“Ain’t gonna need this house no longer.
Ain’t gonna need this house no more.
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles.
Ain’t got time to fix the floor.
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges,
Nor to mend no window pane…” (1954) “This Old House”, Recorded and Composed By: Stuart Hamblen (And many others recorded it.)
Sometime in the early 1950’s, the songwriter and singer, Stuart Hamblen, was on a hunting trip in the Sierra with his friend, John Wayne along with a guide. They found an old broken down shack up in the mountains with a barking dog guarding the old place. When there was no sign of a home owner answering their knocks and vocal calls, they entered finding an deceased old man. Stuart took to pen and paper writing what this old man might have said in his final words about the old broken down house. He wrote of how the old house once knew his wife and his children. It knew shouting, laughter, and the storms of life. In other words, it had a history.
That’s exactly what has been going through my mind in recent months.
It’s been awhile since I have written about the house my mom lived in. Let me give you an update. First a refresher on the background.
The original house itself was built back in the 1840’s in Greenville, Texas, just about an hour east of Dallas. I say, “original” in that it had additions made over the decades. My grandparents, (My mom’s folks) bought the place in 1955, some 110 years after the first owner. The Atherton clan, (my clan) consisted of a husband, wife with two boys, one girl and a little terrier named, Prince. It’s a 3 bedroom, 1 bath, with a kitchen and adjacent breakfast nook, along with a separate dinning room. There are beautiful double French doors, with cut glass door knobs, dividing the dining room and the living room, as well as two of the skeleton keyhole bedrooms. The living room is large, with tall ceilings throughout the house. The windows consist of large sashes as common for the era prior to electricity. It has an aluminum roof, long before it became a modern architectural fashion.
Photo: Front yard on a rare snow dusting. The front porch was one screened-in.
I wasn’t born in the house, but they brought me to the house from the hospital in May of 1960. My mom was just 16 years old. My grandmother was only 40, and my granddad was at the ripe old age of 42. As a toddler, my mom and I lived there after a divorce from my bio-father. Over the decades I have spent hundreds of weekends there, as well as major holidays, just as my children did growing up.
Photo: My grandmother and I on Easter morning in the front yard (1962)
Reading my posts concerning my childhood, you will find a troubled background, including being somewhat of a pinball, bouncing around from one town to another, one school to another, one church to another. The old house on 1613 Jones St in Greenville, Tx was a place of safety, love, a true haven of rest for a young lad. It was there where there was a lack of periodic yelling, abuse, unknowns, and fear. My Christian grandparents were such loving people, full of compassion and care.
Photo: In 2008, after my granddad passed away, Google came out with a new curbside shot of the old house, and my granddad is standing there on the front porch. It was a sweet shock.
Following my grandparent’s passing, my mom inherited the house. She never had been a homeowner, due to her hard circumstances. I was unaware, but in recent years she had the beginnings of Lewy Bodies Disease under the dementia umbrella. For years she wouldn’t allow me entrance to the place, or anyone else. In October of 2021, only after she became ill, which landed her in the hospital after emergency hernia surgery, did I find the reason why. Unfortunately, I discovered she had become a hoarder. Serious hoarding had allowed only a 6″ pathway from one room to the next. Trash and a decade of junk mail littered the floors, along with packed boxes of storage and garbage stacked some 5-6 feet high in every room. A well-known author once wrote that a decaying old house, in much need of repair, is due to loneliness. I believe it. Desperate repairs needed to be done, but she never chose to invest in the upkeep it deserved. She had accepted a growing roof rat infestation, which only became worse after a tornado brought down one of her giant sycamores down on the roof a few years back, bringing major structural damage to the place, including a partial cave-in of the floor in my mom’s childhood bedroom.
Photo: Post-tornado damage. Pictured is my mom, a family friend, and my cousin assessing the damage to the roof.
Although the roof was patched by a well-meaning cousin and neighbor, leakage ensued into the attic, eventually bringing black mold crawling across her childhood bedroom ceiling.
Photo: Black mold in what we always called, “The Pink Room”, with pictures still on the far wall of my years growing up. The floor beneath that wall has fallen in by 2 feet.
That is a precious room, filled with antiques belonging to two different great-grandmothers. It was my first room as a baby, sharing it with my mom.
Because I live about 90 minutes away from the old family house, I can only get back there every so often. Certainly not as much as I need to be. My goal is to get the place cleaned out by a professional team suited for that kind of work, give away the family heirlooms and antique furniture, or sell whatever is left, then sell the property.
