The House that Pop Built

 

“It’s not supposed to be this way.”

Sitting at a table for two at Cracker Barrel with my grandfather, I listened to his sorrow-filled words. The food came and we silently sat there waiting for the other one to say the blessing. I finally spoke up and said I couldn’t pray because it would all come out as tears.

“Me too,” Pop said.

Mom was dying. Not my mother. My grandmother. She battled cancer 11 years ago, fought it, and now it was back with such fierceness and speed there was no need to try to stop it.

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The Spirit prayed a blessing over our country cookin’ in Fort Payne, AL on Thursday, July 26 with groanings too deep for words. He comforted Pop and me in that moment when we both silently acknowledged that this was breaking our hearts and we didn’t have words.

As we ate, Pop began telling me the story of how he fell in love with Mom. The two of them dated a couple times in eleventh grade, but he was not interested yet. Their senior year was a different story though. They dated again and would eventually get married. He made sure I knew that he never dated anyone but her. “Why look further when you have the best?” he asked with a smile.

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Mom and Pop decided to get married, so in the early spring of 1958 Pop began building her a house in his small hometown of Centreville. On July 24, 1959, Mom and Pop were married and spent their first night in the house that Pop built. They had little money and couldn’t afford a honeymoon, so their marriage of 59 years began right there in the three bedroom cinder block house. At the time there was only a kitchen, bathroom, and one bedroom. My mom was born in ’62 and my uncle in ’65. Pop added a bedroom to accommodate their growing family. Pop said his best memories in that house were the birth of his two children.

IMG_2167Mom cooking a meal in her Centreville kitchen. The meal probably included peas and cornbread and slightly sweetened iced tea. 

The family of four lived in the house that Pop built until August 1, 1966. They moved to Birmingham and Pop began working for the phone company. Mom stayed home and raised her children.

Fast forward several years to 1982. My mom was out of the house and getting married to my dad. My uncle was a typical 17 year old thrill-seeking boy, with a fascination for his motorcycle and really just anything that had an engine. He was only three years away from the birth of his niece (me) who would be absolutely terrified of his motorcycle.

In 1982, while at work, Pop received a phone call from Mom. “Let’s go somewhere,” she said. Veteran’s Day weekend was coming up and she wanted a weekend getaway. She didn’t care where, so Pop pulled out his state map and decided they’d visit Mentone, AL. Mom fell in love with the mountains of Mentone and that one trip was the beginning of their annual trips. Mentone became so loved by both of them that in the spring of 1992 they purchased land and were clearing it for Pop to build another house.

I remember the months and days leading up to this exciting adventure. From the time I was in first grade until I left for college, Mom and Pop lived across the street from me. I have fond memories of running over whenever I wanted. After the land in Mentone was purchased and Pop was working on the blueprints, I would go over to see his updates to the plans. I would sit on the love seat next to Pop and play barber shop with a comb and a glass of water while he unrolled the blueprints and explained to me all the things I didn’t really understand. I just knew he was building a house in the mountains that I could go visit and it would be fun.

They put a small, used camper trailer on the land so they would have a place to stay on the weekends when they drove northeast two hours to work on the house. Sometimes just the two of them would go, sometimes the whole family would go, sometimes friends would visit them, sometimes the grandkids would go. Pop slept on the dining room table/bed in the living area so Mom could sleep on the bunk beds with my brother and me. I never liked sleeping in that trailer. The eerie sound of the trains in the valley echoed up the mountain and the howl of the wind spooked me. I’d love to relive those days, though. I can still smell that camper–saltine crackers mixed with something sweet and musty.

