A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Today I want to say something about gratitude and how I feel it in my life. To say the last 20 months since I lost Rick have been rough is an understatement, as anyone who loses their partner, the one they love the most, their best friend, the one who shares their life, surely knows. I always knew it would be hard but until it happened to me, I had no idea of the depth of the pain, the loneliness, the lost feeling, the despair. And that's as it should be. If a person knew how much it would hurt to lose someone, they may never venture into relationships.

Besides the obviously huge things a person is grateful for, such as not living in a war zone or losing my whole family to a disaster there are many small things that make up the life of a widow/widower that make me realize I have much to be grateful for in my life. The thing I'm most grateful for is the life Rickie and I shared. But even now I have much to be grateful for, both materially and in my spirit.

I have a roof over my head and it's paid for. I had a little money when Rick died, not a lot but what I thought was enough. I'm sure it's not what other people would consider enough and many would probably lose sleep on what I have. But measuring my success by money has never been the way I live my life. I gave a lot of it away. I felt a need I can't quite explain to do that. Some to the kids and grandkids, some to others, a little to a couple of small charities I like, and some to strangers on the street corner. It's never been a goal of mine to die with money in the bank. I feel like Jeff Bridges singing "Maybe I Missed the Point" if I go through life not making things a bit easier for others when I have the power to do so.

I was able to make some arrangements in case something happens to me down the line. If I get too frail to stay out here, if I break a leg, if I live long enough to get the Alzheimer's that took both my mother and her mother. I entered into a joint venture with my daughter and my son-in-law and had a tiny - 280 sq ft - house built in their backyard. We rent in out on Airbnb and it's there if I live long enough to need it. For being able to do this, for the kids allowing me to have their residence as my fall-back safety net, and for the city of Austin regulations allowing tiny houses in some backyards, I am grateful. 

I'm grateful I'm an independent person and that I have my health. I'm grateful I can do most of the things that need done around here. I've had to hire someone to do some things I can't. And I'm grateful that each and every contractor that came out has treated me with respect and kindness. There hasn't been hardly a one that hasn't offered to help me if I need it on projects other than what they came out to do. They've heard my story, they've looked around at how I've kept it together on my own, and they've said call me if you need help with that ceiling, if you need help burning some of this cedar, if you can't get that plumbing connection done. They've told me how to do some of the things I was going to do on my own. I've felt from them a respect and at the risk of sounding too proud, an admiration for how I've carried on and stayed here on my own. They've sometimes shared stories of other strong women they know such as their aunt who at 95 changed the blade on her riding mower. And they've told me of others they know who've also been left alone and I've seen the empathy in their eyes. Sometimes sorrow shared is sorrow eased, if only a little bit.

I've had family and friends that have supported and stood by me. Some that have come out and offered their help and just made a point to stop by have surprised me, as I haven't been in touch for a while. They can't know the love I feel for them doing that. Or maybe they do. I'm the second of my siblings to lose their spouse and the first of my long-time friends. It's somewhat new territory for most people I know. I've made some new friends, one who faced this same nightmare a few months before I did and she helps me as she shares her story and her friendship with me.

Some of my friends are also neighbors and they have stood firm in their kindness to me. They've offered help much more than I've taken it and I know I can call on them. They've proven it, but I knew by the type of people they are even without the proof. 

My family, in both big ways and small, has been the rock on which I stand. The kids both helping me, and encouraging me on when they sense I want to do something on my own. In the immediate aftermath of the event that shook my world my family dropped everything and circled around me in the way some wild animals do when one of their own has been injured. They carried me when I couldn't walk through it on my own. I know still that if I need them, I have but to turn on the Bat-Signal and someone will be here.

