Thursday, May 28, 2009

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Last week we had occasion to drive from Houston to Dallas. The last of our Texas road trips for the 2009 Tour de Texas. The children were beside themselves at the thought of more time in the car, but I had big plans for them.

Somewhere along I-45 between Houston and Dallas lies the sleepy town of Corsicana, Texas. It was there, deep in the heart of Texas, that I spent many a Christmas holiday and summer vacation in my youth. My Grandparents owned a very regal, historic home on a stately street right there in the middle of Texas.

My Grandmother, an Interior Decorator by trade, happened upon the house one day in her 70s when she and my Grandfather were looking to buy a small rental property in this little town southeast of their Dallas home. As she told it, she saw the house first from the street, told the agent she was interested and waited quite awhile on the porch in the heat while the agent went to pick up the keys so they could have a look inside. She declared she wouldn't return to Dallas until she'd seen the house.

The house had been empty for a long time and was in a bit of disrepair, but my Grandmother saw the possibilities there. She knew instantly that this was the house she'd always dreamed of owning. She told the agent they'd take it--pretty much on the spot. Before we knew it, they packed up their place in Dallas and moved out to Corsicana--a town that was completely unfamiliar to the rest of the family.

The renovations of the house began soon after the move. It was a labour of love and a process that was very interesting to watch. In hindsight, my Grandparents had incredible amounts of energy for their age. They were climbing ridiculously high ladders and painting the ornate ceilings. They did a lot of the work themselves. Slowly, the house was transformed as we watched a lifetime of skill, my Grandmother's impeccable taste and the intelligence of my Grandfather to simply nod and say, "Yes dear" come together to produce a warm, inviting and very dignified home--both inside and out.

I loved that house and its history. I loved its character. I loved its ghosts (my Grandmother was convinced there were several). I loved all the amazing things she'd done with it. Most of all I loved going there and wandering from room to room noticing something new and truly unique with each visit.

Over the years we had many large family gatherings inside the magical walls of their home. We played ball on the massive lawns. We helped hang Christmas lights. We laughed and shared many a meal. It was the perfect family gathering place and my Grandmother, ever the Matriarch, knew that. It's as if she planned it that way.

Eventually at the age of 88, my Grandmother lost her battle with ovarian cancer. My Grandfather lived in their house for another year before he passed away and then the family was left with the task of sorting out their estate. It was decided at the time that the house would be put on the market as no one in the family lived in Corsicana nor did any one have any plans to live there. Once the decision had been made to sell the house, it wasn't long before a potential buyer came along. The story was very similar, the buyer had little ties with the small town of Corsicana, but had fallen in love with the house. It seemed the perfect fit--the house would be sold to someone who was just as passionate about it as my Grandmother had been the day she first saw it.

Now here I was 8 years down the track driving through Corsicana with my two young children in tow. I was excited to show them the house that had meant so much to my Grandmother and my family. I hoped that it would look the same and I'd hoped that the new owners had looked after it.

On the way to their street, I began telling my children stories about the things we used to do at my Grandparent's house. When we exited the freeway my daughter was clearly uninterested in this little side trip, but as we got closer to the house she became more and more intrigued. I swear to you, the house has that power over people. When we turned on to the street, I told my daughter stories about each of the neighbour's houses that I remembered visiting with my Grandmother. She said, "Wow Mom. This is a really special street isn't it?"

Finally, we reached the corner where my Grandparent's house sits on a slight hill. It was stunning. Just as I remembered, but even better. The new owner had done lots of work to the house (which admittedly had fallen into a bit of disrepair as my Grandparents had aged) and he'd even made a few additions. There was a gorgeous glassed in sun room that had been added to the side of the house and a lovely covered parking area that extended from the house to the guest house that sits beside it. Several fountains had been installed in the ample gardens and there was even a gazebo of sorts set off to one side. Flowers were blooming and the grass was a very shiny green. My heart swelled as I thought of my Grandparents, particularly my Grandmother, and what she'd think of these changes to her home. I think she'd have liked them, but I know she'd be thrilled to know that someone who has such obvious passion for the house was now living in it.

We sat parked across the road for several minutes as I surveyed all the changes and relived some of the memories of my youth. I so wanted to take a photo, but my camera was in the boot of the car and I didn't want to look like some kind of stalker. I'm kicking myself to this moment for not getting out and snapping a few photos. What was I thinking?

As we drove away slowly, my daughter asked me, "Mom, if your Grandma was still alive, would she like us to come into her house and visit her?" Tears welled in my eyes as I did a u-turn to take one last look and replied, "Oh darling you have no idea. She would have LOVED for us to visit her and she would have thought the world of both you and your brother."

"Mom, thanks for showing us your Grandma's house. I really liked it and this special little town." were the words I heard as we turned off my Grandmother's street and back onto the main road. "I'm glad," I replied, "It truly is special, and I've got one more thing to show you before we go..."

To be continued


Nathalie said...

Oh, what a beautiful story. And how wonderful is your oldest, to realise how special this place is. It's so important to share these memories with children. How different each of your trips back to the US are and will be, with such insightful and curious children.

suzinoz said...

Thanks Nathalie. Hard to believe we are days away from departure. We've had such an eventful trip this time.

bw said...

Just a small clarification, the current owner of the house did have ties in the community. He was, in fact, a dear friend of your grandmother's and had been to parties at her home before she passed. He was and is a key figure in the local theater and historical associations.

Great story, minor mistake. I got a little emotional realizing how she and her home impacted you. Good memories.

Aussie in the USA said...

Great post...if I was closer I would go and take a photo for you. Have you looked the address up on Google Maps? Sometimes the photos are very clear...just a though. Cheers!

suzinoz said...

Thanks Aussie. I did have a look at Google Maps. The photo is pretty good, but it looks like someone put their thumbprint right in the middle of the photo. A bit blurred. Better than nothing I suppose.