"Pale shafts of early morning sunlight filtered through the pines,
tickling my eyelids ever so slightly and causing me just enough discomfort to
rouse myself from the mattress where we had fallen in an exhausted heap the
The presence of early morning light, however dim, was oddly disorienting
after six months of somewhat subterranean dwelling. After a brief moment of
utter confusion, I remembered that this was where I was.
THIS WAS HOME!
Leaving Tom still sleeping in the still darkened room, I
headed for the kitchen where I hoped to find everything to make that all-important
first cup of coffee. I could only hope I’d remembered all the essentials in our
mad dash across the county the day before. But, as I turned the knob to quietly
close the bedroom door, I was struck by the significance of simply shutting the
door. I shut the door. I admit, I stopped and gave thanks for that door. And
For six months we had no door, no interior walls; we had no
privacy whatsoever. Our temporary home in my parents’ basement was one fairly
large, but completely open room, dissected by the stairs that led to their
living space above. It was ours free of charge for the duration with one
caveat…no permanent changes. With no interior divisions, any “rooms” came from some
creative furniture arrangement. One corner was divided off for the girls’
shared bedroom by creating a “wall” out of bookcases and dressers. There was a
kitchen space at the other end as well as a bathroom in the corner. We hung a quilt
to serve as a wall at the bottom of the stairs, screening the light from the
bottom of the stairs and the kitchen. That way we could at least watch
television after the children’s bedtime. Otherwise, everyone would have had to
go to bed at the same time. The kitchen was small and cramped and mice were a
constant issue. When we first arrived, there was no sink and we washed the
dishes in the bathtub. And, there isn’t much I can say about 4 people sharing
To top it off, the only
way to their garage storage was down the stairs and through the basement, so
“visitors” were always a possibility as my parents went to feed their dog.
There was never a threat of being alone, although the loneliness I felt was overwhelming.
In addition, there was just one small window up near the
ceiling. This window was at ground level on the outside so all you could see
was earth. If you looked straight up, you could catch a glimpse of a tiny patch
of sky. There was no way to gauge the weather without actually going outdoors.
It could be dark and oppressive unless you turned on every single light
fixture. And, that was certain to warrant some sort of complaint as electricity
usage became an issue.
To say this was less than ideal would have been an
understatement. But, we went in with our eyes wide open because it was supposed
to be temporary. And, you can endure anything for a short time when you think
that the fulfillment of a lifelong dream is within reach.
But, when everything changed with my father’s outburst in
the Florida room that day and the basement apartment began to feel like a
prison. We began to refer to it as “the dungeon”. Suddenly it felt smaller and
darker, stifling in its oppression.
Everything we did (or didn’t do) came under constant
scrutiny. The children were too loud in the house, but it was preferred that
they not play in the yard. Tom’s work ethic was questioned as well as my own
housekeeping practices. And the laundry became a bone of contention and the bane
of my existence. If I did the laundry when anyone was home, he complained that
I ran the dryer for the entire day. If I waited until no one was home, he
insisted that I should come upstairs and visit once in a while. By the end, the
situation was completely untenable, and the relationship strained and awkward.
But, we had survived it all. The horror, the heartbreak, the
stress of construction was all in the past.
I kept reminding myself of this fact.
In time none of it would matter…the important thing was…We
Finding the coffee essentials and mentally praising myself
for my foresight, I set the coffee to brewing and looked around this house that
we had created. A sense of peace washed over me.
Once the coffee finished brewing, I headed for the front
porch. The dog roused when I went out, as if sensing that something, everything,
was now different. She and I sat in companionable silence, savoring the early
morning by watching the world awaken and I reveled in the first light without
waking the rest of the family. I wanted to soak in the quiet stillness of this
morning before we jumped into what promised to be another busy day of hard
work. I thought of my sleeping family inside. I had no way of knowing if the
hard times were completely over (are they ever?) but I knew in my heart of
hearts that no matter what happened, we would get through it…together.
From our vantage point high on the hill, I could look down
to the creek and the road beyond, I could see the neighbors’ backyard gardens
and cows grazing across the way. It was peaceful and quiet, offering the
perfect place to think over the events of the past and consider the future.
The building inspector had given his final approval the
previous afternoon. The workers had collected their tools and were long gone.
Tom gave the contractor that final check and in return, he had released all
liens against the property. Somehow, after the heartache and worries of the
past six months, it all seemed incredibly anticlimactic.
As the contractor examined his check before folding it and
putting it in his pocket, he looked at me quizzically, “so…Barbara, are you
happy now? I did what I said I’d do. 120 days…we did it in 120 days.” he looked
at me rather pointedly as he awaited my answer.
I couldn’t disagree with his assertion. He had done it in 120 days. That might
be some sort of construction record. He was indeed a man of his word. And, I
admit it, I had most definitely had my fair share of doubts. Serious doubts.