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IMG_1878Celebrating Mom’s 55th birthday on the scenic trailer deck

Mom and Pop’s plan once Pop retired was to sell their Birmingham home and build another in Centreville. However, one day while sitting on the porch, where all deep ponderings and wise decisions should be made, Pop realized that it didn’t make sense to build another house in Centreville when they already had a house on family land there that served the purposes they needed. Mom joined Pop on the porch and he asked her what she thought about making Mentone their home after retirement. It didn’t take her three seconds to give a confident yes. She’d already made up her mind in 1982 that Mentone was her home. They sold their Birmingham house and permanently moved to Mentone in 2004. And from there until October 2018 countless family memories were made, so many that only a novel series would suffice to tell the all the stories.

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Dancing the Can-Can on what will be the first floor #Keds

IMG_5033That time we wore matching bear cheek pjs for Christmas. To this day, I laugh out loud when I think about this night. Even Ruby was in on the action. This was our first Christmas without my cousin Thomas Holt. My Aunt Sandra wanted to make it fun and memorable. Mission accomplished. Phyliss is quite the show stopper with that hand in the air. 

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My kids always enjoyed spending time in Mentone and playing with all the old toys Mom and Pop had at their house when my cousins and I were little. 

IMG_7286IMG_1793IMG_8014The rope swing in the backyard was a source of fun and laughter for all ages. The boys used a ladder to see how high they could swing without breaking their necks.  

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So many hours sitting on the front porch swing 

IMG_8363My brother and his wife Haley were engaged at DeSoto Falls. We threw a surprise party for them back at the house after Ben popped the question. 

IMG_1817My last picture and last visit to Mentone before Mom became very sick. Just four months later her cancer revealed itself again.

IMG_1811Walking down Libby’s Meadow, something we did on every trip to Mentone. Anytime we a had a big meal, we would walk it off down Libby’s Meadow. 

IMG_7211Our last Christmas with Mom 

The house that Pop built for Mom in Mentone was her dream. For Pop, the preparation and construction was a hobby. It was a major undertaking and they “had a ball” completing it together. Since he was still working in Birmingham while constructing the house, the process was a long, enduring, steady labor of love for his most adored person on this earth–just as their first home was. If ever there was an image of the love of Christ manifest in the selfless service of a husband, it would no doubt be in my grandfather. Their marriage began and ended in the strong foundation of homes he himself designed and built with her in mind.

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IMG_1879Pleated, acid wash, high waist jeans FOR THE WIN, Mom! She is clearly confident in what Pop told her to do with the hammer and wood–the “bridging” of course, which is a commonly heard term among grandmothers building homes. She needs no assistance. She is certainly not saying, “Psshh, Tom, I don’t know I’m doing.” in her deep, giggly voice.  

IMG_1883Lifting those walls with such ease thanks to that homemade tool  

Mom and Pop had already discussed prior to her death that if Mom left first, Pop could sell the Mentone house. It was always hers anyway. Pop was content to just be by her side, no matter where they lived. If Pop left first, Mom had no plans to leave Mentone. Pop sold the house just after his birthday in October 2018, just short of 3 months after Mom moved to her eternal home. The house was sold to a couple that came to look at it while we were tearing up the house going through all of Mom’s things. They didn’t seem bothered by the mess and all of us being present while they walked through the house. In fact, I think it helped because Pop was there to tell the story of Mom’s house. The wife was of course in love with the beauty and unique character of the home, and the husband was fascinated by the quality construction and firm foundation.

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Pop recently lent me the photo album where Mom documented the construction of the Mentone house. Mom highlighted all the “firsts” and the family and friends who visited to offer help during the years-long construction of this house. I have a thing for handwriting, so I made sure Mom and Pop’s captions are in these photos. 

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IMG_1875Pop drives in the first nail!

IMG_1891Thomas Holt and Cleveland using leftover wood to build something 

IMG_1892 (1)These three spent many days in the “backlard” of the Mentone house

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Travis and Rozzie Tindal laying bricks. They are great friends with Mom and Pop. Mrs. Tindal was my kindergarten teacher and taught with Mom during her years as a teacher. I bet Mrs. Tindal didn’t know she’d retire to become a brick mason in Mentone.  

