Forgive me if I speak in metaphors and allegories, but for some reason, this is how I have begun to view the world; this is how everything comes to me lately.
But every now and then I find myself having to step back, re-survey the landscape, get my bearings and begin anew. Right now, I am at that place.
I know it sounds rather cliché to say, but it seems like only yesterday that my two children left at home were only babies. Then, our goals were simple. We had only to raise these two children to adulthood while putting aside a little here and a little there to assure that they would be able to attend college.
For so long this is the end toward which we have been working. For so long this has been our purpose in life.
But now the children are older, and we have almost met those two goals. Pretty soon the two of them will be off to college leaving the two of us to our own devices. What do we do then? What will be our purpose? This is what my wife asked me as my head rested on the pillow awaiting sleep. And I really wished she had not done so because then sleep would not come. I instead spent the night staring into the darkness and contemplating this question.
However, toward morning a narrative came to mind. Toward morning an old image returned.
As the story was related to me, my grandfather began his adult, married life sharecropping on the very land on which his family, my ancestors, were held as slaves. However, the white owner, who was incidentally his great uncle, was so impressed by his work ethic and mental acumen that he promised to bequeath him the little house he had built for his family, and the bit of land he occupied at the time.
You can probably guess what happened next. Upon the landowner’s death, his heir, my grandfather’s cousin, refused to honor the agreement. He insisted instead that his father had left my grandfather the house, but not the land.
My grandfather responded by taking a job on the graveyard shift at a new manufacturing plant that had just opened in
He did this until he had amassed enough money to buy his own land elsewhere. And when that day came, he and a few of his relatives broke the house into manageable pieces, loaded it onto the back of a flatbed truck, and moved the house onto his new property.
During the years following that move, he continued to build and add to that little house little by little, piecemeal by piecemeal. With what little money he earned, he purchased lumber and other things he needed, and he bartered and traded for labor. With the help of his sons and relatives, he managed to add a second story as well as additional bedrooms. In fact, he worked on that house up until the eve of his death, and with the insurance my grandmother received, she finished the work he had started.
I remember playing in the yard one day as he and my great-great uncle El Duffie worked on some part of the house. Being the curious, precocious child that I was, I sauntered over and asked him what he was doing.
He responded with, “I’m building a home.”
I responded with a question. “You are building a house?”
He patiently answered, “No, I’m building a home.”
He went on to try to explain the difference between a house and a home, a distinction which was lost on me then. He explained that he wanted to provide a place of relative comfort and safety for his wife and children and me. He went on to say that long after his children left his home, he wanted them to have a place to return to, a place filled with loving memories that would always call them, beckon them back.
And he added that he wanted to build a home to which I, too, would always want to return, to which I would want to bring my children and my grandchildren so that they might know a place of respite, a place of relative comfort and safety to which they might bring their children and grandchildren and so on.
My grandfather has passed away. And recently my grandmother passed away. But that home still stands, and I still possess my key. I return there as often as time permits. And no matter how low I am, no matter how life has beaten me down, joy comes from just stepping foot on the grounds. My strength is renewed by the musty smell of years and years of life and living. I am inspired by the memories that reside there.
I have written often of what that house still means to me, most recently here.
So, today I shall begin working toward a new goal. I have found my purpose. I am going to build me a home.