The year was 2008. A couple years earlier, I had moved my grandmother from Fort Worth, Texas, to Hays. Now in 2008, we had finally sold her home. It was time to clean and empty the house. We were going to keep the “valuable” stuff, sell what we could, and trash or donate the rest. As I walked through Pop and Mammaw’s home those last few days, a flood of memories from my age of 10 years old through the next 50 plus years were contained in that three-bedroom home on River Oaks Boulevard in Fort Worth.
My grandparents, Pop and Mammaw, represented stability in my life. My parents divorced when I was young and we lost our home in a bankruptcy. Between the fourth and seventh grade, I was in five different schools in five different towns in two different states, finally ending up in Kansas. It was a turbulent time with the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and though young, I felt the tension and anxiousness.
Yet, I could go to and feel safe at Pop and Mammaw’s house. There, everything was the same. I slept on the same floor using the same quilt pallet (that is what we called it). I put my feet up on the same couch. Each morning we had the same breakfast of scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy. Supper usually would include fresh corn bread and many times boiled potatoes. The board games and toys were exactly where they were the last time I was there. I could walk in the same garden. Mammaw’s pecan pie was just as delicious. Pop’s rod and reels were still in the back of his pickup, ready to head out for fishing. I knew exactly where to find a pair of pliers or other tools. If we headed to the farm, we fed the cows in the same way, from the same feed bin, with the same road trip where I would drift off to sleep on the way home, leaning next to Pop.
Pop and Mammaw’s stuff was not nice. It was old, scratched, faded, and, most importantly, used. It was used by the family, every day, at every Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacation that we were there with Pop and Mamaw.
Most importantly, there was love at Pop and Mammaw’s. Pop always had a twinkle in his blue eyes when he and my grandmother talked. They always loved each other; they were always best friends. We kids were greeted at each visit with smothering hugs and kisses.
When we meet with families in my office, one topic of conversation is the home, and the “stuff” in it. It can be an emotional conversation. One question is about the importance of the house. Do they need to keep it in the family? How long can they live there? If someone needs a walker or a wheelchair, will it work? Does someone in the family want the home after mom and dad are gone?
We also need to be sure that we talk about the “stuff” in the house. Who gets what? Who wants what? Does anybody want anything? Should they make a list?
The other thing that comes up in our conversations is about how many times my aged clients have set an example for their children. Many times, they have been married for 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years. It was not always easy. There were turbulent times, but they were there. The kids could always come home, no matter the difficulties of life. The kids could feel the warmth. The home represented stability. The home represented not only the way the world was, but the way the world should be.
So it was with me. My grandparent’s home represented stability to me. It represented how to love someone. It represented a time of reason in a time of unreason. Their old furniture was a blanket of warmth, support and love.
My wife and I have owned our home for almost 20 years. Our home is full of stuff. It has great memories. It has seen graduations, marriages, deaths and births. It has heard laughter and crying. It has felt excitement, joy and disappointment.
Though I enjoy traveling, there is nothing quite like getting home, slipping into the house like slipping into a favorite pair of shoes. I hope for my family it represents some of the same warmth and security of Pop and Mammaw’s home.
One day our homes might not work for us. I know that. One day someone will have to decide what to do with the stuff in it. I know that.
What I want my family to realize is that the home and what is in it, are just stuff. However, the intangibles, the warmth and love, are what I want them to take from it. I want them to take that and build their own place of stability for their family. I want them to have for their family what I had with Pop and Mammaw.
No, there was not a lot of “stuff” that I took from Pop and Mammaw’s house that day in 2008, but there were sure a lot of memories and lessons of life that I still cherish to this day.
Randy Clinkscales founded Clinkscales Elder Law Practice in 1985. He is a 1980 graduate of Washburn Law School and has represented clients at the administrative, county, state and federal levels.