It is my mission to make a photo book about this house in which we live, my grandmother’s house. There is a beautiful story behind being here, and God keeps adding chapters to a home already rich with stories. My grandfather was an Army Colonel, who was actually stationed in Japan when my mother was born. Shortly after moving in here, my mom discovered the journal writings from my grandmother when they moved to Japan to be with him, meeting my his new baby girl for the first time. Around the time my mom was in fourth grade, they moved into this house, a ranch-style with a full basement, partially finished. It had five bedrooms and three bathrooms, which was perfect for their family of seven. It was also close to the military base where my grandfather was stationed until his retirement. He was actually 13 years older than my grandmother, so he had given many years to the army before he met her.
I’ve heard stories about meals squeezed around the dinner table. Some good, some not so good. In fact, one ended with my mom hitting one of her younger brothers in the eye and cutting it open on the brow. If you know my mom’s feisty side, then that doesn’t surprise you. My mom lived here when she met my dad. He was a lifeguard at the pool on base, stationed there after his return from Vietnam. She was what you would call an “Army brat”, and she liked to hang out at the pool. She was also a smoker. The only thing good that came from her smoking was my dad asking her for a light one day out by the pool. Six months later, they were married. And no, they weren’t pregnant, just in love. She was nineteen and he was twenty-three. They celebrate 39 years of marriage this December (and my older brother is only 36)!
After my mom, my grandmother had two more to move out of the house. The last one came and went a bit over the years, but once he was out for good, she lived here alone, in 2,200 sq feet. We encouraged her to fix up the downstairs and allow college students to live here. No thanks. She liked living alone, doing as she pleased. She was a precious woman, but a stubborn one. Time went by and she got older. We had holiday gatherings over here in my elementary years. We hunted eggs in the front yard. As she got older and less able to cook and feed us all, we moved festivities to my aunt’s house, a born entertainer. So, aside from a visit by one of her kids, she rarely had guests. She lived in this big house and all this room alone, just the way she liked it.
I grew up and got married, and once our family started outgrowing our home of 1,100 sq feet, I came up with a brilliant idea. Why don’t we fix up the basement and live down there, while she allows us to earn our stay by fixing up other parts of the house? Yes, it sounds crazy now, but to me, it was a wonderful idea. She didn’t have to be alone and have my mom and her siblings worry about her falling or opening the door to a stranger (she never met one), and we could be on our way to living in a home big enough to accommodate our growing family! I wrote her a letter because I wasn’t brave enough to ask her face to face, and I also knew how stubborn she could be. But I just knew she’d see the logic in my large family with the small house living with her in her big house! How can you not???
Well, she didn’t see my logic, and she called me one day and said, “I got your sweet letter, but I just like being alone. I plan on dying in this house. But that sure was such a sweet letter.” I was crushed. Every day in my little house with all of its stuff, I’d say to myself, “If we just lived in a bigger house…” or “Once we get into a bigger house…” and I was miserable. I couldn’t find much to be happy about. I’d just look at all the stuff in the tiny space we called home (five kids with one on the way in 1,100 sq feet) and feel so sad, so hopeless, so buried by my big family and their stuff. I had held onto the little sketchings I had made of Grandma’s house, praying she’d change her mind. We tried moving to my parents’ lake house, which was really a double wide trailer (nice, but still small), in order to get out from under the chaos and get things in shape. But who was I kidding? We had little kids, I was working at our church’s preschool, and Superman had a bank job, with bank hours. It was just a temporary break from the sanity that we soon moved back into in order to prepare for Dozer’s birth. It was awful. I look at pictures of the place we had gotten to and just can’t believe we lived that way. How did we do it? I felt like I numbed myself just so I could get through. Then one day, as I was trying to work on establishing some order in one of the rooms, I came across that sketch, the one of Grandma’s house and all the great ideas I had. I said to myself, “This ends now. I have to learn to be content with where God has us now. I have to trust that He has a plan.” And I threw the paper away. In just a matter of months, His plan started to be revealed.
