At the end of this month, I will turn 32 years old and in the course of my life, the places that I have considered “home” have changed often. My childhood home from the age of five was sold when I was twenty years old. My college years were spent moving from one cookie cutter apartment to the next. Since Brent and I were married, we have had five different addresses, the last - our current house and the place we plan to dig deep roots.
But throughout my life, there has been one constant. One place where every single thing feels as familiar to me as it did at the age of six and fourteen and twenty five. My grandparents, Richard and Patricia (Dick and Pat) have lived on a five acre plot of land in a rural part of Johnston County for forty two years.
Every inch of their property holds some memory for me. The old converted tobacco barns where I used to I scoop out handfuls of sweet oats from a huge barrel to give to their horse, Robert. The upstairs of one barn where my cousins and I once drew out the rules of the “Grandkids Club” . The pond at the bottom of their property where we spent summers with fishing poles in the water. The metal troughs meant to water the horses that we used as makeshift swimming pools. The place where rose bushes now grow used to have a swing set that all nine of their grandchildren played on until we all grew up and and it turned rusty. The shed that houses the old wooden sawhorses that Papa used to saddle up like real horses to the amusement of a roving band of grandchildren. The front bedroom of their house, built in the late 1800s, that we all have sworn was haunted and no one would ever sleep in.
Today in my papa’s dresser drawers, stacks of white undershirts sit neatly folded just as I always found them as a little girl. It was tradition when we were kids to wear his undershirts as makeshift pajamas when we spent the night. The distinct smell of his freshly washed undershirts, like love and cedar, still remain one of my favorite scents.
Papa Dick and Mama Pat have been married for sixty four years. In that time they have had four children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Mama Pat and I sat on the couch last Saturday looking at a photo of our entire family taken at a beach trip last June. It’s a huge group when you put us all together and it’s amazing to think that all of us exist because these two people decided to run off and get married when Papa was 18 and grandma was 17.
On this property, my grandmother has bred and raised her prized German Shepherds. For years my grandfather has grown a vegetable garden big enough to feed the county. We have rode hundreds of miles in a loop around their property on Papa’s golf cart. Here we have celebrated holidays and birthdays. They’ve held going away parties and welcome home parties. It has been a home to dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, cows, ginnies, and ducks.
Every member of my family has their own set of stories and cherished memories here. There are rooms and corners and places on these five acres that have engrained themselves as deeply on our being as the genetic makeup that we share with Papa and Mama Pat. I am part Oklahoma Muskogee from my Papa and straw bales stacked high to the barn ceiling. I descend from the accordian playing beauty in old photographs of my grandmother and afternoon naps in the hammock that hung between two trees in their front yard.
Papa is a retired green beret and career military man. Charismatic and a comedian. Gentle and hardworking. Even after retiring twice, he’s never one to sit still long. Mama Pat is a stellar cook with the warmest laugh. Her potato salad is legendary. She never let us get away with anything but was always the first to offer ice cream after we finished our dinner. They are often heard picking on one another. This weekend, while taking a video of them I asked Papa what his secret was to being married so long. He replied, “If any young lady is lucky enough to find a man just like me and marry him, then she will have 64 years of happiness and bliss.” To which my grandmother rolled her eyes at him, laughed and said “Be very patient and have a good sense of humor.”
Sometimes I wonder if they truly understand the depths of their impact on me- On all of us. I wonder if they ever feel the magnitude of their legacy in the 19 faces that all hold some small resemblance to their own.
These are my grandparents, Dick and Pat. They are the foundation for my beliefs about what it means to be a family and to work hard and about what really is most important in life.
These are my grandparents and this is what I know of love.