But, happy? Was I happy? Could happiness exist in the current circumstances? Again, I had my doubts. But,
I was relieved. I was grateful. Although he knew our story better than most, he
still couldn’t possibly understand and there was no way to ever explain. My
heart had shattered into a million teeny, tiny pieces on that awful February
day and I still couldn’t bring myself to think about what had happened; it was just too
hard. To top it off, I was most uncertain about what the future might hold.
Truth be told, I was worried and stressed and more than a little
scared…but…happy? Pretty sure what I was feeling wasn't happy. But, what to say? His eyes bored into me as he waited for an
answer. Figuring less is more sometimes, I thanked him for keeping his promise leaving
the rest unsaid. There would be time for soul searching later.
I suppose that satisfied him, because he hopped in his big
dually and headed off to the next project without so much as a backward glance.
But his question would stick with me long afterward…was I happy
honestly didn’t know if I could ever be truly happy ever again, from time to
time the grief and heartbreak seemed too much to bear, but that was a problem
for another time. There was far too much work to do to spend any time lost in
contemplation and sad regrets.
As soon as he left, we rounded up the children and headed
back to “the dungeon” to gather the essentials for our first overnight stay in
our new home. Our Home!
After feeling like we were in a holding pattern for weeks,
real adventure had begun. We were
going to treat the past six months as a bump in the road, a small hiccup, a
slight detour, nothing more. We had somehow survived the tragedy, the horror
and the heartache. It was time to get going on the plan. Do this thing. Make it
Mattresses, the kitchen table, some chairs and that all
important coffee pot. We crammed as much in the trailer as was humanly
possible. We would come back for the rest later, but for now, all that mattered
was getting HOME.
A glance at the sky revealed the very real possibility of
yet another challenge. Big, black, ominous clouds were forming in the west.
Because, what would a July afternoon be without the chance of a thunderstorm? Watching
the storm clouds build along the ridge of the Alleghenies, we could only hope
that our belongings wouldn’t get inundated on the 25-mile trip across the
county. Because once we were loaded, there wasn’t much we could do besides hope,
25 miles may seem a short distance, for many folks it is
part and parcel of a daily commute. But, this particular drive was the trip of
a lifetime. A fresh start, a new home and a completely different life. A lot
was riding on this trip. And, the impending thunderstorm certainly added to the
With the dog tucked into the camper cap on the back of the
pickup, we hurried down the still unfamiliar twists and turns of Scenic
Highway. The beauty of the trip completely lost on me as I worried over the
trailer load with every bump and turn. I kept trying to watch the sky out the
windshield while checking the load in the rearview mirror. It is a wonder I
didn’t end up dislocating my neck.
The plan was to pick up some supper at the only fast food
restaurant between here and there. Unfortunately, FAST is a complete misnomer
when it comes to this particular establishment.
It took them forever to fill the order and
tempers were beginning to fray as the clouds built even higher. The dog growled
and barked the entire time we waited. The children were cranky, and we were all
well on our way to being overcome by some sort of “hangry” meltdown.
With an eye on the menacing clouds, we made the decision to drive first and eat later. I have no idea why we didn’t consider munching
during the trip. Driving with fresh French fries that one cannot eat is
somewhat akin to torture to small children, not to mention their frazzled
parents. For this (and a good many other things) I owe my children a much
Finally, we began the ascent to the hill. That turn into the
drive should have been a triumph. We should have stopped and given thanks, let
out a cheer, sung the Hallelujah chorus, or at least acknowledged the end of
the ordeal in some way. However, we had not yet won the race with the
thunderstorm, so any sort of celebration was out of the question. Everyone
piled out and got to work, keeping one eye on the impending storm.
Everything was unceremoniously dumped in the living room
floor prior to sitting to eat the soggy supper. Even the new microwave couldn’t
salvage those sad French fries and the limp hamburgers. But, we got everything
in the house before the first rain drop fell. At which point the heavens
opened. While the first meal in our new home was less than stellar, it served
its purpose. The family was fed. We hauled mattresses and blankets up the stairs.
The girls were tentatively settled in their respective bedrooms, the dog
secured to the front porch, and showers taken, at which point we all fell into
My last coherent thought before I drifted off was: “We made
it! We are finally HOME.” We had survived facing a horrible, hurtful situation.
Together. They say that tragedies and hard times either make you or break you
as a couple, as a family. For better or worse, here we were, still together. Tomorrow
would be a whole new day. A new life.
And, now I was drinking coffee with the dog high on our hill in Middlebrook, savoring the beautiful inspiration that is early morning.
This wasn’t what we planned. It certainly wasn’t what we
expected. But, here we were. We could make this new version of our plan work. I
knew we could. However, the contractor’s question remained unanswered. Was I
I honestly had no idea. I hadn’t taken the time to unpack our
belongings and settle into a new routine. I didn’t even want to consider how
long it would take me to make sense of my tangled emotions and mend my broken
heart. Purposefully tucking the painful memories away for some other time, I
began to daydream about our new life.
