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By Tena Bastian
I heard a song by Miranda Lambert a few weeks back that really hit home for me then but yesterday, as we drove through our neighborhood and saw firsthand, the damage caused by the tornadoes that went through, I felt a stronger connection to that song. One of these tornadoes hit a mile or so from my own house. Not only was our State Forest damaged with hundreds of trees snapped off as though they were toothpicks but folks were standing near leveled houses looking toward the sky with fear of another storm. NW Ohio was hit hard and what was left behind was worst than anything I had ever experienced. I was sad for the loss of all their hard work but also I felt blessed that our own home went completely undamaged. Phone calls and emails started pouring in from all over the country who had seen the devastation and wanted to know if we were all right. Three of the calls came from friends in tornado alley who know how damaging these storms can be. A house, our home tells the story of who we are and what we have worked for and when it is destroyed, it takes a piece of us with it.
When Bear and I were younger and our two daughters were just children, we bought a piece of land and proceeded to build our house. At the time, we had sold our home in town and our dream was to build a small house on our own piece of heaven where we could raise our girls in the same place and never have to move again. Both of us had grown up moving from house to house and school to school making new friends along the way but saying goodbye to old friends as well. This new house would be home to Dusty and Jennifer. A place where they would make friends and keep them for a lifetime. Where they could be a part of a community that embraced them as one of their own. This piece of land would have a tree swing hanging from the old sassafras tree, a garden where we would plant all of our favorite foods and any animals that we cared to invite into our heaven and love.
The day we pulled into the driveway, mortgage in hand, ready to break ground, an older woman approached with a coffee cake and a smile. Her name was Lucille Myers and she and her husband Don lived in the older house next door. Lucille had lived in the area her entire life, having been raised on the farm just down the road. The farm had a big two story house and a barn that had seen over 100 years of family pride and love. When Lucille’s first husband died, she married Don and moved into his home next door to our new place but she kept the farm down the road because of the memories it held for her. The farm had 100 acres that we used to ride our horses through and it had a pond where we would drop a fishing line now and then. Lucille was a tough woman who used to give me excellent advice about gardening, raising my children, and various other “country living” things that I needed to learn. She would say “When your kids are hurt, never run to them, walk instead. It teaches them not to panic” and “When the leaves turn inside out, it means a storm is coming” and “When you hear the peepers peeping back in the creek, it means spring is truly here”. Lucille was wise beyond her years because she had grown up here all of her life. We spent hours down at her farm looking through photographs and cherished memories and hearing stories of her life there. We stored hay from time to time in the old barn and although she lived in what she called “Don’s house”, the farm was still home to her and she would never part with it.
Her husband Don was extremely entertaining as he had a wit about him that was like no one I had ever met. One day, he was teaching me about gardening vegetables when he reached down to pick up what he thought was a rake. He panicked when he realized that he had grabbed a really large black snake that was in the tall grass next to where he had lay his rake. Through several years, these wonderful neighbors would meet us at the fence and chat. We shared recipes, fruits and vegetables, laughter and tears and as they grew even older and couldn’t get around as much as they once did, Bear and I would take the girls over there to visit and help them out wherever we could. Don eventually passed away and Lucille’s children made the decision to put her in a nursing home and another family bought the house. The 100 acre farm sold when Lucille died and the old barn was immediately destroyed. The new owners knew very little of the history of that old barn and how it had once built and sustained Lucille’s family and played such a large part in the building of my own family. The new owners of the farm didn’t live in the house. Instead, they built a house of their own further back on the property and the old farmhouse sat empty for years. The only thing that remained in that house was the old, tattered white lace curtains that Lucille once took great care each spring to wash and hang out on the line and iron. She would wash the windows and hang the pretty lace curtains back on their rods and everything in the house smelled like bottled summer.
Over the years since Lucille died, I would ride by that old farmhouse and although I really missed her, the memories were still mine because the house still stood. She lived on through what had become the scary old farmhouse to most everyone in the community because they weren’t here long enough to remember the house in its glory or to remember Lucille and her strength and pride in the house that built her. As we drove through the devastation yesterday and watched young families standing out near the road with signs that asked people not to take photos of their personal belongings strewn about and asking for donations of clothing or money, we stopped to talk and offer them what we could. I felt a sense of that community spirit which had been the reason Bear and I built our life here in the first place. It reminded me that our hard work had paid off in that we were a part of a community that loved and supported each other during difficult times. The old farm house is leveled and with it goes the reminder to me that Lucille is gone and the pretty lace curtains are gone and as the song goes, “If I could only touch this place or feel it…”, the house that built her is no more.
It reminded me that life goes on and people rebuild and new memories are made and now, many years later, I realize that it is me that passes on that sage advice to my new neighbors and their little boy. I tell them, “Don’t run to him when he is hurt, walk to him” and “Spring is truly here when you hear the sound of the peepers deep in the woods by the old creek”. I visit with them at the fence and we share the love and difficulties of our lives and it reminds me that Bear and I have become the elders on our country road now. During the tornadoes the other night, they called us late to tell us that they couldn’t get home because so many trees had fallen across the roads and asked if we could keep an eye on their house, the house that built them.
My heart goes out to all the neighbors that suffered such loss and especially to the valedictorian of Lake High School who didn’t get to see her graduation Sunday because her father was one of those that died during the storms and to those who look to the sky with fear of yet another storm. This loss will build strength and a renewed appreciation for all that you have and it will build a stronger community spirit for all those that needed help and someone came and pitched in. God bless those families that lost loved ones, seven people lost their lives that night. Now it is a time of rebuilding; of picking up the pieces of your life and putting it all back together again. None of us will ever forget the tornadoes of 2010 but with hope and hard work and love and support, each of these people will live in the house that built them.
To some, a house is just a house and when it gets old, it is torn down and a new one takes it’s place. For others, a house is a home filled with memories of laughing children and sage advice and when it is taken away tragically, it is devastating and lives are changed forever. My house represents the hard work and all the sacrifice that my husband and I made to give our children a home filled with love and memories. They are grown now and have houses of their own but we hope in their hearts that this will always be home to them. I have learned so much while I have lived in this house over the years and I have grown as a person because of it. The windows don’t always open as easily as they once did but they do open and they let in fresh air and sunshine. The tile may be worn in spots but it is worn from the many friends who have passed through it. The roof may leak, the siding may have faded, the floors may slant just a bit and the fencing may be weathered but it is still standing. It may be mortgaged to the max but its still my house, the house that built me.
Tena Bastian at www.tenabastian.com