Memories wrapped up in an old house

When I was a 9-year-old kid, this house seemed huge to me. My mom would often drop me off here while she went to practice the organ or have her hair fixed for the weekend. You see, my great-grandmother lived here. She was in her mid-80’s, had Alzheimer’s disease and was cared for by a sweet African-American lady who lived with her. They would play card games with me, my great-granny would bake sugar cookies and her caretaker would chew snuff and tell me fascinating stories from her childhood.

Miss Grandmothers home

The house was built around 1900 and still stands today. My great-grandparents were its’ first occupants – he was the foreman at Avondale Mills in Birmingham. During the depression of the early 1930’s my mom, her sister and their mom moved in with my great-grandparents because they ran out of food, money and my grandfather went off to work in the Works Progress Administration. He would send money home when he could and return home about every 3 months. It was a long, painful 3 year separation – yet they were thankful to have a place to go when life seemed to offer very few opportunities.

My mother grew very close to her grandparents. She often talked about how they made her childhood full of love, family and faith. They all worshiped at the Woodlawn Methodist Church where my grandmother sang in the choir and my great-grandparents taught adult Sunday school classes. Life was good and a blessing even though the depression seemed to take a huge toil on everyone. They ate from the large garden my great-grandfather maintained and unemployed drifters often came to the back door for food and hot coffee. Later they found that a “hobo” had painted a mark at their curb indicating this family would share food with hungry folks.

Last year I decided to drive through this old, forgotten part of Birmingham and look for my great-grandparents’ home. Could it still be there? What shape would it be in? I was thrilled to find it and even see ¬†that someone was restoring it. It has a wrap-around porch because back in the day, folks sat and rocked on their porches and talked at length with people who walked by on their way home from work, to school or to the neighborhood store. It had a “sleeping porch” in the back that was walled in by just a screen – the coolest bedroom in the heat of the summer!

When my parents married in 1948, they moved into this sleeping porch and lived with mom’s grandparents. This enabled them to save money and buy their first house in 1951 at the huge price of $12,000! That seemed like a fortune to them. I know I should not grow too attached to places, houses, cars and things. Yet we can treasure the memories they bring home to our hearts.

I’m sure that when Jesus returned to Nazareth or sailed on the Sea of Galilee, he remembered all the people who had poured into his life and helped make him the man and teacher he became. His carpenter father, his mother’s steadfast faith, his priest’s teachings, the fisherman who brought his family fresh fish, the blind man who sat by the side of the road…all of them made impressions on his life and heart.

It’s the same for us. This old house reminds me that my life is richer because lots of good folks poured into my heart and mind along my life’s journey. Mrs. Simmons who taught me in 8th grade, my grandmother who sung in the choir, my aunt who took me to fine restaurants and taught me manners, my uncle Bob who was so patient, Jack Shores my scoutmaster, Rev. Wayne Graham who let me preach at our church and encouraged my call to ministry, my mom who paid for my music lessons and my dad who showed me what it meant to truly love our neighbor regardless of skin color, economic status or where they came from.

What people and places have shaped the trajectory of your life? Give God thanks today for those generous people and special places where your journey went deep and life lessons were learned.


4 Responses to “Memories wrapped up in an old house”

  1. Patti Wright Says:

    Great article! Rev. Wayne Graham was one of my favorite pastors that served at Hueytown First UMC!

  2. drjameskilgore Says:

    Great job, Richard. The “memories of moments” are often the richest legacies passed to us. We need to pass them on to others. I’m sure you see David Green’s GIVING IT ALL AWAY. Good read!

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