We've all been affected by Rickie's death, naturally both the kids and I, but others in ways they sometimes may not even see. One I wanted to mention because it touches my heart. My sister Kathy has always shown her love for her husband Derald, always talking about what a great guy he is. Which he is, by the way. I've noticed the last year and a half that she does this even more than she used to. Her Facebook photos of him are always accompanied with words like "my love, my best buddy, my life". At our age and with the knowledge that it could all be lost in the blink of an eye, she makes an extra effort, unconsciously I'm sure, to express her love. May we all do that in this time we have together.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The House That Built Me

I took a trip back in time this last week, back to see the house I grew up in. My first remembered tiny house! I don't know how old I was when we moved in but the earliest photos I can find show me maybe 6 or 7 years old. A records search gives the construction date as 1955, so this would indicate we probably bought it new. We left Monroe, Louisiana and moved to Houston the summer I turned 15. We returned to Monroe after that to visit family but I don't remember going by the house since then, back in 1964. 

It was a small duplex and my maternal grandparents, Papa and Mamaw, lived on one side. Each side was identical. Two small bedrooms, small - well, it was all small! - living room, kitchen, one bath, and a little hallway with an attic fan. It was an abestos sided house. On the parish property records the square footage is listed at 1000. I think this has to be for both sides of the duplex as there's no way our side alone had 1000 sq ft! It's on almost a 1/4 acre lot in the Ouachita Cotton Mills subdivision. In 1993 it sold for $28,880 but the tax valuation is listed as $12,000.

When there were only 4 of us kids, we all shared one bedroom with two sets of bunk beds. Kathy and I in one, and David and Andy in the other. As our family grew we added an addition across the back of the duplex. On Papa and Mamaw's side this was an eating area, a bit shorter than the addition on our side. We used our side for a dining table (the kitchen really didn't have much room for a table; I can't even remember eating in there), a place for the washer and dryer, and one end was my parents' bedroom, though it was open to the dining/utility area with a small sofa in between. 

By the time we moved, David and Andy had the littlest bedroom that used to be our parents', and we 4 girls had the other bedroom with two double beds, plus our baby brother's crib until he grew out of that. 

Though Monroe has grown a lot and all along the interstate you see every chain store and restaurant as you do anywhere, back in my old neighborhood time has stood still. The streets are just as I remembered. The only difference is our house and the elementary school we went to are showing their age. They need some paint and some trim repair, some love. And our yard that Papa, a farmer before he retired, took such good care of is overgrown and in need of sprucing up. 

The fire station across the street, where we went many a summer day to buy Cokes from their machine, is boarded over and not in use. The Baptist church directly behind that, where we were every Sunday and Wednesday, is now a Methodist church and has expanded. Plum Street Elementary is now Clara Hall Elementary. We walked two blocks to school there, and in the summer we rode our bikes to the recreation center past that to go swimming. Us older kids giving the younger ones a ride on the backs of our bikes. "Hold your feet out so you don't get them caught in the wheel!" 

We sometimes walked downtown from our house, down the street to Texas Avenue (prophetic, considering where I ended up), over the railroad tracks, and a few blocks further to downtown on the banks of the Ouachita River. Our mom worked as a bookkeeper at a shoe store and our Mamaw worked at a printing company and we would go see them. As we drove past the railroad crossing this week it seemed an awful long way for kids to walk! But we were used to walking and we were used to being on our own, the older ones looking out for the little ones. 

The neighborhood streets and most of the houses looked much as they did when we lived there. Tall trees shaded the narrow streets. One of the two pine trees Papa planted, one for me and one for my brother David, was gone and the other was twisted and strange looking from being trimmed off the power lines. Papa's magnolia tree in the corner of the front yard topped off for the same reason.

The chain link fence in the back yard, where we played Cowboys and Indians and Tarzan, was partially torn down, the rest covered with vines. The empty field behind us where Papa planted a big garden has had houses for years. The little store down the street we walked to was still there. Papa always had change in his pockets and he would give us money to go there and for Cokes at the fire station. 

When we left Monroe and came to Houston we had a 4 bedroom house with a living room and den and two bathrooms. We added a room and bath for my grandparents. Our financial situation improved as Daddy went from grading yards for a living to being a master plumber. We moved several times in the early Houston years and all the homes were much bigger and grander than the little duplex in Monroe. 

But I never loved any of those houses like I loved the tiny house. They hold no place in my heart. All the things - the character traits, the empathy for people with less than I have and for those struggling, the value of family, the "make it work" attitude, the sense of a home full of love, the appreciation of a simple life, the love of a garden, the ability to notice the little things and little moments that make up a life - all these were formed in the tiny house and made me the person I became. 

