The house with a steel beam

 

After 49 1/2 years, my sisters and I are saying goodbye to our parent’s home. Last weekend, we went through the last things to make sure we hadn’t left any precious keepsakes behind. I’ll admit, it was tough. Much tougher than I thought it would be. The house was such a part of who my parents were. Watching it being emptied out is like watching their names being erased in the sand by the surf.

When we were done, I walked around the house one last time. I went to each room to remember a positive memory. And I remembered some of the lessons I had learned, too.

I started in the basement. When Dad purchased the house in 1968, he bought it for two reasons: It had four bedrooms and a steel beam running the length of it. It was a solid structure. One that took a lot of punishment over the years. The funnel cloud that roared over it. Tree limbs coming through the roof. Drama from the people inside. I remember doing pull-ups on that beam to get ready for football season. It literally made me stronger. The house is such a powerful metaphor for my family: Not flashy, not perfect but strong.

I stood where my dad and I would work on cars together. When I was six, he and I restored a red 1953 Ford pickup. As he worked on the engine, he crushed his hand, let out a howl and a curse word. I asked him, “Isn’t it a sin to say that?” Dad smiled though his pain and said, “God and I have a deal. He’ll forgive me if I am good to other people.” While some may argue with his theology, I saw dad try to live up to that until his last breath.

I want to be like him when I grow up.

From there, I went upstairs to my bedroom. I could see an eight-year-old me sitting at my desk drawing cartoons while listening to the Braves games on WSB-AM. Dreams were born at that desk.

In the den sat two tubs of papers. I had missed them the previous times I had been through the house. There were clips of my cartoons, early drawings, letters of achievement, newspaper articles about my various successes and other scraps that tell my life story. My mother and I had some rough times but the fact she kept all that shows me that she was proud of me. That’s a comfort.

The dining room was where we ate together as a family. Our parents would make us sit down and tell them about the current events of the day. If we had an opinion, we had to back it up. My love for politics and political cartoons was born there.

I went to the backyard to say goodbye to my former pets. I thought of the love and joy they brought me. As I looked over the yard, it seemed so much smaller than when I was a kid. I took over mowing it in 3rd grade. One day, I couldn’t finish and had a meltdown. My dad came out, handed me a glass of water and told me, “If you had used that energy to keep cutting, you’d be done by now.” That was his way to teach me work ethic and to not be a whiner. I backslide occasionally. But when I do, I hear his voice telling me to keep cutting.

As I left, I could almost see my parents standing at the end of the driveway like they always did when I’d drive back to Mississippi. Then I looked at the house. That grand old house. It’s the place where I learned the values of strength under pressure, kindness, dreams, pride in your work, persistence and hard work. I said my final goodbye and said, “thank you.”
I hope it serves the next family equally as well.

About Marshall Ramsey