As I mentioned in a recent article, we always had a lot of music, especially country music, in the house when my brothers and I were growing up in Orange County. Well, that house was severely damaged last week by a string of tornadoes that ripped through Southeast Texas. As of this writing, it’s too early to tell if it can be repaired and rebuilt or not. The house across the road, which I knew as my grandpa’s house – now owned by my brother Jim and his wife, Christy – that house was destroyed by the same twister. It held together well enough to save their lives when the storms hit. They were sheltering in an interior closet and emerged without a scratch, but much of the house was destroyed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the house where I grew up. It was built especially for our family, and we moved into it when I was a baby. In the years that followed, I would gain three brothers. As our family grew, my parents took in the garage, added a back porch and another garage, and made other improvements, eventually adding central heat and air and another bathroom. But it was still the house where I grew up.
It was damaged by Hurricane Rita in 2004: repaired and rebuilt. Mom had a stroke there in 2010. After she passed, it was where dad continued to live. It was where I moved back to live with him in 2017 – then Hurricane Harvey flooded us out. Dad stayed in a nursing home while the house was again rebuilt. After we moved him back home in 2018, it was where he died in his sleep. Our youngest brother, David – himself a pastor for a large church in Spring, Texas – he and his wife Gina now own the house. They were using it for church retreats and family get-aways, and planning to retire there in a few years.
Now the roof is gone, down to the ceiling joists. Portions of two external walls were damaged by the force of the storm. There’s pink insulation and bits of the metal roof, hanging from the trees around the house – that is, in the trees that are still standing. A lot of the trees around the house were stripped clean of most of their branches, down to the main trunks. And depending on what the engineers say, the house may now be structurally unsalvageable and have to be torn down.
So, as I say, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and remembering. And what I’ve decided is this: the house may be gone, but the foundation for life remains.
Our parents gave us a home where hard work and discipline mattered, but so did the times of having fun. The house was out in the country. Every other house we could see belonged to a member of our extended family. It was a house where we would do our homework after school, and then go outside to play. We hosted get-togethers for the kids from our church youth group and for the grown-ups, too, if they wanted to come along. Hayrides and bonfires in the fall, fishing trips to the bayou in the spring. Watching daddy’s cattle grazing in the pasture in the summer and walking through the piney woods to cut a Christmas tree in December. Playing baseball or football with my brothers in the front yard and feeding the chickens in the area behind the backyard.
And then there was the time when we were hosting a Cub Scout meeting and mom, the Den Mother, lit a candle and set it on a wooden buffet table (which we called the “green thing”). While we were outside, the base of the candle somehow managed to get hot enough to catch the top of the table on fire. We came inside at just in time to safely put it out. That table has been repainted, sanded, and refinished many times, but the burned place is still visible.
Do you know the old song by Jimmie Davis, “Suppertime”? I can remember many times when we would be outside and hear mom holler, “Boys! Wash up! Suppertime!” If you never got to hear something like that, I feel sorry for you.
I remember family devotions that we would have in the evenings, right before bed. Mom would read us a Bible story, then she or my dad, or sometimes one of us older boys, would pray. And when death touched our family – a grandparent, or a beloved aunt or uncle – we cried out to God and held each other and dealt with it together. Our faith was truly a big part of the foundation of our home.
But most of all, there was love. You knew that you were part of the family and that you belonged. Whether you were having a good day, or not so good, under that roof was someone who cared, someone to whom you mattered. And triumphs were made sweeter and sorrows more bearable because we went through them together. I remember coming home from college, walking in the front door, getting a hug from mom, and feeling – finally! – that I was home.
The house may be gone. The memories remain and the foundation endures.