A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Members Only

The sign said "Members Only" and a man stood at the entryway to make sure only members entered. He bent over and looked into our car and waved my dad through. I was only about 10 years old but I remember being surprised that we were members of anything. I didn't understand yet that we were poor but I was pretty sure we weren't rich and I thought only rich people were "Members" of anything. I felt a kind of pride to be a member! And the guard must have known my dad because he didn't even have to show a membership card.

Volman Lake in north central Louisiana sparkled in the sun in front of us. It was closing in on 100 degrees and my siblings and I scrambled out of the car as soon as it stopped. The lake was not the clear water I later found in Arkansas and my Texas Hill Country, but there was a sandy beach there, not the mud of the swamps where my Dad usually took us fishing. It was our favorite summer place to be! To make it even better, our cousins were there also. 

My dad was a good swimmer and he would get in with us sometimes but I don't remember my mom ever getting in the water. Cousin Steve impressed us all by swimming all the way across the lake and back. It was a small lake but still a good ways across and back and the other side had no beach. It was kind of scary to us, overgrown with weeds and overhanging trees. He waved to us from the other side and pushed off to swim back. We were sure he wouldn't make it but he did. Whew, were we relieved!

There was a tree branch that hung over the water on the beach side and the more confident swimmers often jumped off that. I was never a strong swimmer and so most of the time I stayed where I could stand up in the water when I wasn't swimming. There were a lot of people there but not so crowded that we couldn't have a good time. I guess that was one of the benefits of being in a Members Only lake. They probably kept membership small so that it wouldn't get overcrowded.

We took a break from swimming to cut open the watermelons our mom had brought along. Swimming always makes you so hungry! The sun warm on our wet skin, sand sticking to us, watermelon juice running down our chins, our family together, all safe and happy. Our beloved uncles, aunts, and cousins together with us on this perfect summer day. Down the years ahead of us hardships and deep heartache and loss were waiting for us. But on this day we didn't know any of that. 

It's one of the earliest memories I have of my childhood and I can see it clearly in my mind. It resides there only since we have no photos from those trips. I see my cousin Tommy laughing, his smile and face beautiful even as a child. In high school he would become my best buddy. A few years after that we would lose him in the jungles of Vietnam. My littlest sister Deb with her sweet disposition and smile, she too would be lost to us before her children were grown. 

But we knew nothing of that then. We had no reason to think such serious thoughts; we only had the present and it was full of sun, water, sand, laughing, all the things that make childhood happy. We had no neighborhood swimming pool back then; a city pool near us was a few years away. And a pool in our backyard was so out of sight for us we didn't even have a concept of such a thing. We had no jet skis, no tubes or skis pulled by boats, no scuba gear. None of the toys associated with a day on the lake for most people these days. 

And yet we could not have been happier. Like most kids of that era we made our own fun with little. I felt so lucky that my dad and mom had gotten us a membership in Volman Lake. 

It wasn't until I got older and began to understand what was going on in the South then that I came to realize what the requirements for membership were. There was no fee; this was good, because as I also came to know, we were definitely poor. There was only one requirement. You had to be white. 

The scope of my life back then was very small. My family was large and we were close, in both proximity and in how we felt toward each other. A family get-together involved 30+ people. We were hunters and fishermen and women. The men in our family all worked in construction in one form or another. We were laborers and craftspeople. We didn't go much outside the family for friendship and entertainment and all the things that make up life. We were not political and our churches back then were not political as so many are today.

When I look back at the times then in a broader scope I am at a loss as to understand what went on in our country during those times. I was a high school student in the 1960s. We had moved to Houston and my exposure to different people and ways of thinking let me see the world in a much wider sense. 

We have come a long way as a country but we have a long ways to go in the hearts of some people. I hope I live long enough to see more and more changes toward understanding and tolerance. Our country grows slowly into the promise on our statue of Lady Liberty, the message she sends to the world. 

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Some days I read the morning news and it is depressing. It seems we take two steps backward for every one forward. At those times, I am blessed to look out my window and see two jackrabbits and one whitetail fawn staring straight back at me, as I saw this morning. It grounds me and calms me and reminds me once again that we have to treasure the little things.

And one day, maybe sooner than later, we will all be waved through past the "Members Only" sign.

Friday, June 7, 2013

You Can Never Have Too Many Porches

My love affair with porches continues. Last week Rickie took some vacation days and we added a porch/deck to the little bunkhouse. Now we aren't professional carpenters and we have learned mostly by trial and error. Rickie's dad taught him some things and we learned others on our own. This, supplemented with my tiny bit of OCD, gets our projects done, although it's not always a pretty process! We are somewhat like the brothers on Yardcore, the DYI series, or two hissing snarling cats. But we settle into a routine and then things go pretty smoothly. 

We live on top of a hill made of rock and our climate is almost as dry as Mars, so we can use some materials and some methods that maybe won't work where you are. We used cedar for the posts but not for the top of the deck. I love, love, love wire and wood fences so we made the railing out of welded wire and wood. A few years back I learned to use the compound miter saw and I cut all the boards for the project as Rickie attached them. We did the measuring and the leveling together. Once we got past the frame, the hard part, it went fast! 

Many years ago, as a single mom, I lived in a "mobile" home, which was not really very mobile. I wanted a front deck to sit outside and had never built anything before. I worked with a lady who was then the age I am now. She told me how to build one, using concrete blocks for the base. For some reason, my dad told me that method would probably not work. My dad was a plumber in a family of carpenters so I never was sure why he said that. Carpentering was not one of his best skills and he was normally an encouraging person. I think he probably thought I would get it started and he would have to finish it and he wasn't much on projects, unless it was digging in the dirt with his backhoe! 

Larry and John, then 11 and 9 years old, and I went ahead with it and we got it built. I learned from that just to go ahead and not worry too much about it. There are many ways to do something and just because it's not perfect, don't let that stop you. Having had several houses built by "professionals" I've also learned that a person doing it for themselves generally produces a better product than assembly line builders. Looking behind the walls or at the drywall and trim work in a tract house will convince you of that.

The porch added a lot of useful room to the bunkhouse. It gives a place to set ice chests and dirty shoes and to drink some coffee in the morning and some adult beverages in the afternoon. And for the little kiddos that come out, it's a place to play, color, take a nap, dance, and with the addition of a washtub, take a bath! We had two different birds nesting in the trees by the bunkhouse so it's also a good bird watching hangout. We have one more part of the bunkhouse project to complete and that's to add a walkway of granite gravel to the cabin. 

I finished off the porch with some new plantings that I am hoping the deer won't like. Pink skullcap, winter savory, and a native yellow flower I can never remember the name of! 

We've got a few other smaller projects going on out here. I just finished a sandbox, complete with cover to keep cats out, for Bixby. And I've finished the cantina part of an outdoor cooking/cantina cabinet. We're also moving the fire pit to the area between the cabin and the bunkhouse. All I've done on that so far is to tear the old pit apart! And I'm halfway through with a stone skirting project on the woodshed. 

But it's Summer, so I've got to make time to go floating down the river! Life is good out here in the heart of Texas and I never forget how grateful I am to be here and be able to live this life. 

(How far we have come; this photo of the partially finished pumphouse shows the only building on the place when we bought it 24 years ago.)