A House with a Soul

By Harriet Outlaw
Posted 6/3/16

Home is where the heart is – I get it. But my heart is where my home is. I am one of those few lucky people in today’s world who lives in a house that gives meaning to the term “a sense of place.” Although this house is not the actual …

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A House with a Soul

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Home is where the heart is – I get it. But my heart is where my home is. I am one of those few lucky people in today’s world who lives in a house that gives meaning to the term “a sense of place.” Although this house is not the actual structure I grew up in, it is an exact replica, and somehow all those memories made in the old homeplace came to live here with us. The residue of powerful emotions from the old house dwells here and is felt in a real way. When people who remember the old house come to visit, they are soon recalling things that happened when they were there, blending the past with the present.

“We rolled a doll head down those stairs and scared poor Mike to death. I will never forget the look on his face. Maybe it seems mean now, but then it was hilarious.”

“This is the spot where they laid out Papa’s body. I can never come in this room without thinking of how that impacted me.”

“We had such wonderful school-wide Easter egg hunts in this yard.”

“We sat on this porch many a night and told stories.”

Let me tell you a story about a house. Oscar and Harriet Brill each grew up in Bay Minette in the 1920s, but had moved to Mobile for work. There they met, and were amazed at all they had in common, right down to the same birthday. So, of course they got married. What hard workers and determined people they were! They paid down on a little Mom and Pop grocery store in Toulminville and lived in the adjoining house, raising four children. Mother worked that little Hill Top Grocery day in and day out, and Daddy took over to close up the store after he got home from work.

Near the store, there was a house in which my Daddy had lived as a child for awhile. Every time they walked past that house, Daddy would say, “Someday I am going to live there again.” Sure enough, he did. They saved every penny they could and purchased the house when it came up for auction during the Depression. Life there was typical for a poor family in the 1930s. Walls were papered in newspapers, fireplaces were used for heat, and the ground could be seen through the cracks in the floor. There always seemed to be room for any kinfolk needing a place to live for a while, so the house was dubbed the  “Big House.” It is a good thing that house seemed to expand as needed, because five more children were added to the family within the next couple of decades.

Year in and year out, life in the Big House was filled with work, laughter, grandchildren, celebrations and even death. It stood against the storms and fought for life, winning that battle until the 1970s, when my widowed mother had to move, leaving a part of her spirit right there in that house. The house fell into disrepair, a grand old lady in her declining years, graceful, but broken and hurting. Death for the house was a blessing. After it was demolished the house lived only in our hearts and memories until my husband and I decided to build a replica of the Big House so my Mother could return “home” before she passed. So ground was broken to re-create that homeplace. Mother died before we could move into the new old house, but she saw it and gave it her blessing. On the last day she visited the house under construction, a baby hawk flew in. It would not leave even though the house was not closed in. On the day my mother died, six weeks later, my brother opened the back door and the hawk flew past him into the sky. That hawk showed us that my Mother’s spirit would always be in this house.

This house, which we call Benulee, taken from the Egyptian symbol of resurrection, is home to yet another generation. And another. And another. Here new emotions are joining those already in residence. Through family ups and downs, the house represents the constancy of love shared here. My mind knows a house is not needed to hold on to your precious memories, but every day my heart counts it a joy that we can have a tangible reminder of those things most valuable.

My mother used to say that perhaps some houses have souls. If that is true, this one certainly does. Sometimes I think Heaven can’t be much better than life right here in this house. But then, again, if Heaven is paradise and all will be perfect, the mansion prepared for me there will be just like this one – with a rocking chair on the front porch.