If Walls Could Talk.
So I’m sitting on the floor.
In this old house.
It’s empty now.
So many times I’ve spoken harshly about it. It’s ironic that the very “oldness” that drew me to it has over the years at times been the very thing that drives me nuts. (My husband would say that it’s a VERY short drive!)
Faced with the reality that I will be walking out the front door for the last time in the morning, I’m clinging like crazy. I’m again looking at this old gal like I did the first time I saw her. And I love her still. If I’m honest, it’s killing me to leave, even when what’s waiting is so good. But it’s time.
Some might find this a bit dramatic–might say “Oh my goodness…what’s the big deal? It’s just a house for Pete’s sake!” Actually, it isn’t. Just a house. And I have so much more to say about it.
This is a tribute to the house where we grew our family. I intend to do it up right.
Twenty years ago, I picked her off a list of homes available in the little town where we hoped to move. It’s safe to say that she was the absolute saddest thing I’d ever seen. She was on her way to seeing better days, but someone had given up on her. They just left her there–with her boards rotting, sitting perched above the Llano River.
Just a bunch of falling-down sticks really.
When I first saw her, it was springtime. There were wildflowers all around, which softened her exterior greatly. But she was a mess. It would be two years before we could actually live there.
For two years, our family–my husband and I and our three children then ten, seven and five–worked every single weekend rain or shine, heat or cold, to restore the old girl.
We look back on it now and wonder how we did it. We think we would never want to do it again. But there has never been a moment when we aren’t glad we did.
This house fit our family like a glove. I believe God led us to her. She knows us better than anyone. She knows all of our flaws and imperfections and loves us still. She’s seen us at our best and at our worst.
She knows our inside jokes–jokes that anyone outside our family would find idiotic and half-witted. She gets them and I think they crack her up! She knows the cheesiness we’re capable of and she smiles at it. She knows our habits and routines. Our rising times and our lights-out times. She knows what we eat for breakfast. She knows the way we love each other–the way we forgive each other. She’s heard a million “I love yous”. She knows our Christmas-Eve anticipation, our getting-ready for-prom butterflies, our college-acceptance excitement. She knows our joy when one of us comes home after being gone for a long time. She’s heard our prayers of thanks.
She wrapped her walls tight around us when difficulties and sadness and fear came our way. She sheltered us always. She didn’t try to fix things, she just listened and let us be. She was peace and quiet from the storm. She heard cries of a little girl who was afraid of “bad guys” and couldn’t go to sleep at night. She listened as teenage boys poured all their angst and confusion into a couple of guitars. She saw pillows become wet with tears. She heard angry words we wished we could take back. She heard gut-wrenching prayers and pleas to God. She felt it when hearts broke. She shook as doors slammed. She knows intimately our most raw heartaches and pain. She has carried them on her strong and competent frame and would willingly bear more for us if we would stay.
But back to the joy, because that is the overriding emotion of our days lived within and around her walls.
Most times, there was so much joy and laughter that she couldn’t contain it, so the windows and doors would open and it would spill out of them. The more people who came, the more love that spilled out. And people did come. Families and friends and strangers. Young ones and really old ones. In fact, some travelled across the world never planning to find shelter within her walls or food on her tables. She was a wonderful unexpected surprise for them. There were Germans and Russians and Ukrainians. Norwegians and New Zealanders. Koreans and Chinese. Ecuadorians and French. She became an international house and never minded being kept up into the wee hours of the morning by lively porch conversations.
Christmases and Thanksgivings and birthdays and Mother’s Days and Father’s Days. And plain ‘ole days. People and so much good food. And games. She was the facilitator of all of it. She never cared about being the center of attention, she was just happy to be in the background as it all happened in and around her.
I’ve heard it said that music is what feelings sound like. If that’s the case, then our years in this house have been ones of ongoing, never-ending expressions of feelings!
Most nights, when we were all safely tucked away inside her walls, she enjoyed her own private concert– late-night serenades from our boys and our girl–songs finding their way under and around closed bedroom doors.
At times her back porch became a stage…with an old upright rolled right out the door and white lights strung from her rafters. Her yard sometimes filled with as many as a few hundred new and old friends who came to listen to some songs, to sit under the stars that she surely knows by name and to listen to the river run down below.
During the day, when everyone was away at school and work, I would play her my own music on the piano and sing for her–just the two of us. I trusted her like that. I even played my old violin for her, as bad as it was!
So much music.
I, of course, feel that I know her better than anyone else. It makes sense since I’ve spent more one-on-one time with her. I’ve dragged furniture across her floors, I’ve pounded nails into her walls, and I’ve filled her kitchen with smoke more than once. I’ve kept her clean. We’re really best friends. I know every creak in her floorboards and where those troublesome little nails are that like to work themselves loose. I know the way the evening sunlight pours in through her windows on the west side of the house–filtering through the trees to create the most wonderful shadow dances on the walls. I know how she allows the morning light to come in slowly through my bedroom windows so as to let me take my time waking–to ease me into the day. She has been with me through ever-changing hairstyles and I have been with her through quite a few paint jobs. I’ve seen her with peeling paint and she’s seen me with 20 extra pounds.
So the goodbye is hard.
Saying goodbye to a house is not like saying goodbye to a human friend. With humans there’s always a possibility, however slight, that we’ll spend time together again someday. When you say goodbye to a house, it’s likely for good. For always. I mean you can drive by and look, but you can’t sit within and feel it again.
We’ve all said our goodbyes–all five of us–a last meal on the porch shared some weeks ago when we knew leaving was imminent.
As we sat out by the river, we remembered how our daughter and her elementary school friends would spend hours cleaning and setting up house in the treehouse that looked out over the river. The plan, of course, was to sleep there. I remember the giggles as they hauled sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights, radios and snacks up the ladder and through the hatch door with so much enthusiasm! It was a great adventure until dark set in, at which time they would abandon it all for safety inside the real house.
The boys told of taking their paintball guns out to the sandbar in the middle of the river. They said they would lie on their backs and shoot the guns up into the sky and at the last minute, just before the paint exploded back down on them, they would roll out of the way.
Funny. Our coming together that last time was kind of like that. We gathered under her shadow and under the sky she and all of us knew so well. We told stories and remembered until the last possible minute And just before the sadness of the moment could explode down us, we rolled out of the way.
From up the hill, I believe she was listening. It was the best possible way to tell her goodbye–by remembering how fully and well we’ve lived under her watch.
If I’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that we should hold things loosely. And when it’s time to let go, we should make every attempt to do so with grace.
So this is my attempt.
As I find myself saying the last of the last goodbyes, I walk down the river bank and wade out into the water. I reach my hand down to the bottom and find a rock–so refined and smooth after years of being tumbled about in these waters–which have at times been turbulent. The rock is a lot like me. I keep collecting rocks until my shirt, that I’m using as basket, is full of them. A parting gift. I know it’s time to go.
I look up the hill and there she sits…
If walls could talk, I don’t think she would have words right now.
And all of the sudden, I seem to have run out of them.