Dozer was born in April. Grandma still lived here, but she was becoming frail and weak. She could only move with a walker, and it became more and more difficult for her to get around the house. She struggled just to get in and out of her chair. Her kids were worried for her, but she wouldn’t hear anything about moving out of this house and into assisted living. We actually have a great place in our area that has an entire campus devoted to elderly living. They are also a campus for a children’s home. Our church, which was also my Grandma’s church, is very closely affiliated with the facility. Superman’s grandparents have a home there. They have houses, apartment units (which are kind of like duplexes, only there are four units per building), apartment buildings, and assisted living. His grandparents moved into one of the apartment units (a quadplex?) a while back, and they are far from dying! It’s a wonderful place to live. But Grandma wasn’t interested in the least. They tried, she fought. Until she had a fall that concerned my mom and her siblings enough to convince her that she had to move.
She moved into the assisted living facility shortly after that, at which time she said she didn’t want to talk about the house for six months. I had completely let go of the idea long ago and pretty much decided that wasn’t what God wanted anyway. Then one day, while chatting with my mom, it struck me to see if our renting the house might be a possibility. I didn’t bank on it, and I didn’t make any sketches or floor plans. I just wanted her to ask. So, she gently brought it up about two months after Grandma moved. Turns out, she loved her new place, feeling like God placed her there to love on those that took care of her, who felt ignored and over worked. She made some friends, and my grandparents-in-law would check in with her from time to time. She just loved her new home. Which was probably the reason she allowed my mom to bring up the idea.
We never talked about it. I left that up to Mom. Once she worked through her issues with it (the biggest one being that she knew all the work it needed, and she worried about us having to deal with all of it), she said yes. It was only then that we talked about it, and it was only to let her know how grateful I was that she had agreed to letting us live there. I think it was hard for her to think of someone else living here, even if it was her granddaughter, which is why I don’t think she really wanted to talk about it all that much. However, I found out how happy she was just three weeks after we moved in, when I visited her in the hospital.
It was Father’s Day, and I heard through the grapevine at church that my grandmother was in the hospital that morning. I was nervous, and I tried to get in touch with my mom. I couldn’t get a hold of her, so based on the information I got at church, I headed over to the hospital to find out what was going on. Superman didn’t mind dropping me by there, even though it was Father’s Day. I went in and found out that she had some bleeding ulcers. She was doing better, and they were about to move her to a room. Now, my grandmother was the queen of proper, and she fussed that we were seeing her “that way”. I told her not to worry, that I just wanted to make sure she was okay. Even with the assurance she offered, and what was being said around me, I felt like something was just not right. I tried really hard not to cry, but I just had this feeling. We chatted for a bit, with her asking me how things were going at the house. She told me how happy she was that we were there, and she apologized for the heat (no central a/c). And for the first time ever, I heard my grandmother say a cuss word. “I just know it’s hot as HELL over there!” She continued to fuss at Mom and my oldest uncle, making sure they took care of the bug service and anything else they needed to in order to get us settled. I told her we were just grateful to be there, and she didn’t need to worry about a thing.
We all went home, her kids included, and my family and I went over to Mom and Dad’s to grill steaks. We were sitting down to eat, my Mom lying in the bed to rest, and we got the phone call that Grandma had had a heart attack. Mom and Dad rushed off to the hospital, me right behind them, leaving Superman and the kids at their house. When my parents arrived, she was already gone. She had died, not in her house, but alone, which I think is the way she would have chosen. She had seen all of her kids that day, and she sent them home, telling them what to do one last time.
I had the privilege of coming home that night alone, my parents letting Superman and the kids stay there, since they were already asleep. It was going to be so different walking into this house knowing she was gone. It was good for me to get to do that, and I was grateful to my mom for allowing me that, knowing that just losing her mother probably left her feeling the need to be alone. However, she let my kids and Superman sleep and allowed me to come home alone. Mommas just love that way.
So here we were, in a house big enough for us (and our stuff). Yes, there was work to do, lots of it. But it was worth it to be somewhere with room to move. Especially since we were sweatin’ our way through one of the hottest summers in Atlanta on record! You don’t want to be sitting to close on days where you sweat through your clothes in five minutes or less. Which leads to my next story, in my next post…