Posts Tagged With: house

Simple Gifts

There’s a lovely Shaker hymn written in 1848 — “Simple Gifts.”  I’ve always loved the tune, and the words are just as beautiful as the tune itself:

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

The first stanza is what looped in my head all day as I stayed home, alternately sleeping and reading.

What a joy it is to have the simple gift of a home itself, a sanctuary, a place of safety.  So many people don’t have the opportunity or the chance, and far too often we take our own homes for granted.  As I read through the news today, I was reminded just how fortunate I am.

The home itself, built in the 1920s, is a cottage or bungalow style, built on piers.  After all, in the coastal areas that architecture makes sense.  There are lots of large windows as well (and now they open, too, and have screens) so that breezes can circulate and cool the house.  Of course, in the heat of summer — which starts early and stays late here — it’s much more comfortable to use the air-conditioning.  In fall, though, as soon as the temperatures drop, it’s a treat to simply open a couple of windows and allow the breezes to circulate.

Because it’s older and on piers, some floors aren’t level.  Truly.  There’s an actual hump in the kitchen, right in front of the stove.  If I stand barefoot, my arch can actually curve to fit it.  Short of pulling the entire floor up and re-building, I’m not sure I can fix this.  Somewhere in the past, that board simply warped and settled.

Nor is the only such quirk in my home.  For years, before I discovered that there wasn’t a support beam anywhere from the living room to the back (and had one put in), the house wasn’t level — it was so not level that you could drop a tennis ball in the living room and watch it roll through the kitchen and the laundry room to the back room.  The house is more level now, and the floors no longer offer quite the fun of tennis-ball dropping.

It’s a modest home by many standards, but I fell in love with it as soon as I walked in the front door the first time.  The large windows in the living room allowed natural light to flood the room.  Since it’s a north-facing room, that’s really nice.  The bedrooms are east-facing, also nice for gentle light.

Over the years, I’ve added my own touches.  I’ve re-painted rooms.  I’ve renovated in earlier projects, but now am involved in yet more renovation.  Years ago my brother Phil pulled out the kitchen sink and lower cabinets and built new cabinets, neat and shelved and even put in some drawers.  About that same time I put down stick-tiles, but that wasn’t a wise choice.  These have popped and broken, and I am now in the process of beginning to pull them up.  New upper cabinets have been built and are soon to replace the older ones.  As those are done, one more coat of paint on the walls should do it.  Then I’ll get the lower cabinets repainted as well.  Finally, I want a new countertop and sink — I’m thinking of granite or quartz, something clean and simple.  Aqua walls above, white wainscot below — and aqua lower cabinets, white upper cabinets.  New flooring — sheet vinyl, probably, because of the uneven floor itself — will follow.

There are other areas I’m ready to work on.  The living room needs to have the old, crumbling paneling replaced.  The ceiling tiles there are falling down, so I’d like something simple to cover the ceiling.

For so long I too took this home for granted.  It was such a place of joy and comfort for a while.  Later, though, as my mother and brother were ill and after they died (in the 90s) it became more of a place to sleep, less of a home to entertain friends.

It was more of a refuge then.  On Fridays, I’d come home and shut the front door, often staying home all weekend.  Stressful work environment and life needed some kind of balance, and this house provided it.  I simply existed in it, though it did provide me that respite from the craziness of my life beyond it.

Then as Dad’s health worsened, I spent more time with him and less time here.  Moving in with him meant I was living in the bedroom I had when I was 16.  I moved essentials of my life there.  On weekends, I could visit my own home.  There wasn’t much time, however, for working on it or for actually living in it.

But that was interesting and revealing, too.  I learned about myself and how flexible I can be.  What is essential for me.  I occupy a house about 1800 square feet, and live alone (other than the three cats and two dogs).  Yet I have lived in a 12×13 ft. bedroom, with a small area in Dad’s living room for a computer desk.  And a card-table for a work desk.