Driving through the pine covered hills of north Louisiana, past names of places and bayous such as Tensas, LaFourche, Delhi, Rayville, and Tallulah, brought back a lot of family memories. Mostly these places and the land brought back to me stories our dad told us of hunting and fishing the area. He loved to roam the woods and hills and bayous. He had moved to Louisiana from Illinois when he was 13 years old. 

My dad and I share a love of the land, the actual physical aspects of our surrounding, though we loved different types of land. I didn't love the piney woods, the humidity, the muddy bayous and rivers. I wanted the dry climate, open skies where I didn't feel fenced in, rocky ground and limestone hills, the clear rippling waters of small rivers and creeks. I have ended up in a place that is the kind of land I love. But it hit me as we drove along on this trip that our dad had left a place that was much prettier than the flat treeless Houston area we went to. And I wondered if he longed for it as I would if I ever have to leave the land I love. And it made me cry to think he left this place, with its own beauty and his history, to go to a place where he could support his family better. Did he dream at night of walking through the pine woods, crossing a creek, checking for deer signs, remembering the smells and the way the air feels on your skin? 

I'm grateful I got to visit my first remembered tiny house - I'm sure wherever we lived before this was tiny also - and glad that my daughter and her family got to see it with me. I'm glad the house that shaped me and led me down the road to where I am now is still standing, though a little worse for wear. 

It's been 11 years today since we lost our dad, and it's my grandson Zac's 19th birthday. Life goes on and we go on with it, taking our memories with us. It's not always the grand memories we carry, sometimes it's just the day to day ones. Sometimes those are the best. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016


It's just a simple little rustic bench that gets more rustic every year. Rick made it 32 years ago from some plans that Southern Living magazine had. It has a design flaw in that it wants to tip over backwards if it's not leaning against something.

It's survived every downsizing and all the many moves - 10 of them before we finally quit hauling it everywhere and moved it out to the ranch. It's been on front porches, back patios, under the trees, and one time it even made it inside for a while. It's got some holes in the back where Rick screwed it to a tree one time to keep it from being knocked over and some more holes on the backside where I attached a 2 x 4 to keep it from tipping when it wasn't next to something it could lean on.

It was country blue for a while, "painted" with Rit dye back in my country decorating phase. Then it was yellow, then gray to fit in with some limestone rocks it was near. Today it got a bright coat of a color called "Peppery". It's going on the little back deck between the screen porch and the addition. I learned a long time ago not to waste time distressing anything I paint out here. The hot summers and the cold winters take care of that for me!

I hope it lasts another 32 years.

I'm trying to get a native South Texas wildflower, Scarlet Sage, growing in the pot next to the bench. Rick dug one up - he was always doing that! - on a hunting trip down south years ago. We had it in a big pot in Houston and elsewhere and it was beautiful all Summer. It filled the pot and it came up every year again from the many seeds it dropped. A few years back he decided to bring it out here and plant it in the ground and see if it would make it.

It did come back every year but it always stayed small and it was only one plant each time. This year I decided I'd move it back into a pot when it came up and see if it would do better. Well, a tiny little plant came up and in trying to dig it up, all the dirt fell off - I should have wet the ground first. I planted it anyway and kept it watered and I thought it might actually make it. But it didn't.

So I went online and found a place to order the seeds. I planted some and I'm waiting to see if they come up. I added a winter savory and a mint to fill out the pot. If the sage doesn't make it I'll look for something else. It has to be deer resistant so that limits things. There's a big native plant nursery in Austin, John Droomgoole's The Natural Gardener. I'm going there in a couple of weeks and they may have a Scarlet Sage plant. I hope so!

Rick came a long way in his carpenter skills from this little bench, and I came a long way from the first bench I built on my own. From there we went to cabins and bunkhouses. You don't start out building an addition; you start with something small. From there your skills improve and you become brave enough (or dumb enough) to tackle something big. I'd say that's pretty much with anything. The main thing is to start.