This is a photo of my grandparents’ old house in Beaumont, Texas. I took it nine days ago.
The house looks small to my eyes now, though of course as a child it felt palatial: so many big rooms, sofas cool to the touch, cool floors too, even those winding further back into the house, deep soft carpet. The garden full of chameleons I watched turn red on the brick walls, a sandbox my grandfather made for me, and swings.
When I was very little — younger than six — this house meant safety, security, and peace. It meant good food, praise, friendship, and love. It feels impossible to overstate this central truth: my grandparents made me who I am today. They rescued me from the unstable — neglectful — life with my mother and her boyfriends, over and over.
Nine days ago in Texas my aunt Lois and I filled every moment we had together with conversation. We have always been close, almost like sisters, despite our nearly 20 years’ age difference. This post makes clear how and why we always had such a connection — but the truth is too that we ‘never meet a stranger’ (in her father’s, my grandfather’s, words), and we are able to talk for hour upon hour. No exaggeration, the first day we saw each other this time, we managed to talk for eight hours straight. Yep!
I’ve always known — I remember, indeed — that I stayed with my grandparents in times of particular crisis. I was happy with them, and always longed to be there, so I have always taken comfort in my memories of all this. My conversations with Lois two weeks ago revealed a bit more, a couple of surprises: that at one point I stayed with them for at least a year, and that Lois assumed they were going to adopt me.
Lois was at university during this time, so knows few details. But it’s clear that they all considered my mother a danger to me. I don’t know why they didn’t adopt me, but I suspect that my grandparents deferred to my father (their son) — which, as we know, sent me from the frying pan into the fire. But they weren’t to know that. In any case, I was taken aback last week by the realisation that everyone knew I wasn’t safe. I am struck afresh by this refrain of my life: it wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t me; it was his/her doing all along.
I hadn’t been back to Beaumont in 20 years. My parents’ hold on me — my father’s wedge-driving, my. mother’s toxicity — effectively kept me away from a place and people I now know I truly love — and who truly love me.
Lois took me to the house, to the school where my grandmother taught; I saw my beloved cousin again, and I met his three beautiful children for the first time. Lois also ordered an autumn bouquet, which we placed on Ommie’s and Granddaddy’s graves, which I’d never seen. Being with them there was joyful really; in my mind I thanked them, told them about their great grandchildren, and let them know how happy I am now in my life, so much due to them.
My own parents are both gone. My father doesn’t have a burial place, and I scattered my mother’s ashes last week in San Antonio (more on this soon). With this trip to Virginia and then to Texas, I feel set free, an orphan released into love. I embrace the times with my grandparents, and all of my Texas relatives, with a full heart. It’s impossible to know what goes on behind the closed door of any house, but I do know that this house always felt like home.