Since she came to live with me, I have done what I could to recover precious items. My focus has been to locate family photo albums, as well as, slides, family Bibles and diaries, redeem paintings from my grandmother’s brush, and any other little treasures I have known all of my days. But, alas, it literally is like searching for a needle in a haystack. For most of his life, my granddad was a well sought after master car mechanic, and parts manager for a Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealer in town. There is a huge assortment of expensive tools and auto parts in a two car garage. All of which I cannot just send to the dump. His blood, sweat and tears are glazed over those tools. Again, these things are precious to me.
I see a cap my big-hearted granddad wore, or a well worn mixing bowl my serving grandmother used, or the old Singer sowing machine which my great-grandmother once used to make my baby clothes, and I become overwhelmed resorting to sitting among the mounds of trash that now fills what was once a showplace and cry.
I suppose it has to do with the idea of it all going away in a heap of rubbish. Tears come down when I consider the thousands of golden memories of love I have in each and every room. I lose sleep as I stare at my bedroom ceiling at night thinking about the energy it will take to complete what needs to be done, energy I do not have. I dream of the glorious days that are now snipped due to destruction, neglect, illness, and procrastination. My heart breaks over and over again when I open a closet door to find my granddad’s WWII Navy uniform under plastic wrap, or my grandmother’s hat box from an era which our culture no longer reveres as valuable. When exhausted from the sorting, dizzied by the stench of rat urine, and finding no vacant place to physically sit, a daydream of hiding behind my granddad’s chair, next to the aluminum Christmas tree, waiting to spot Santa’s arrival floods my thoughts.
Photo: A Christmas tree with its color wheel, which I thought was magical.
Where once I could not wait to get to my grandparents house, I now dread arriving there. Where once, a house of refuge, is now a house of refuse. Where once a house of shelter, now a house of horrors.
Why do we “hang on” to “things”? Why is it that I have a longing to hold precious old inanimate objects? Why do I grieve over a WWII duffle bag? Could it be, like many, I don’t want to say goodbye to the times of innocence? Could it be, like many, I am haunted by the wrong impression that my loved ones are confined to a wrench, an 1890’s sowing machine, a mixing bowl, or a 1960 television set? Could it be that somehow, if I keep such things in good clean order, in a safe place for usage or revisiting, that somehow I still have my deceased loved ones with me? Could that be true?
I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus! I should know better than this! Why am I grieving so? These are not the treasures of my relatives. The treasures of my relatives consist of the love they shared freely and openly. It’s something God-breathed a rat cannot corrupt. Their treasures are made up of the sweet memories I hold close to my heart. That will never rust, wither, or rot away. When they passed away, I let them go into the arms of their Savior, and there they remain with Him to this moment.
I’m spewing here. I apologize. No doubt, you have heard the angst in my written word voice. Tendencies to spill out how I feel are fairly common on my blog. Still, these are the truths I wrestle with currently.
Do you believe in special touches from God? I mean, moments of very personal messages which come out of nowhere that you yourself didn’t conjure up, or receive from some premeditated thought. Instances of sparkling in the hanging fog of depression, or disarray, a light dawns illuminating the hurting heart, or like a balm on a sore muscle.
Last weekend, while shuffling through the garbage of the house, I unexpectedly spotted this….
Photo: Old paining from a dark corner of my grandparent’s living room.
When my eyes caught it, I just froze. It’s not my grandmother’s work. In fact, it is not signed at all by the artist, so it will remain a mystery. The moment spoke to me in my distress and exhaustion. It’s a painting I have known about, hanging in that corner, most all my life. I think I had become so accustomed to the framed piece being there, that I long since had stopped noticing it. But this day was different. My youngest daughter, D’Anna was with me to help my efforts. She said, “Dad, who did this one? Was it Great-Gran?” I couldn’t tell her, and no one is left alive, or cognitive enough to tell me.
Standing there, staring at it, as if for the first time, I felt a gentle warmth flow through me. It was speaking to me, as great artwork should. Yes, it should all be well with me. It is well that all has come to ruin. It is well that all things are not retrievable. It is well my precious grandparents, most aunts and uncles are gone. Why? Because they have experienced their present reality, which is no longer here where I am. If they were here, they would tell me that all of this I am surrounded by is like, “hay, wood and stubble”, as scripture so well describes it. Thus, it should be very well with my soul, in the midst of raging waves. There is a Light that shines through all of the angry refuse, the stuff of life. HE is my source, my love, my refuge, not the “things” of this earth. There lies the struggle…to remember it.
Scripture, the text I study, tells me to not place my heart on the things of earth, things that decay, rust and wither away, but to place my focus on what is above and eternal.
Find what doesn’t get consumed by time or conditions in fuel for the race.
“Certainly goodness and faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life, And my dwelling will be in the house of the LORD forever” Psalm 23:6 (NAS).