If I’m lucky, I get to spend weekends in Lake Charles and enjoy my house. Driving up to it, unpacking, and going into the house after 5 or 6 days away from it feels great, especially when the dogs recognize it’s me, even before I’ve put the key in the lock, and they start barking because I’m home. That is welcoming.
I bought the house in 1986, and for years I had lots of parties. Christmas parties to put up my tree. Back-to-school parties. Mardi Gras parties. At times I know I had upwards of 80 people in the house at one time. Entertaining was fun and welcoming friends to my house was a joy.
Gradually, though, my joy diminished and for too long the house was simply somewhere to sleep. That begin in the early 1990s as my mother’s health deteriorated. She died in 1993, in July. Two and a half years later, my younger brother Phil died when a fourth round of cancer didn’t respond fully to chemo. For those years, as I recall, I spent time teaching, helping out with Mother and then Phil, and then sleeping occasionally. I didn’t take care of the house. I didn’t care. Other things were more important. Frankly, I was too exhausted to deal with it.
That changed, though, over time, and I began to work at clearing out what I’d simply let pile up. Between Hurricanes Rita and Ike, I worked on internal clearing of boxes and books. Not very successfully, I might add. After Hurricane Rita, I added on a big room, 20×26, and established a huge office/den. I still had way too many boxes, though. Way too many. I rented a storage unit that year too, because I had to move out of my office at school and decided to pare down that collection of books. I gave a lot away, but still had hundreds of books. Some went to storage; some came to the house.
After Hurricane Ike, I did major renovations — I replaced all the windows with energy-efficient insulated windows. The galvanized pipes went away and the new PEKS system replaced them. I had the wood siding taken down, insulation put up, and then Hardie board siding. The money ran out, and I have only recently begun again. This time, I finally had the knob-and-tube wiring replaced. There are still projects left — sheetrocking the living room walls, putting up a new ceiling in my bathroom, patching a small area of my bedroom ceiling, and tackling the kitchen. I started that project, but didn’t get very far before Dad got sick.
Now when I go, I never have time for that house, not really. I think about it, and I mean to do something each week, but usually just catch up with friends. And sleep.
From Friday afternoon to Sunday morning really isn’t long enough for most things I want to do. Even clearing out the boxes that are already packed to give away seems to take a back seat to everything else. All of it will still be there next week. I’ll get back to renovations and projects there at some point. Patience, patience.
Now my time is spent taking care of renovating Dad’s house, in Egan.
Driving back to Egan this morning, I realized that though I moved to Egan in 1957, Egan was waiting for me, in a way.
My Dad might have been transferred here, but my mother had roots here, deep ones. Her mother had been born in Evangeline when my great-grandfather Horn worked in the oilfield there. But her mother’s mother was from here, and her grandparents lived here. I had relatives here. My mother’s grandparents moved to Beaumont in the 20s, I think. My mother was born in Orangefield, near Orange, Texas, but grew up in Beaumont.
After we moved here, my maternal grandmother visited often, taking me with her when she visited her great aunts who were still around here, and often visiting when others from out of the area came in. Her mother was one of the oldest children, and her youngest uncle was only three years older than she was. In fact, his youngest child was in my class. We graduated high school together.
I can look at one picture of my great-grandmother and her sisters and brother and recognize all of them. Unlike a lot of people, I remember my great grandmother and her husband; she died when I was 9 and he died when I was in college. My older cousin remembers our great-great-grandmother, but she was already dead by the time I came along. No five-generation photos with me in them!
My great-grandmother’s father’s father and mother immigrated from Ireland during the potato famine. They came in through New Orleans in 1851 and settled there, living for a while on Poet Street. As my grandmother recounted, he held some stereotypically Irish jobs — a bartender, a cop. He was even in the Civil War in the Louisiana / Confederate Navy. Sometime after the Civil War, though I’m not exactly sure when, he moved his family to Egan. Again, my grandmother told me that he worked on the railroad and homesteaded land here.
The old man wandered off at some point in his old age, and no one is certain where he went. Some family members think he ended up in Ohio (I think) with a brother. Other stories have him going back to Ireland. But he wandered off one day and never returned.
His sons, though, married here and my great-great grandfather brought his family up here. The ruins of their house were still around when we moved here in 1957, and we were close enough to it that my cousin and some others of us wandered over there a few times, but Hurricane Audrey took what was left of it.
When I drove home to Egan this morning, I was listening to the new Chieftans CD, The Voice of Ages, and it occurred to me that maybe some of this music would have been familiar to my immigrant ancestor and his wife. Perhaps my love of Celtic music and design might be some kind of atavism. My collection of Irish music bears out my love of the kind of music some friends of mine have had enough of after three or four songs. Some of it makes me want to get up and dance; other songs make me want to cry in my drink. But the melancholy strain of minor-key music just strikes some part of me as little else does.
Tonight, listening to the rain and thunder and watching the lightning flash, I wonder about those ancestors and what it was like for them to leave Ireland knowing they’d probably never see it –or family — again. Yet here they stayed, and flourished.
I guess in some ways, Egan was always my home, even if I didn’t want it to be. It was waiting for me in 1957, and it was waiting for me last year, too.
Maybe I’ll put on the Chieftans again. The weather and the mood suit it tonight.