This Old House

Dear Kari,

Hope you are well and enjoying the beautiful springtime! Grandpa and I are doing OK – for old folks!

Just wanted you to know that we are having an open house/housewarming for your Uncle Buddy on Sunday afternoon, April 24, from 2:00 – 5:00. As you know he has just renovated the old homeplace and is now living in it. We’d like for you and Mike to come if you can. Your mom is bringing a gift from your family, so you won’t need to bring anything. I think you would enjoy seeing how the house is fixed up now. This is the house that I grew up in, and in which Grandpa and I lived with the children for several years. It is part of your heritage!

Please know I think of you often and love you dearly.

Always, Grandma

When I opened this letter last night, I think I squealed a little bit. I knew that Uncle Buddy (Grandma’s brother) had been working on the old farmhouse, but I didn’t know he was done. (Mom never tells me anything.) Although it is the house where Grandma was born and where Mom grew up, I have never seen the inside of it. I’ve never even been in the yard (at least that I remember). It’s across the street from my grandparents’ house, but that’s as close as I have ever been.

That’s not because Uncle Buddy didn’t want me over there. On the contrary, Uncle Buddy is a very loving man. He’s pretty quiet, so I don’t know him that well, but I have seen him help Grandma out pretty much every day since Grandpa had his stroke four-and-a-half years ago. The reason I have never even been in the yard is because Uncle Buddy’s wife (someone I have never met) was living in the house, and he was living in a trailer in the yard. I don’t know all the details, but I know she is not mentally well (even to the point that he had to send the children away – some lived with Grandma and some lived with Aunt Ruby), but Uncle Buddy never divorced her. Sometime in the past year or so, he convinced her to move to the trailer so he could fix up the house. He hadn’t been inside it in years, and he found that it was in complete shambles. The floor had fallen all the way to the ground in some places, the plumbing didn’t work, there were bugs everywhere . . . it was a complete disaster. And so, he sold one of the fields he had to a neighbor and raised the money to start working on the house.

The story of Uncle Buddy’s wife has always affected me deeply, because one year for Christmas, Grandma filled out one of those “Grandma’s Memories” journals for me, and said things like:

My biggest disappointment is probably not being able to establish a relationship wtih my sister-in-law (my brother’s wife). I had to give up on that a long time ago when I realized it was seemingly impossible. God has been with me through this and given me peace.

I have seen God work in our family by giving Buddy the strength to deal with the almost impossible situation in his home life and by trusting him to give all of us the wisdom and forgiving spirits to deal with the above situation.

I have experienced God’s clear guidance when your grandpa and I decided to build the house we’re living in, even though it meant leaving the house that we loved. I’ll explain this to you sometime if you’d like.

She never did explain it to me, but Mom and her sister Nancy filled in the holes a bit. It’s one of the reasons I admire Uncle Buddy so much, because he tried to do the right thing by not leaving his wife, even though the situation was hard. And he tried to do his best for his children by sending them to live with his sisters. I see my grandma as such a loving person, and it breaks my heart to know how hard the whole thing was for her. I know it was because of her love for her brother and her love for his children – Mom said that her cousins used to come over and ask them for food, because their mom would put them outside all day long and not feed them, not change the baby’s diaper, not take care of them at all. I am sure that Grandma, a fierce protector, had a hard time knowing what to do.

I have heard a bit about the house from Mom as well. She says she remembers that the four rooms on the first floor were all connected, and that she would ride her tricycle around and around and around. Grandma says her earliest memory of the house is:

The large farm kitchen with the open fireplace, the wood stove for cooking, the high ceiling, the oil lamps, and lots of rocking chairs.

I used to ride my bike past the house sometimes and look at it. It was almost as if Boo Radley lived there or something. When I was small, all I knew was that that was where Mom grew up, but that we didn’t talk about it. I am proud of Uncle Buddy for all the hard work he did, and for facing those ghosts. And so, I am really excited to go this weekend and see it. I can see those four rooms my mom talked about, and walk in the yard I’ve heard so much about. I have seen Grandma be so excited about this project over the past year, and I can’t wait to see her (and my mom) there after all this time.

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