will never love any place as much as I did Rockwell. At least not until Daddy and Mom and Randy and I enjoy Mom’s fried chicken and biscuits together on That Day.
Then I will love my home with all my heart again. And none of us will ever have to leave.