Her House of Dreams
Well into my adulthood, my mom embarked on the pursuit to build her “dream house.” My siblings nor I had ever lived in this dwelling, yet my love for this endeavor was pure and simple. She had always spoken of her desire to live in a barn-inspired home. She believed that hallways were a gimmick for square feet and that they held little value other than closed doors and yellowing photos that often go unnoticed.
Over the years, I watched with enormous admiration as she filled scrapbooks with pictures from high-end housing magazines, never letting her dream fade. Every now and then, she’d study them, assumingly to fill the void with new ideas. Finally, in 1996, she was given the green light by my father’s financial guy to construct the custom home she had held close to her heart for so long. To my knowledge, this was the greatest gift my father had ever given her.
They purchased five lots in the part of town where a house of this level didn’t exactly belong. It was questioned by many with neighbors casually asking, “Why is she building this here?”. If they had known my mother, they’d know that this line of questioning would only fuel her drive to make a statement. “To hell with them!”, she’d say. It was this very quality of hers that taught me the true value of doing what’s important to you while never letting the opinions of others hold you back. Oh, how I loved this part of her!
As the structure took form, the traffic and curiosity grew into a steady stream of visitors anticipating its completion accompanied by the occasional request to peek inside. My brother’s stunning stone work covered the estate’s facade and the tall cement walls that enclosed it made many shake their heads, but few didn’t know of its existence.
My mother took their old-age into account with several clever features. She had steel handrails strategically placed in the showers and beside the toilets as well as power-outlets on the floor for hospital equipment. My favorite was the ceiling-high windows perfectly angled for them to watch the geese migrate in their golden years. She would eventually die within the walls she built. After being hospitalized, she made it home in time for her final journey and it meant everything to her.
I never foresaw a scenario where my dad would reside in this residence without her. And yet, as the two-year anniversary of her flight to heaven approached, his loneliness had become painfully evident. The life she once breathed into this space was gone and it made my father appear small and fragile. It was obvious that he could no longer upkeep the ½ acre estate by himself.
With age and experience, I’ve learned that life rarely goes as planned. I knew that his decision to move into a nice assisted living facility was for the best. It was my heart that could never completely grasp the totality of what selling her dream would entail. As the appraisers came and went, my oldest brother took the lead in the transition while I stayed tucked away. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help, I simply couldn’t bare the tasks of deciding what would be kept and what would be tossed.
During the time my parents lived within my mom’s artistic genius, so much had happened - most notably the passing of my brother and sister. The little memorial gardens my mother planted for them now look sad and pitiful amongst the sprawling lot. Little by little, month after month, the house became empty of all that was her - of all that was them. I take great effort to avoid driving by this place, for it’s now just a shell of what once held the verve of a truly free spirit that I’ve tried to emulate.
As expected, the iconic house in the wrong part of town sold after the first private showing. Hearing this felt like the equivalent of being hit in the gut. I tried to act casual, but the tears exposed the truth. Seeing my grief, Lex convinced me to bid her creation farewell. I was hesitant, but I knew he was right.
Days before the house would no longer belong to my parents, we took the trek on a cloudy evening. “Does she see me?”, I wondered as I crossed the threshold that bore the final phase of her life. It looked odd empty, reminding me of the countless walk-throughs my mother made during its construction many years ago. Yet, it wasn’t the beginning, rather, it was the end. I was forced to face the truth that I could no longer deny existed - I had to say goodbye.
We lit incense and wafted the tainted smoke through the vacant rooms that no longer hold her presence, just memories. We laughed and cried while we took turns sharing stories and kind words about our time there. Although it was darkly funeral-like, it was exactly what I needed. Before exiting through the heavy wooden door for the last time, I set an envelope on the hearth of the beautiful stone fireplace. It was addressed to the new family that would soon call this home.
This is what it read:
“Hello, my name is Ruth and my mother designed and built your new home. She took great pride in creating her dream house and I hope your family will have many happy memories here. I thought if you knew her name, you might appreciate this piece of art just a little bit more. She was Mary West Hunt - and she was a great woman. - The McLeod & Hunt Family.”
I know moving was the right choice for my dad. I also know that my mom would understand. I hope she read my note and knows how much she inspired me. Lastly, I know that no matter who calls this place “home”, it will forever remain a loving tribute to my mother - the woman that taught me to never give up on my dreams. I love and miss you, mah.
Let’s talk about soon, I’ll bring the coffee. -R.