It’s sort of funny that I can remember something that was said to me from around fifty years ago, but I can’t recall the name of someone I met yesterday. I know, it’s not funny, it’s just getting older.
It was around fifty years ago and I was riding with my granddaddy somewhere; but I can’t remember where. As we drove past an old house in the community, my granddaddy, who us grandkids always called DaddyMac, talked about how nice that old house used to look. It was a big house, and in its day it was probably considered one of the finest homes in the area. But that was many years prior to that day. Now the house was run down. The roof had fallen in and the weeds, vines and bushes were slowly taking over and engulfing it. DaddyMac looked over at me and said, “If my house ever starts to look like that, strike a match to it and burn it.” And he meant it.
My grandparent’s home was built in the 1930’s after the original home at that location burned in a fire. After my grandparents died several years ago, my father kept the homeplace up. When it wasn’t being rented out, he would keep it mowed and cleaned up. From the outside it always looked pretty good. But the house itself was in bad condition. The renters hadn’t really looked after it and daddy didn’t want to spend a lot of money repairing it. The main reason he didn’t was because there was another problem. Termites. Termites had caused major damage to the infrastructure of the house. The cost to repair their damage would make repairing the house impractical.
After daddy passed away a couple of years ago I had to decide what to do with my grandparent’s house. Remembering what DaddyMac had said many years ago, I knew I couldn’t let the house continue to deteriorate. And it would cost too much to fix it up inorder just to rent it out. But I had to do something. I thought the solution was DaddyMac’s solution to the problem; “strike a match to it.” I soon learned it wasn’t an option, due to fire regulations and restrictions.
Then I had an idea; maybe I could give the house away. I painted a big sign and placed it in the front yard. The sign said, “Free House, Must Be Moved.” I placed my phone number below it thinking that it might generate a few phone calls. I was wrong. I received over fifty phone calls the first week the sign was put up. I got phone calls at all times of the day. One man phoned me at four in the morning. Needless to say, I was not too interested in giving him information about the house. I soon realized that the majority of the people phoning didn’t have a clue what was involved in and the cost of moving a house. The few people who did soon realized, after looking at the house, that the cost of moving and repairing it was not feasible. After a couple of weeks, I gave up and took down the sign.
The only option left was to take the house down and clean up the lot, which I have done. I didn’t know how I would feel once it was done. It was the homeplace. It was where a lot of my childhood was spent. It was the location of many memories from growing up.
Holidays, especially Christmas, were special in that house, especially for us younger cousins. The adults would be gathered in the front living room, or in the den. They would stick us kids in the middle bedroom, with its wood stove heater, away from everyone else. And that was just what we wanted. After eating, we would keep the card table out and start playing cards, cutting up and just having a good time. Being younger than my cousins, I felt older, just hanging out with them. Of course, there are also the memories of every day stuff at my grandparents home, like sitting down at the kitchen table and eating a meal, picking up pecans, just visiting and being there with them and the rest of the family.
As I look out onto the vacant lot where the house used to be, I realize that you can take down a house but you can’t take away the memories from that house. Those memories will stick with you. Like memories that make a grandson follow the instructions of a grandfather, even if it is fifty years later.