Now I live in my home again and relish the opportunities to refresh it, to open it once more to friends.  I anticipate that.  I also recognize that such renovations will not happen overnight.  I have learned patience.  I have also learned, through living in Dad’s house while renovating it, to live in the midst of such chaos.  And to make order as I can, both mentally and physically.

Right now I am in the room that was once my bedroom, a room about 13 feet square.  Now it is an office, with no pretense at being a secondary bedroom.  I have my desktop computer and printer and my beautiful Texas-star-cornered black walnut desk.  My craft tables and materials are also in here.  As I sit here, I can look beyond the computer to a wall unit that my dad built me when I was in high school.  I wanted some kind of bookcase/storage/makeup area to fit my high-school status.  He couldn’t afford to buy the furniture but he built this piece for me.  It’s been painted since then but it has a pride of place wherever I am.

Much of my furniture, in fact, is a mix of family hand-me-downs and “store-bought” furniture.  Some was bought new.  Some was bought at flea markets or antique malls.  The blend works for me.

It’s not a house that will grace the pages of Southern Living or House Beautiful.  It’s not elegant.  My friend Patty says it’s “eclectic,” and she’s right.

I can sit in the large rocker in the living room, a gift from my grandmother Ella that belonged to her parents; I have the matching love seat too.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in that very rocker, then covered with red velvet I think, in my great-grandparents’ living room — and I’m so young that my feet barely reach the edge of the seat.

If I go to the kitchen and want to make gumbo, I use a pot that my grandmother Ella gave me when I moved to Beaumont to teach at Lamar University.  There are other pots and pans, of course, but that pot is one that is special.  If I want to make fudge, I use the bottom of a pressure-cooker that my mother always used, a pot that Mother gave me at some point.  We’ve made so much fudge in it that the line where the fudge boils up to is clearly marked if you look hard enough.

If I wanted to, I could sit on my front porch and watch people without fear.  I have neighbors I know well enough to wave to, to talk to, to visit with.

What a simple gift it has been today to stay home, recovering from sinus problems.  I could sleep without worrying that someone would break in or bomb me or use poison gas.  I could walk to the kitchen, open the refrigerator or freezer and find food with no problems.  Water from the tap was fine to drink.  A stove and microwave meant that I could cook.  If I needed, I could put laundry on to wash and then dry without leaving my home or without worry.  I had extra clothes, in themselves a gift.

I could talk to friends on the telephone or text them.  I could turn on a television or listen to music.

Television allows me to watch any number of programs.  Internet opens the world yet more to me.

My pets are fed and watered.  They are cared for, not wandering the streets searching for food.

And I can take antibiotics that my doctor prescribed and that a pharmacy filled, using health insurance I can afford, with a low co-pay.

Tomorrow when I meet a friend for early coffee (he has faculty meetings tomorrow since McNeese State University’s fall term begins on Monday), I have a car that I can depend upon.

These are gifts, gifts from the work I did for years, from the savings I have, from the pension I’ve earned.

I am surrounded by gifts, gifts from loving family and friends.  Gifts from my own work. Gifts from opportunities for women that don’t exist in other parts of the world.  I went to school and was able to make teaching literature and composition my career.  I can travel without permission from my male relatives.  I can make my own financial decisions, sign my own legal papers.

Simple gifts.  Gifts to cherish.

Today was a good day to be grateful.

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One of the radio talk shows I came to love was “Car Talk” — every Friday in October, November, and December 1995 when I’d drive to Houston to MD Anderson while Phil was there, I turned the show on and laughed.

Oh that I could call those guys up now!  One of the many details I’m handling now — what to do with the two vehicles.  I’m visiting my cousin in Houston now, and her husband helped me this morning to find values for the two vehicles.

