By Joe Rector
Not too long ago, I read a Facebook post by Kim Morton. She was a student of mine back when I was young. She and her family are leaving the house her mother called home for 40 years. I’ll steal just a few words from her post to let you get a sense of how she feels:
“Tonight is the last night I will sleep in this house. We’ve sorted through pictures, letters, newspaper clippings, artifacts, clothing, jewelry, furniture, glassware, and every other sort of thing one collects over forty years. With the sorting came funny stories, not so funny stories, laughing hysterically, crying hysterically and feeling numb and number that this is happening.”
Home… it’s such a wonderful word. Only “family” comes close to evoking the same kind of emotions of all kinds. Kim and her family share memories from every year of life. When the time came to leave the house, her family had the chance to relive some wonderful moments. I know how she feels.
In my life, I have called 2 places home. The first was located on Ball Camp Pike. Mother and Daddy built this house in the 1940’s. They worked at Southern Extract. After finishing shifts, both traveled to the country, as Ball Camp was known at that time, and mixed concrete to make the blocks that carpenters used to put the place together. The house was cozy until Jim and I arrived. Then a new kitchen was built and the old one was converted into a bedroom for us.
Throughout our childhood, home was Rt. 18, Ball Camp Pike. We warmed ourselves by coal stoves and then by a black smoke-coughing furnace. In warmer weather, we opened all the windows and relied on a single floor fan to suck enough cool air into the house to keep the sweat away. All five of us somehow managed to share one bathroom.
Over the years, we celebrated birthdays, Easters, and Christmas at home. Extended family dropped in on those occasions. At the center of all gatherings was an old round wooden kitchen table. We extended the table to give everyone a seat for meals by inserting a leaf or two. When we were in high school, our friends visited and sat at the same table. Mother had a way about her that made teens loosen up and talk and feel right at home.
The first somber event to hit our home was Daddy’s passing. He was sick for a year with lung cancer, and he bounced between the hospital and home too many times in those last few months. That house served as the gathering place for family and friends, but it always seemed just a bit lonely with him gone.
The next event many years later was Mother’s death. She, too, fought the ravages of lung cancer. Earlier in her life, she stated that if she ever became gravely ill, we boys were to place her in a nursing home. However, when her final days approached, she asked us if she had to go to such a place and let us know that what she really wanted was to be at home. We honored her request, and she passed in her sleep one night. Again, that home stood as a gathering place for all of us, but this time the emptiness only sharpened the pain of loss with her gone.
Amy and I married in 1974. Four years later, we built our home 300 feet behind Mother’s house. She warned us not to make a path to her door, but when Lacey arrived in 1981, it was she who wore the grass into the mud on her way to our place. We had to add onto the 1250 square foot home when Dallas’ arrival was imminent. A few years later, we added a family room and kept on until the house had doubled in size.
This home is where we’ve experienced arguments, tragedies, and more wonderful times than any persons deserve. Christmases were special when the kids were little. We’d finish opening Santa gifts and then make our way to Mother’s. It was the best of both worlds. Amy’s parents and an uncle and aunt also came to Knoxville for the holiday.
Lacey left for college, and a few years later, Dallas did the same. The house seemed suddenly too big and empty. Over the years, Amy and I have settled down into our life here as a couple might settle on a comfortable couch. We love our time together, and nothing brings us more joy than to come home to each other at the end of a work day.
Neither of my two homes were perfect. We had plenty of rough times in both of them. What mattered most of all was that we were family in both places, and the love we shared there sustained us through the toughest occasions. Mother’s house is owned by a family that has reintroduced love and laughter and wonderful memories. I hope that when Amy and I leave this world that our house will also become a new “home” for a family.