IMG_1873 (1)IMG_1872Mom and Pop brought me to Mentone many weekends during the construction. By the look on my face, I’m obviously happy to be helping. My windsuit is protecting me from the strong, mountainous winds. 

IMG_1885 (1)My brother watching my dad and his dad (Poppy Bill) work on the house

IMG_1876 (1)My brother and I “lending a hand” but it looks like Ben is busy with the caulk gun and his Keds.

IMG_1888 (1)Mom sitting with Thomas Holt and Cleveland on the stairs leading to the second floor. 

IMG_1887My youngest cousin, Cleveland, is two months old here. This was his first trip to Mentone. 

IMG_1895 (1)My Uncle Daryl and Pop working on the second floor. 

IMG_1889IMG_1890 (1)The living room was the gathering place for all family occasions and holidays, both before and after construction. At this point, Pop had a make shift kitchen in one of the downstairs bathrooms while the kitchen was being built. You’d be surprised how many mouths you can feed from a bathroom kitchen. 

 

For our first Christmas without Mom, Lily sketched a picture of the Mentone house for Pop’s gift. There were definitely some tears in the room as he opened his gift. It now hangs in his apartment above a watercolor of the Mentone house in the snow.

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Mentone will always hold a very dear place in all of hearts, because of the person that loved the town and the people so dearly. Mom in Mentone is deeply missed in so many ways. I feel like Mentone was made for her and thus it was also made for us. But I had never considered the reality that one day Mentone would not be a central place for our family. But here we are and I’m jealous and a little possessive over the town. Mention the town and I’ll have something to say. I will be sure you know who used to live there and the memories I have and where the house is and how you’ve probably seen it on your way to DeSoto Falls right at the big curve at Libby’s Meadow. I’ll get on your nerves. You’ll tell me to relax a little. But you’d be that way too about a town that had so much of your family in it.

Pop prepared earthly homes for Mom with love, joy, and sacrifice. As promised, Jesus prepared an eternal home for Mom by an even greater love, joy, and sacrifice. The houses that Pop built were but a taste of the Home she now enjoys with pleasure forevermore.

While for a short time it’s not supposed to be this way, soon and very soon it will forever be the way it was always meant to be. Our light and momentary afflictions will give way to our glorious and eternal inheritance that can not be compared to anything on this earth.

IMG_7249I took this picture on my way home from one of my trips to the hospital to see Mom just before she died. This is in Scottsboro overlooking the Tennessee River. The kids were asleep in the car, so I pulled over and had a moment to myself. I’ve always loved crossing the river on our way to Mentone and on this particular day I realized that my trips over this river to see Mom were soon to be over. I’ll never forget this day or this view or the peace God gave in this moment. 

Grace in a Buffet

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If it’s possible to see God’s grace in a piece of restored antique furniture, I’ve seen it.

When my grandmother died, I walked away with three sets of her china. As we were cleaning out their house, my grandfather Pop was surprised to see all the dishes she collected over the years and wondered how she got past him with purchasing and storing it all. She was an antique connoisseur with classy taste and a knack for quality, even if for a higher price. One of the sets of china I now have Pop doesn’t remember Momma Jean ever using. I imagine she bought it because it caught her eye, and of course, she had to have the whole set, not just a few pieces.

Dishes, furniture, clothing, jewelry–her spending habits were a perfect mix of frugal when necessary but willing to spend a pretty penny on something that will last. A lot of the material things in our house are a product of that. My son is using the bed and night stand my uncle used as a kid. In the words of Cousin Eddie, Ethan Allen is really nice.