The newer vehicle is the 2009 Silverado that Dad bought.  I remember when he did that — rather apologetically, he told me that he’d paid cash for it.  He didn’t want to leave us with a car note.  I laughed and asked him who he thought would give an 87-year-old a car note?  It’s a solid, well-taken-care-of truck, a 4-door crew cab with a towing packing.  I’ve come to enjoy driving that truck.  In fact, I’ve probably driven it much more than I’ve driven my own Mini Cooper in the last year.  But keeping it?  I don’t think so. It’s handy, certainly, and I can use it.  Yet I can’t justify the cost of keeping it — not for the few times I’d actually need it.  Right now, it is very useful for hauling things back to my own house.  But I’ll be selling it soon.

The other vehicle is one Dad cherished.  It’s a 1977 Blazer that Phil bought.  It was their hunting vehicle.  That he didn’t really use it wasn’t the point; it had been Phil’s, and thus it was kept.  Right now, Kay and I have had 3 people inquire about it, two of them young men who have ridden in it most of their lives.  Their grandfathers were friends of Dad’s, and thus they both have memories of riding in it with the two older men.  They both expressed their interest years ago to Dad, and I’ll take their interests in chronological order.  I don’t want any bad feelings about this.  I kind of like the idea of one of them owning the Blazer.  It will have a history for them too, and I can sort of feel satisfied about that for some reason.  Maybe it’s that Dad’s memory will continue along with the Blazer itself while one of them drives it.

The Silverado doesn’t have that kind of emotional history.  I’ll figure how to get the most money for it, frankly.  I may drive it to Houston to a Carmax and just let that place offer what it will, perhaps even sell it to them on the spot.

Trucks are fun, and for country kids, they’re almost always a vehicle of choice.  Certainly I live in town, and love my Mini Cooper convertible.  I must confess, though, to a certain feeling of comfort, of rightness, when I slide into the seat behind the wheel of a truck.  It’s a known, a staple of my life.  Dad always had trucks — work trucks, mostly.  But after we were older, he started buying trucks.  Mother didn’t drive anymore, so trucks were his vehicle of choice.

When I was a kid in the Egan oil field camp, most of us there had dads with work trucks.  They became part of our playground at times, too.  I remember Dad’s always had huge tool chests welded on.  And a water cooler was always attached somewhere in the bed or on the sides.

Though I learned to drive in a car (an automatic), the second vehicle I learned to drive was a truck — my granddad’s 1956 Chevy.  It was a manual shift, on the steering wheel itself.  My hands can still go through the shifts in memory.  That truck sits at the farm even now.  Many times I remember riding in the back of it as we helped throw out bales of hay for the cows, or just riding in the back as Granddad and Dad and maybe Uncle James rode in the fields to look at things.

There’s certainly a bittersweet element involved with this part of clearing up loose ends after a death.  In America we somehow often attach great personal meaning to vehicles, and so even after the owner’s death, there’s some tie to him (or her) for the family left to deal with everything.

Practical person that I am, I know they’re just hunks of metal that have particular monetary values.  I can sell them with no problems.  I’m only selling the physical items.  The memories are still mine.  Those have no price, and are not up for sale, ever.

So today’s Car Talk session has ended.  I didn’t talk to Click and Clack, but I’ve acquired the information I needed.  Those wheels are in motion.

The house itself is another matter.  Last week I met with an appraiser, paid him, and am waiting for his report.  I do have a list of repairs he suggested were necessary.  I’ve already talked to Tim, the guy who did all the renovations, about what we need, and I’ll meet him Wednesday for a quote.  I’ve paid the phone bill, and will cancel phone and Direct TV soon.  I’ve got a storage room rented already in Lake Charles waiting for stuff.

Over the weekend, I decided that the next mountain to tackle will be the double garage full of tools.  I’ll just load those up and store them, actually leaving the inventory for later.  Kay and I have already decided on furniture to store.

So the bustle in the house continues, as we disassemble the life that it held for our family since 1966.  Someone else will enjoy the house soon, I hope.  It’s been a nice little house, a friendly one.  Egan is a good little town, and people are choosing to move there.

Our family will move on.   It’s time for a new family to fill it.  A new family will move in, change it to suit their needs. I like the idea that someone will choose to live in our house.

It’ll be a home again.  I hope our family’s love lingers to welcome the new family.

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