History in a Home

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It was the first house they ever owned. 1955.
They should have become homeowners years before, but they didn’t. Here is why.
In 1940, he was fresh out of Auburn and newly hired to teach vocational-agriculture in the local high school. She was a secretary in an office at the court house.
The plan was that they would marry and settle down to small town life. After a few years, with two incomes, family land, and an uncle who was a carpenter, they would build a house. Then they would raise a family, become pillars of the community, and grow old together. But for them, and so many like them, things did not go as planned.
December 7, 1941.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.They married anyway, and a year later he was sent overseas to defeat Hitler (which he did, but it took a while), so they were essentially newlyweds when he returned to civilian life.What followed was an odyssey that was all too familiar to returning veterans.
Although he had been assured by a grateful nation that his job would be waiting for him, he could not bring himself to turn out the young man who had replaced him when he left. So he took a job in Montgomery and moved his family (there was a baby now)  into a renovated tenant house near his mother’s home in the suburbs of Slapout, Alabama.  It was the best they could do.  Homebuilding had all but ceased during the war, and it would be years before construction caught up with demand.
From there they moved to Selma, where everything available was being converted into living space. Briefly they made their home above a garage, then they moved into the first floor of in one of the city’s fine old homes.  Finally they settled into a nice two-bedroom apartment in what was once the Selma Infirmary.
In 1950 they left “The Queen City of the Black Belt” for the little town where they had met and where he and a friend were going into the tractor business. There they rented a shot-gun house that was built by that carpenter-uncle who had taken advantage of the housing shortage, built rentals around town, and had become a successful small time real estate agent.
That was when they began talking about a home of their own.
It did not come right away.
A combination of the Eisenhower administration agricultural policies and the growth of the timber industry in the county put an end to the local cotton economy, so no one was buying tractors and such.  The business closed, and he returned to teaching school.
Still, they wanted that home and with the help of a loan through the G.I. Bill, they finally got it.
They took plans ordered from a magazine, and on land inherited from her grandfather, they built a modest three bedroom, bath-and-a-half ranch bungalow. Around it they planted grass to make a lawn, and bushes – camellia, roses, elaeagnus, grancy greybeard, and quince – to border the house and accent the property.
Then they did what they had wanted to do so many years before – raise a family, become pillars of the community, and grow old together.
They were home. Later he told of how he worried that they might not be able to meet their monthly mortgage note, for all the other expenses that came with home ownership pushed their budget to the limit. But they managed.
Years passed, and as their needs and circumstances changed, so did the house.
Eventually a large “family room” was added, with another half-bath. There the husband and wife, by then retired, aged gracefully watching TV – football in its season, “The Wheel” most every night — and enjoying visits from family and friends.
A loyal Democrat with a tincture of New Deal liberalism, he became a noted raconteur whose tales of courthouse politics were legend.
A  loyal Methodist without a hint of sanctimony, she cared for those who needed care and it was generally believed by believers that (as a nephew put it) “if she does not have a seat waiting for her in Glory, then it’s all a lie.”
They hoped to die together, as they lived together, in that house. But once again, things did not go as planned. Still, it is easy to think that at the end, they imagined themselves there, in  the house that grew old with them, the house that was home.
So it fell the lot of the son that they raised there, to sell the empty house to family friends so they can make it theirs.
He has a home of his own, a home where his family is making their memories.
And memories, unlike houses, are portable. You can carry them wherever you go.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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