Two things I’ve learned about myself in the past two and a half years since the passing of both of my beloved grandmothers–

  1. I prefer the things that have been passed down over the brand new things.
  2. I have too many dishes.

Due to those facts, I realized I needed another place to store dishes and things from my grandmothers. I already have a kitchen with plenty of cabinet space, a huge hutch in my kitchen, a china cabinet of my grandmother’s, and a china cabinet Brent bought me that was originally purchased from the local hardware store in our town. All are full. And yes, I’ve already cleaned them out. It sounds like I have too much stuff. What you hear is correct. But I grieve by using all of these dishes and furniture.

Grief is not a one time event. It’s a rest of your life thing. And it’s not all tears and sadness. It’s also beautiful and full of grace. Grief can look like the daily use of things that once belonged to women in my family that served God and their families well, and using them with joy and thankfulness that God gave me such a Godly heritage. I can’t speak for your home, but in mine, we eat food and sit on furniture multiple times throughout the day. So much of what I do in my home reminds me of them, but more importantly leads me to remember the goodness and grace of God.

For Christmas this year, I asked Brent for another piece of furniture to hold the rest of Momma Jean’s things that had been sitting in bright, turquoise tubs in my dining room for a few months. Immediately, he was on it. Shopping around for new furniture at all the popular online furniture stores. He’d send me links of things he found that he thought I’d like. And, while I did like most of what he picked out, none of them were what I wanted.

“What is it that you want, then?” he’d ask.

“I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it.” I’d say.

I knew it had to be antique, or at least not brand new. It had to be solid wood. It had to have dovetail drawers. It had to have a history in another home and with another family before mine. A warehouse full of the same pieces of overstocked furniture was not what I had a mind. There is a place and time for that, but this was not it. If the purpose of this piece of furniture was to hold Momma Jean’s things, it had to be a piece of furniture Momma Jean would buy.

It wasn’t until shopping after Christmas that I found exactly what I wanted. Actually, Brent found it first. We were walking around the store separately.  He saw an antique and restored buffet and knew this was the piece I’d unknowingly been looking for. He also saw the price tag and knew I’d see that first and dismiss the furniture quickly, so he turned the price tag around, found me in the store, and said, “I found something I think you’re going to like.”

I told him not to tell me where it was. I wanted to see if I could find it on my own. I turned a corner and saw it. My eyes went directly to the price tag and I saw that it was turned around. Brent said, “Tell me what you think. Do not look at the price.”

Well, of course, I loved it. It was perfect. It was what I was looking for, without being able to describe it beforehand. It was used. It was solid wood. It had dovetail drawers. It had a history. It was quality. It was worth a pretty penny.

Brent didn’t let me consider a cheaper buffet that I found. He wanted me to have what he knew I’d love for a lifetime.

I imagine similar conversations occurred between my grandparents when Momma Jean was shopping for just the right piece of furniture, or jewelry, or dishes. Pop didn’t let her settle. He spent the extra so she’d be able to enjoy it as long as she lived. Being encouraged (or told, rather) to buy the pricier item for the purpose of loving it as long as I’m able reminded me of the way Pop loved Momma Jean.

Brent knows I’m bent to the frugal side, not spending more when I can buy similar for less and rarely spending on myself. He also knows me well and wanted me to have what I truly wanted, regardless of price. He didn’t let me settle in the furniture store. The freedom, love, and grace Brent showed me in that moment made me tear up right there in the store, standing in front of the perfect piece of furniture. Being known better than I know myself is a gift of grace.

I’m convinced this piece of furniture was made just for us, just for this space, and just for the purpose of holding Momma Jean’s things. I’ve even decorated it with her classic Reader’s Digest books, her bookends, her milk glass, and a sign my aunt made with wood from my family’s land.

God’s grace stored and displayed in this new buffet of mine.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever.
Psalm 37: 18

The God that Remembers

I have hesitated to sit down and share more about my trip to Kenya. Every time I start to write something it sounds so stereotypical of someone who did an extremely short-term mission trip to a foreign country.

“It was life-changing.”

“They taught me more than I taught them.”

The reason those things are said is because they are true and there’s just not many other ways to describe the experience. Read more