It’s been almost thirty years since they left. Vivid memories of them are intertwined and mixed into my soul. With the help of their children, my aunts and uncles, we cleared out and packed up that house that held a lifetime of memories in Decatur.
My grandmother was a classic, old school southern lady…..exactly what you’d think of if you thought back to the days of Driving Miss Daisy…..she was that kind of woman, although without the means that Miss Daisy had. She held on to the past, gripping it firmly so that it might never see change…particularly in her mind. She held onto things that might have been sentimental….old dusty books…china and silver of our familys from the century past…photographs, albums, games, art, letters and dresses…oh my gosh..the dresses and shoes…At 90 something it was quiet the collection….
My grandfather was a man’s man, tall, strong and firm. Rooted in his generation..the one that was on the cusp of the “greatest generation” – depression, war and all, he supported all of his family through hard work encouraging them all to be independent, strong and capable. He was one of 18 or so children and as I understand it, they were all that way, so perhaps it was genetic…I just know that fame and fortune didn’t interest him, but life did.
Their Decatur home was old school southern, graced with wide open spaces and two very private bedrooms, a sun porch that stretched across the back that gazed into the woods and a large formal dining room where people were entertained on fine china and crystal. . Waited on by maids while they looked out over the expansive front yard, smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars laughing about their world. A neighborhood was eventually built up around their home in the “country”.
They generally didn’t throw stuff away back then, they fixed it. They kept things longer, holding on to them, caring for and reusing…over and over. My grandfathers shop outside was filled with tools and designed to fix, repair and rebuild. He worked six days a week, five full and then a half day on Saturday when, in the afternoon he mowed the lawn fully dressed – in his coat, tie and dress wingtip shoes walking behind his large Gravely tractor. Even till the end of his life you could often find him splitting wood for the many fireplaces in the house or repairing something one of us had broken.
When they were young, families remained close…if not always mentally then physically. With the advent of trains, planes and cars families began to spread out. Ours included..moving farther and farther away from each other – spreading our wings and flying far.
My grandmother always said. “you raise your children to be strong and better than you, and that’s what they do.” She was a classy, well dressed always, no-nonsense Irish woman, tough as nails.
My grandfather lived his life by some simple, set in stone creeds – “Always do the right thing. “,
“Be kind and nice.”, “Live within your means.” , “Always…always..tell the truth.” I can remember each of those phases like it was yesterday. He spoke them often, but more importantly he lived by them. He was a simple, humble and a good “Southern Gentleman”…all the way to his core.
He worked hard, taught family much about life. They worked hard together trying to build a city back during the depression and while he was just a little to old to go off to war, he joined the US Coast Guard and served his country in that way. They both gave to their community, he through Rotary Club and she through gardening clubs. Family, church and community were their benchmarks.
After she died at close to 100, he pined away, James continued to go about his daily life, going to work, to church and passing time in the yard and watching sports on his old B&W TV. I watched the flame leave him with her. It was like seeing a candle burn down and the wick slowly choking out….They’d looked after each other for so long….Without her there, he was ready…
My parents & I went through the things in their home. Discovering treasures that I never knew they had. A $100 in bills in an envelope taped to the back of a drawer in her dresser – what we’d call “mad money” and old letters they’d written to each other. It was like reading a love story from the deep southern past. A story that came full circle, youth to old age. He told her how he adored her, of her strength and beauty. He reminded her over and over of his feelings. When they were apart he asked her to please wait for him. It was almost a seventy year marriage, a lifetime of love. I’m sorry that my children never knew them, but they are still connected….through me, my parents and life.
They succeeded at fully living life.They did it, not because their life was easier, they had more or were any luckier than others. They succeeded because they worked hard at it, loved it and cherished it. Together and apart. They raised their family to be adventurous and independent. They loved, let go and then watched. What happened with that was AMAZING. Their children grew, lived and taught their children (me & my brothers) to do the same…..this was their gift. A gift that continues to pay forward…to my children and over and over…..
As I sit and think today about their home on Brookmeade Road in Decatur, Alabama I have a powerful and warm force in the center of my soul…my heart. I don’t really remember all of their stuff, although I have some of their treasures in my home. I know that their house would never have been featured in Southern Living or any other home magazine
What I do remember is running through their huge two acre yard barefoot with my cousins, exploring for hours in the trees and grass. Hiding among the cedar trees. Putting lights on her fabulous Christmas trees…inside and out. I remember catching lightening bugs in mason jars on warm Summer nights. I remember eating warm, fresh oatmeal with sliced bananas and cinnamon at the breakfast table. My grandfather taking afternoon naps on the sunporch in his Lazboy. Walking in the back door late in the afternoon just before suppertime and smelling Matties wonderful southern food on the stove and the taste of my grandmothers cornbread smeared with fresh butter……..that very distinctive smell of being home that I’m absolutely sure still, must be there today.
“What will I leave behind?”
My grandparents home and that of my parents were successful homes. They both did what I think homes should do. That’s the whole point. Another gift. I always have it. It’s mine. It’s all of ours, my children, friends and family – all of those I love and cherish. You see….it’s really in my heart…my soul – the smells, the feelings, the laughter…all of it! In this age of instant internet we don’t have to wait a moment to see what’s new and cool, ..we can see it, feel it, buy it right now….But let’s not forget that it takes more than that to create a home. It’s a generational gift. The greatest gift of a lifetime. You can fill it with fancy furniture from the very best stores or things that aren’t so trendy, but when you build a home from your heart…well, that never goes out of style
Maybe it’s just a midlife thing..or a passing phase, but I see many of my friends building fancy new homes, second places at the beach or here in the mountains and filling them with crazy amounts of stuff and I get to feeling jealous, or that I’m less than…or just not good enough..I am reminded of Ivy Mae and James’ beautiful old home on Brookmeade Road and just like theirs……
Mine will always have open doors, welcoming friends, family & strangers.
Mine will always have a few muddy dog prints on the floor and laundry to be done.
My home will always be filled with love….and here’s my wish for you – I hope yours is too.
Because I know, that’s really all that’s left behind when our life is all done..Love.
Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer