I adore the band Blue Rodeo. They represent everything I love about music. They are real; they write about things that matter to me; and they have true chops. When you go see them live they sound exactly like they do in your living room on that CD you’ve played over and over. Needless to say I have been listening to them for decades.
One of their songs, “It Could Happen to You” starts off with six lines, that from the moment I heard them, spoke to my heart. It was like they wrote those six lines about my parents, and about the house they consciously chose to make into their home. (And by process of a little DNA and a whole lot of love, my home as well).
This past February, without warning, that house, that home, was traumatically taken from them in a fire that engulfed nearly every corner of its two thousand square feet. Nothing was salvageable.
But my parents are very clear about what is important in life. They are beyond grateful that no one was hurt, and that no one was even home when the blaze began.
They understand how lucky they were and they feel very blessed to be unharmed and here on this earth with their family and friends.
At the same time however, in amongst the “You’re so lucky”s; “Thank God”s; and the “It could have been so much worse”s; there is still enormous loss and unspoken grief. A loss I think few of us, certainly perhaps almost none of us from my generation, and few from even their generation, can truly understand.
Today in 2016, we buy a house or hire someone to build one. We certainly do none of the manual labour ourselves and there are dozens of people behind the scenes who make the purchase, or the build, all easily come together so we can walk in to a pre existing house – and boom – call it a home. Although there is an argument to be made that we work hard for the money that buys that house, we do precious little physical work.
Those of us who do put some sweat into our abode, usually do so in an aesthetic, supplemental way. Finishing a basement here, building a closet there, laying down our own flooring, or slopping a coat of paint or two on the walls. Doing “small renovations” ourselves sometimes, but really in the grand scheme of things, not much actual physical work ever goes into the house we call home.
Instead we hand over some money, and purchase a nice little pre-packaged, matchy-matchy house that does a pretty good job of keeping up with some family called the Jones’.
Not my parents. They did nothing BUT physical work. And make no mistake they didn’t ‘renovate’ a house. They ‘rebuilt’ a house. They ‘created’ a home.
When my parents moved to Nicholsville in 1972 they were far from wealthy. Heck, they were even far from middle class. But then when I think about it, everyone was “far from” I guess … so maybe the lines of “class” we’re blurrier back then. Or maybe just no one cared.
So forty-three years ago they scraped together enough money to purchase an old farm house on Harmony Road. When I say old, I mean old. Not heritage, not well-maintained, not just a-little-dusty. Old. Although structurally sound, it was, for all intensive purposes, abandoned, and hadn’t been cared for in a very very long time.
My mother’s family questioned her sanity but she would hear nothing of it. My parents had a vision. No money. Few resources. But they had a dream.
They lived in one room at a time working every second they had free to make the rest of the house liveable. In the walls that they tore down they found wooden knitting needles and butter prints. In old attics they found spinning wheels and wooden washboards. They uncovered fireplaces and bake ovens. They levelled, straightened, sawed, cut, hammered, tore down and built up.
They converted old kitchens into woodsheds. They moved doors and windows. Mom would literally pound nails out of old boards, so Dad could re-use those same nails in other parts of the house. They painted. The sewed curtains. They put in wood. They shingled. They poured cement. All by themselves. They worked side by side. Day and night. And when my brother and I came along they just kept working.
There are endless stories of what they did to the house. What they did to make it liveable. What they did to make it a home. Every story they used to tell me was told with a pride that I now see comes from working hard – for yourself and for your family. For your dream.
And that dream came true for them – because they made it come true.
So when we (including me) try to put things in perspective after the fire, and think well-meaning things, like “it was just a house” … I don’t know if we can truly understand the enormity of what went into that house to make it a home. How they reclaimed it. I don’t know if we can put ourselves in their shoes, because they literally brought four walls back to life. And the fact is – no one does that anymore. No one really has to. The concept is somewhat foreign to us.
But I do know – if I had to work for something that hard – if I put that much blood, sweat, tears and love into something – it would ‘matter’. Those four walls certainly wouldn’t be “everything”. But they would matter.
And while I do know in my head it was “just a house” – I think only my Mom and Dad may really know the truth – that maybe ‘that house’ was just a little bit more.
Here are the first six lines of that Blue Rodeo Song. To me, every single word always felt like it was written for them.
“They broke off the locks and they opened the doors. Pushed out the windows and painted the floors. Grew a little garden outside in the western sand.
Raised up the roof till it touched the sky. Picked up the pieces that were left to die. Brought this building back with healing hands.”
Raised up the Roof ‘Til it Touched the Sky.
They sure as hell did.