The House That Love Built
Some things happen in our lives. Some things happen around us. Some things happen to us. Some seem incidental. Some are sombering. Some are life-changing moments. But in each instance, one reflects on its inherent meaning. Well…..at least sometimes we do.
It was a year ago, on April 29, 2017 when me and my two grandsons visited with my mother in our family’s home. I was scheduled to rehearse for an upcoming music festival I was performing in and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend precious moments with two extensions of my life who lovingly calls me “Granny.”
There had been a lot of storms in the days leading up to that weekend. Straight-line winds with torrential rains causing floods damage to towns across the region. But for the most part, we seemed to weather the storms fairly well.
The day started slow and peaceful. Just the way I love to start a Saturday morning. The Spring air was cool, clean and crisp. I love the country life. The day ended well after all the “chores” were accomplished for the day. There’s nothing like snuggling on the sofa wrapped in comfort by little arms who lovingly, yet silently say, “I love You. You’re my hero.” Those are the precious moments that speak unconditional love in a way no words can adequately express. Life that is a part of you that extends beyond you. What a great expression of true love.
Finally, we settled for the night. As had become custom, my grandsons wouldn’t settle in a room by themselves, so they ended up crawling into bed with me. The storms seemed to be slowing. It was only soft rain when we went to bed that night. Then it happened. It was about 11:20 p.m. I was awakened by a loud noise that sounded more like a explosion and a sucking sound while the picture window mom had built in place of what used to be glass windows was catapulted on top of me and my grandsons at about the same time the ceiling tiles and frames fell on top of us.
Instantly, I felt rain falling on us and could see lightening against the black sky with rumbles of thunder. My first thought was, “Oh my God. We’ve been hit by a tornado.” I called out for my grandsons but they did not answer. My second thought was, “Oh my God. The tornado has sucked them out of the house. I was finally able to free my arms from the debris to reach over to their side of the bed. I could feel them, but they wouldn’t move and they wouldn’t speak. They were in shock. I grabbed hold of their arms and dragged them to my side of the bed and we were able to crawl out from underneath the wall and ceiling that had fallen on top of us.
I went to my mother’s room and yelled, “Call 911. The house has been hit by a tornado.” Something was significantly strange in this moment, as she was already fully dressed and sitting up in her bed. Months later, she finally remembered that she had not yet gone to bed that night. She was getting ready to do so when I came into the room.
We were able to find our shoes and get the boys dressed so we could leave the house. While we were waiting for the emergency responders, I collapsed to my knees. I couldn’t think of anything in that moment. My mind went blank. I remember not being able to feel anything. I couldn’t breathe. I suddenly thought about our neighbor, a woman who lived in a single-wide trailer next door. She was now living by herself after her husband passed away a few years earlier. My anxiety intensified as my thoughts for her safety consumed me. It was about that time the emergency responders came. They went next door to check on our neighbor. She was fine. I asked the one of the emergency responders if they knew if the tornado had done much damage. He looked at me and said, “It wasn’t a tornado.” Later, he admitted he knew it wasn’t a tornado when they got the call. There had not been any tornadoes in the area that night.
I went outside to my mother’s carport and saw this man standing at the end of her driveway. At that moment, I still didn’t fully comprehend what I was looking at. He was standing next to the massive 100-year-old oak tree that stood majestically in my mother’s front yard. Except that it was no longer standing—it was the roots of this majestic tree he was standing next to. It was surreal. It was pitch black outside and we were rapidly being ushered out of the house so they could turn the power off so a fire couldn’t possibly ignite.
Daylight the next day revealed the cruel reality of what we had experienced just hours before. There had been so much rain that softened the ground in the recent weeks. Nature is a beast all its own. It looked as if the wind picked up this tree and laid it over on top of the house. It cut a line across the house and through the entire attic directly over the room me and my grandsons had been sleeping in. My mother had built a concrete retaining wall about the tree to double as a bench and also hold flowers around the base of the tree. All of which was destroyed in a matter of minutes.