Our original plan of a homestead complete with garden,
livestock and a home business was still a viable option. The location may have
been different, but the dream remained the same. We knew how to raise our
own food and could be fairly self-sufficient. We had dramatically down-sized and eliminated all our debt. For additional income, Tom was
going to start a woodworking business. He is a talented craftsman, having
taught himself the finer points of woodworking and built much of our own
furniture. He had inherited tools from my Granddaddy’s upholstery business, so
it seemed a matter of time before he could get his shop set up in the garage.
That small home business would provide for our few monetary needs as well as
offer him a creative outlet.
We envisioned and idyllic life for our daughters. Schooled
at home, they would have ample opportunity for play and exploration, learning important
life skills by actually doing things, not just hearing about them. They would
have their own animals either for pleasure or profit and learn the skills
involved with animal husbandry.
I saw myself following in the footsteps of a traditional
pioneer wife. Teaching the children, tending the garden, preserving food,
sewing, quilting. Uncomplicated but fulfilling, I could see it all in my mind’s
eye. Tom had already made arrangements to purchase the milk cow I had always
dreamed of having.
Looking forward we saw a future of satisfying work, deep
familial and community ties and pleasant experiences and memories that would
last our children a lifetime. These hopes and dreams were enough to make up for
the disappointments of the past. Possibilities abound as the dew on the grass
shimmers in the early morning light and those rose-colored glasses made it all
seem so easily attainable.
As I sat contemplating the future, it suddenly occurred to
me that if I could see the neighbors, they could see me. And, my bathrobe and
unkempt hair wouldn’t make the best first impression. Besides my coffee was
cold. I headed back inside, leaving the dog snoring softly in the morning
The rest of the family was awake and eager to get started
with the day. After months of being cramped together either in the truck cab or
our basement apartment, everyone was ready to get outdoors and revel in
exploring our new surroundings. Tom had a host of projects vying for his
attention, first and foremost to tackle the pile of lumber destined to become
the barn. The girls had all sorts of adventures planned that involved a lot of imagination and much running with delighted abandon. My task was turning this place into our HOME.
We spent one day settling in before we arranged a quick
sortie back to the basement to pick up the rest of our possessions. Our
newfound church fellowship friends had offered time, vehicles and muscle. The
promise of lunch and dessert guaranteed the help of a bevy of teen-aged boys. With
vehicles and volunteers in place we headed across the county to retrieve our
My father had chosen to stack all our boxes of belonging
around the edges of his pool house. This made the boxes fairly inaccessible during
our stay and was a constant source of worry. We hadn’t seen many of our
belongings since we first moved in. But, I kept reminding myself this was the
last time that I would have to deal with any of it, so today I was trying not to be
overly concerned with the combination of children, open water and the transport
of innumerable cardboard boxes.
“WOW!” one of the younger helpers exclaimed as we entered
the pool house to assess the job at hand, “Look at this place! They must be SO
rich! I would just stay here. So, why don’t ya? What did ya want to move
And, suddenly, I was right back in
that Florida room…seeing the raging hatred emanating from my father’s every
pore, the recollection causing near physical pain. There was no way I could
face that memory at that particular moment. I bit my lip to stop the replay
inside my brain. How long was I to be haunted by that one experience? I had yet
to find any sort of explanation of the event for myself, so an attempt at
explaining it to a teenage boy was impossible. I tucked my feelings aside,
turned the conversation to other things and moved beyond the awkward moment.
Fortunately, the mountain of boxes needed far more attention than his random
Now, it is a humbling experience to watch your earthly
possessions being loaded into an ancient dump-truck. But, between that and the
other pick-up trucks, we managed to pack everything (including the chest
freezer and its contents) without either children or boxes taking an
We truly looked like the Beverly Hillbillies as we made our
way across the county in a ragtag parade of random farm vehicles. The convoy
only came to a halt once as we rattled along through the countryside, when the
top to the charcoal grill came loose bounced off and landed in someone’s
driveway. One of the helper-boys hopped out and retrieved it and the “parade”
continued on its way after the momentary hesitation. Although the scars on the
grill lid served as a reminder of that day for years to come.
Once on the hill, it didn’t take long to empty the trucks,
utilizing a variation on a bucket brigade. The eager young helpers delivered
the labeled boxes to their eventual homes with the air of adventure and fun.
The serious business of making this a home would come later.
For now, we were just thankful to have a place to call HOME. And, we were
particularly thankful to have found a group of friends to help us in our hour
One of the ladies provided a chicken barbeque lunch for everyone. I made
sure there were cookies and brownies to go around. The house was full of
laughter and camaraderie as we all exulted in a job well done. As the work crew
relaxed, I glanced around the room and felt a sense of community for perhaps
the first time in quite a while.
This was it.
We’d found our tribe.
We'd weathered the storm, made a new plan, and we were executing it nicely.
We were HOME.
Surely everything would be just fine. It would be nothing but smooth sailing now. We had earned some time in the green pastures by quiet streams spoken of in the Psalms.
…but, then again, EVERYTHING is subject to change…"
You just finished reading part of my current WORK-IN-PROGRESS…the memoir entitled Subject to Change.