My grandmother’s house

This is a painting that my mother did of the house where she was born, in 1920, and where she lived until she married my father.  She painted this not long after 1984, when she and her sister and brother closed the house and got it ready for sale after my grandmother died.

painting by Mary Elizabeth Duncan Work

painting by Mary Elizabeth Duncan Work

While my father’s business was getting started, my parents, brother and I also lived in this house for a few years beginning when I entered the first grade.  It was a wonderful house, with great places to hide, and the back yard was full of flowers, especially irises and wisteria, and a grape arbor, and big trees to climb, and lots of shrubs to hide in.   Over the next 30 years my family and I made many visits to this house to see my grandmother, and to celebrate holidays and special gatherings with aunts and uncles and cousins.   I still visit it in my dreams.

My mother died in late January and in February we took her ashes back to that ancestral town, Durant, Oklahoma (where my father also grew up).   When we were leaving, my wife and son wanted to drive by Grandmother’s old house and see if there were still more irises to dig up and take with us.   I was very reluctant to go there, because I had seen it several years before and knew that the people who took it over ended up letting both the house and the yard slide quickly into dishevelment.     But since I knew pretty much what to expect I decided I would be OK.

When we got there and parked in the alley behind the house, where we could see the back yard and the back of the house, it was obvious that the house had been empty for years.   I thought I was prepared for the worst — and so I was completely thrown by the intensity of my reaction.   I couldn’t get out of the car, and in fact moved the car so I couldn’t see the house while my wife and son looked around.  It was like seeing the decaying, falling-apart remains of a friend lying there, completely neglected, and unrecognized for the glory it had once been.   A vacant lot would have been kinder.

Just today I came across this photo that my mother took when she was closing Grandmother’s house in 1984:

precious paintings we left

On the back she wrote “Precious paintings we didn’t keep!”

There are so many things I would like to see again.  However, even before my recent visit, I knew and still know, that my memories live inside of me in their always pure state; and that no one else could ever recreate what had once been (which was also part of the magic of my childhood), even if someone had taken care of it well.

So, I am glad to have these memories of beauty, mystery, and kindness, along with many photos, dating back to 1920, of our family congregating in that setting.  The memories are alive in all of the members of my family who knew the house and town and people so well.


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