Up In Smoke

I was seventeen and my husband was twenty-one when we got married. I thought we were quite mature for our age, turns out we had a lot of growing up to do. We moved away from my family and closer to John’s family.

I came from a family of 7: mom, dad, 2 older brothers, and 2 younger brothers. I was an only daughter and sandwiched smack-dab in the middle. I was not the spoiled brat one might imagine. However, I was spoiled by never having to lift a finger around the house.  Mom thought there’d be plenty of that later in life, so anything of a domestic nature was mom’s business. Mom loved me dearly, and she meant well, but she didn’t do me any favors by sheltering me from housework.

John and I married young; we were in love. He was a hard worker. He had actually worked odd jobs since he was a very young teenager. He managed money well and bought his own first car. When we married, he still lived at home, but he had a steady job and was bringing home a decent paycheck. I, on the other hand, had never cleaned my room, much less a house or an apartment, I had never been grocery shopping, and I had never cooked a meal or even helped cook a meal.

Even though I had never done anything remotely domestic, my life’s ambition was to be a wife and a mother. I never wanted to be anything else.  Even though I could have been labeled a domestic failure, I was overflowing with love for my husband and the family we would have.

My mother-in-law took me under her wing and loved me like I was one of her own. She never belittled me or made me feel that I was anything but special.  She was never intrusive. We lived about a mile apart, but she never just showed up on my doorstep, she never came over without an invitation. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t extend an invitation nearly often enough.

In contrast, her door was always open. There seemed to be a steady flow of friends and family coming and going at any given time. Mary Bee “Mom” expressed love by doing. Family dinners always included friends and acquaintances. The homestead was a gathering place, a place of comfort, a place of peace.

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We spent a lot of our spare time at my in-law’s. Our family grew, we had 2 sons who adored their Mamaw. She rocked them and read to them on the sofa in the living room. The large antique wooden desk was always stocked with paper and pencils, fresh artwork by all the grandkids hung by magnets on the refrigerator door.  Shelves made by my father-in-law held various collectables; there were souvenirs from far away places visited by the kids, photos of grandkids and great-grandkids, and an owl collection.  The fuel-oil stove was the focal point of the living room and had kept the family warm for close to 60 years. An upright piano sat in the living room; most of the brothers and sisters had grown up practicing piano in that room, at that piano. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas it was a tradition for John’s older sister, Janie, to play Christmas carols while others gathered around to sing.

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The house was home-away-from-home to so many. There were memories tucked away in every room. The love was palpable. Friends and family loved gathering there, which they did often.

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My father-in-law passed away in 1988. John’s older sister Janie moved into the home so Mom wouldn’t be alone. She and my mother-in-law kept the love and tradition going for another 28 years.

When Mom passed away in 2011, the family was happy that Janie wanted to stay and continue family tradition. Janie married a wonderful man and they both looked after the homestead and kept the traditions and memories alive.

That house held so many memories; birthdays, holidays, new babies, tears of sadness, tears of joy, and so much love you could cut it with a knife.

Then the unthinkable happened. Friday, January 25th, around 9 am, the phone rang, Janie was on the other end and I could sense the stress in her voice.

“Is John home?”

“No, he’s running errands in town … is everything okay?”

“No. It’s not. The house burned down this morning.”

Shocked silence.

I managed to snap back into reality. “Oh Janie … I am so sorry … are you okay … is everyone okay? What can I do?”

“We’re okay. Please call the family.”

The calls were placed. It is so difficult to break bad news to someone over the phone. The ache in my heart felt like a gaping hole in my chest. I can only imagine how the family felt.

Charlie and Janie did get out safely, but with just the clothes on their back.  Friends and family have been gracious and generous. People have donated clothing, household goods, groceries and money. They are in their 60’s and 70’s and are starting over.

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This story is both an ending and a new beginning. It’s a story of love and hope. It’s a story of seasons. Winter seems bare and sometimes muddy and ugly. There may be a few days of beauty when the snow falls and covers the ground with a blanket of white, but Winter in Indiana is cold, blustery and generally unpleasant. The hope is in knowing that the future brings Spring and with Spring comes life; the trees bud, the grass turns green, wildlife begins to stir.  What lies dormant for a season blossoms into life and beauty. And so will it be with the Newby’s and their beloved homestead.

This story is not over … we will remember what we had, but we will press on to the future, which holds not just one yet unwritten chapter, but many.

3 Responses

  1. Wow!
    That was quite a story… You have been so blessed – wonderful parents, a good husband and bonus! a wonderful mother-in-law!!!!

    Your mom sounds just like mine. She too felt that I had the rest of my life to be ‘domestic’ so I did not have to work around the house.

    But my dream of a family didn’t quite turn out like yours did… but I am so happy for you. Reading your story made me feel good.

    And then reaching the point where Janie calls to tell you about the house was like an anti-climax… May God bless each one of you abundantly.

    I am looking forward to reading all the other posts on your blog.

  2. I love reading your writings, Lydia is right, you have a wonderful talent. Thank you for sharing this warm and touching story.

  3. Hope, you have such a talent for writing….such a beautiful story of love and family…thanks for sharing….

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Wrong Hands

Cartoons by John Atkinson. ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands

White Elephant in the Room

random insight from an unwanted houseguest

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