The Independence Day holiday evokes warm memories for many of us. From firework shows to backyard family celebrations, July 4th is a seasonal high point. I hope you and your family have fun plans for tomorrow.
In that spirit of nostalgia, I wanted to share a poignant essay penned by my friend and colleague, Joel Vaughan. Joel, who serves as our chief of staff, recently lost his mother. A few years earlier they said goodbye to his father. Many of us know what that feels like, to lose both a mom and a dad in such a short span of time. Anyone with an elderly parent knows that death is an inevitable outcome, but losing someone you love is always difficult. Not only do you have to part ways with the person, but death often marks the end of a season of the life of the person left behind. In Joel’s instance, it precipitated the sale of the longtime family home. Here now are his reflections:
Goodbye to a Home
After 47 years, my family’s home, built in the early 1900s and located in a little cotton mill town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, has passed to its third owner.
Now, someone else will enjoy that new porch with its wonderful old swings, that walkway hand-built by my dad, and those poppies and azaleas loved by my mom.
I can recall many wonderful family times, and some sad ones, over the last half-century: The first day we looked at the place in the fall of 1971 when I was 10 and it had chicken coops in the back; Dad and Uncle Blackie building the back deck in 1977; Mom sweeping the porch of dust each time the baseball field was dragged; finding foul balls in the yard, etc., etc., etc.
I can see my orange ten-speed bike leaning against the porch rail, my successive tennis racquets hanging on the hall tree, my young self first trimming and later mowing the yard throughout the years, and countless family visits from extended family. I can see my adult cousin Doris Ann stopping by while her dad was at Sunday night church, my sister-in-law Martha in the swing drinking coffee with Mom, and Jack and Alma Porter sitting across the way.
I can see my wife, Kellie, and our two little children swinging on the porch, their tiny feet not touching the floor, just as on visits my brother Sandy’s boys had done decades before, and Uncle G. B.’s children a decade before them, and I before them.
How can I ever forget my grandmother and Uncle Blackie often coming for Thanksgiving dinner, and his saying each time, “My compliments to the chef,” as he pushed back from the table; or the Monday night when I was eleven, and Great Uncle Curly knocked at the door to tell us that PaPa Holcomb had just died.
I recall learning the intricacies of plastic baseball from my neighbor Tim Porter, and then playing countless innings beside his house, and even more behind mine, and trying to keep the ball out of the Carricos’ yard.
And there was nothing like walking across Main Street in the snow at night in winter and then sledding down a frozen Vaughan Street until my fingers were numb, and hearing older boys tell of the time Richie Pack lost his pinkie under a runner.
I recall Uncle Don dropping by with produce from his garden, and Aunt Dette doing the same with her pies and cakes, and extended family of all sorts — Napiers, Vaughans, Alleys, Byrds, Sages, Rines — gathering on the front porch before walking up to watch the July 4th parade, and coming back for hotdogs after.
I recall cousin and neighbor Robert Wood picking me up on his way home from the Mill for lunch, as I walked from school for the same purpose.
I can still so vividly hear my dad’s first strong step on the porch when he got home at night from his weekly work trip; and how each door in the house sounds when it closes; and the distinct click of each and every light switch; and the rain at night on the tin roof.
I remember being kept awake by the Fiddlers Convention, enjoying the cheers from baseball games, and enduring the frigid walks to school which seemed to get even colder on the straight stretch once passing the Webbs’ house.
I can see through young eyes a college -age Sandy walking in the door on his visits from California, and the first time we met his true love, Martha; and the tears I shed each time my only brother went away.
I recall how extended family gathered on the porch and in the living room after major events, including, finally, after Mom’s funeral last February. Her younger brothers Uncle Boomy (84) sat on one side and Uncle G. B. (almost 86) on the other, and as he readied to leave, G. B. stood and said, almost under his breath, “I think I’ll take one last look at the house,” before walking through the den into the kitchen, and back through the dining room. I made a similar walk three months later. Uncle Boomy, sadly, did not get the chance that day, dying suddenly only three months after Mom.
Perhaps most of all I can see Mom and Dad out on the porch to tell me goodbye as I got in the car to drive west back to Emory & Henry, or east to Norfolk, or north to Washington, D. C. , or in later years, in a rental car to the Charlotte airport to return to Colorado. They always stayed out until I rounded the circle and drove back by toward the ballpark, and each time waving to me, both with a hint of tears in their eyes, and most times Mom with more than a hint.
But now they are gone, as is the house, leaving memories for us, and promising a future for the next family to enjoy.
Thanks to those great friends and family — and friends who became like family — who helped care for the place in recent years, mowing the lawn week after week for several years, or getting the house ready for Mom’s brief return between back surgery and her final days, or planning and executing the distribution of the household contents to family, friends, and charity after her death. You know who you are, and we’ll never forget: Dawn, Melvin, Nita, Delores, Chico and Barbara, and so many more.
Recalling how hard Dad worked to buy that house, and how he and Mom sacrificed to maintain it, selling it now seems almost wrong. But our focus must be on the future, and on the younger generations. Mom and Dad are in that heavenly great cloud of witnesses, looking down after hearing for themselves first-hand, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
“No one, after putting his hand to the plow, can look back,” the Lord once said, and so we look forward as we close the post office box held over 46 years, and the phone number of almost sixty. That was not just Mom and Dad’s post office box, or just their phone number, it was MY box, and MY phone number which I had called for my entire life.
We say goodbye to that house, which — it just occurred to me — sits on the same street where Mom herself grew up and where Dad’s grandparents lived. They never said, and might not have even remembered, but I would not be too surprised to learn that as children they occasionally played together on that very street.
May God now bless the new family in “our” house, and may He give them many happy years to come. We left a few pieces of furniture and the blessed porch swings behind, which brings comfort to my soul, knowing that something of our family there will still be the same.
And God bless Fries, Virginia, where everybody knows your name.
Does this conjure up any memories of your family’s home? Please feel free to reminisce in the comments section below.