Shock does a lot of things to a person. For me, it wasn’t until I walked back through the house that I heard the crash and rumble of the tree and could remember feeling the jolt of it shaking the house on its foundation—in fact, it was such a jolt, the beams supporting the deck out my mother’s bedroom had folded underneath the deck. The cinderblocks that enclosed the crawl space under the house had cracks in it. The trusses in the roof were crushed and splintered over ¾ of the house. The sounds haunted me for months. I can still remember it as if it were yesterday.
The real miracle was realized when we saw how the retaining wall around the base of the tree had not been completely crumbled. It was in fact holding the tree up, keeping the tree about three feet off the ground. I experienced in that second the realization that me, my grandsons and my mother were alive because this wall crumbled at just the right place, just the right angle and degree, and stopped crumbling at just the right time to keep this massive tree from falling completely onto the ground and cutting the house completely in half. The force of the picture window mom had built in place of the windows blasting on top of us was actually our salvation, rather than hundreds of glass shards that would could not have resisted piercing into us after exploding from their frames. Surreal cannot explain it. Stunned. Speechless. Mind blowing silence.
The next days and weeks felt like walking through a time warp. So many decisions. So much work ahead. So much cost. We discovered the end of the house closest to the carport was still in good shape. I wanted so much to keep that part of the house. It was just too much to lose everything so suddenly. I urged my mother to consider it. It was too much for her to process. The decision was made not to keep any of it.
This was our family’s home for 41 years at that time. So many memories. Every time I walked through that house I was flooded with memories. This was a house that my family built. We did not pay a contractor to come in and build this house that we simply moved our boxes and bodies into. This was a house my parents paid someone to put into the dry. We…..our family…..a dad, a mom, a brother, a sister and me finished it—completely, meaning insulation, sheetrock, paint, wallpaper, linoleum, ceiling tiles, every nail driven, every door hung, every piece of trim, everything. It took years for us to finish our home because my parents paid for it as we went along. This was the home that love and thousands of hours of sweat equity built. I can still see my dad standing on a stepladder in the middle of the living room stapling up the squares of ceiling tile with his manual high-powered stapler. How do you process losing the home where 41 years of memories are stored in every wall, every corner and in every step taken through each room when it wasn’t your choice to walk away from it? I still can’t answer that question. It is most assuredly the process of letting go. Indeed—it is a process.
Now, one year later, my mother has finally gotten to the place she can walk through the process of taking the house down. We had decided to ask the fire department to burn it for a fee. This would have been the least expensive way to do it. We tried to salvage everything that could be salvaged. In the process of this, my mother was introduced to a family who could see the value in keeping the kitchen and dining room—the rooms at the end of the house I so desperately wanted to keep. To my relief, they convinced my mother to keep it. They will help my mother dispose of the rest of the house efficiently so as to maintain the integrity of the end of the house that was spared utter destruction. Everything else was too far gone to even attempt to salvage. But the heart of the house—that part of the house that held the heart and soul of family meals and gatherings and all the great memories that go with it will be spared. I am grateful beyond my ability to express.
Life is precious. Life is a journey. When we hold on too tightly to that which is destined to change, we will eventually face the inability to journey through the change. Life. Love. Good memories. This is what is worth holding on to forever.
Every day is a new beginning. Another opportunity. Another chance to do something good—to make a good difference. Some say they do not believe in God. Some say they’re not sure if he exists. Some are indifferent. As for me…..I know I would have never gotten through what I’ve faced in my life without God. My hope is in Him in Every New Beginning.
As with any good story, there is always a happy ending. At least there should be. Such is the case with this one. It turns out the family whom God sent to my mother was able to save exactly half of the house. Not only the kitchen and dining room will be spared, but also the living room and a small bedroom and bath on the back of the house. Hopefully, my mother will be able to move back into her home of 41 years in a few short months. My excitement has been catapulted to that of sheer jubilation. God. Is. So. Good. And worthy of ALL praise.
Now, I have a new dream for a new beginning. I have a new hope tucked away deep in my heart—that is to rebuild the rest of the house that was destroyed by that storm. Until then……..