This afternoon, I broke away from the office and played a round of golf out at The Hollows. I wanted to go somewhere that I didn't have to wait and a place where they would allow me to walk. There's no better way to drop four pounds than walking 6 miles in 90 degree heat. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that I shot a 79, which is about as good as I can play...but that isn't what this blog is about. It was what happened after golf that compels me to write what follows.
On the drive out to the golf course, it occurred to me that my trip would take me past my Mom and Dad's old place, The Promised Land. Believe it or not, it was to be the first time I've passed that old driveway since they moved out seven years ago. I hadn't been intentionally avoiding the place, it's just that my day to day travels never take me that far west on 33 anymore. As soon as I passed the South Anna River, I saw the old mailbox on the right. Without slowing down, I glanced up through the trees and caught a glimpse. I told myself that maybe I should stop by on my way home and take a picture of the place. The entire time I was playing golf, that house would creep in and out of my mind. I wonder what it looks like? I wonder who lives there now?
The Promised Land was a special place for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it was the only house that my parents ever owned in their 80 plus years on this earth, albeit briefly. Secondly, it truly was a family project. Although we employed a certified builder to oversee construction, many hours of sweat equity was volunteered into the building of the house by family members and close friends. It was a labor of love, the digging, grating, lifting, hammering, and hauling off of trash that occupied many Saturday's of our lives that summer. Once it was finished, it was an amazing thing to see my folks move in to the one place that they were convinced was a demonstration of God's faithfulness. I don't remember exactly, but I think they spent ten years in that house, before their failing health made the upkeep of such a spread impossible for them to keep up with. Besides, they had quite a bit of equity built up, and would need that money in their remaining years. But, what a wonderful ten years it was. As I walked alone down the green fairways of The Hollows, I thought about all of the Thanksgivings spent there...starting with a work day which involved climbing up on the roof to remove the sticks that had gathered and cleaning out the gutters. Then there were those long tables set up end to end decorated with cornucopias, acorns, and fancy placecards. So many memories of football games in the front yard, and Dad letting the kids take shooting and archery target practice under the power lines.
But, when golf was done and I got in the car, I started getting cold feet. Part of me didn't want to see it. Suppose the people who lived there were a bunch of weirdos? That's not how I wanted to remember The Promised Land, as a whacked out Prepper Compound!
When the moment of truth arrived, I slowed down and made the sharp left turn into the winding driveway. It seemed more narrow than I had remembered. Maybe the trees had grown fuller. Then I noticed the signs nailed to several of those oversized trees, blaze orange backgrounds with large black letters... NO TRESPASSING, and PRIVATE PROPERTY. There must have been five of them. Then several more menacing signs...NOTHING I HAVE IS WORTH YOUR LIFE, and my personal favorite...IF I FIND YOU HERE AT NIGHT, NO ONE WILL FIND YOU IN THE MORNING. Suddenly, this trip down memory lane seemed like a terrible idea. But, by this time I was almost to the house, so I decided to press on.
Everything looked different. The new owners had built a shed and a make shift carport underneath which were parked three late model cars. My heart was in my throat as I got out of the car and noticed all of the junk lined up against the saplings along the east end of the property. I felt like I was at Fred Sanford's junkyard, not the feeling I had hoped for. I made my way up the porch steps and knocked on the door. I figured that I better announce myself. The homemade signs weren't exactly welcoming, so I didn't want anyone mistaking me for a thief. After what seemed like an eternity, and older man with white hair and two large, unkempt eyebrows answered the door...
Hello...my name is Doug Dunnevant, I heard myself say. My parents used to live here. Believe it or not, I haven't been out this way since they moved out. They are both passed now. Anyway, I hope you don't mind, but I was just curious to see the place once again. If you don't have any objection, I'd like to take a picture of the house.
The old man seemed unimpressed, guarded. He looked me up and down a couple of times, then spurt out, Was Mr. Dunnevant your father?
Yes! Yes, he was. Are you the same family who we sold this house to?
Seven years ago, he answered with a small smile.
Wow! I can't believe you remembered his name.
I probably wouldn't have ordinarily, he began in a thick foreign accent, but your father, he came to see me a couple of years after we bought the house. He was a very nice man, your father. I remember I had to help him climb these stairs, he was having trouble.
Wait, my Dad came to see you?
Yes he did. He, like you, wanted to see the place again.
I talked with the old man as he took me around the exterior of the house, telling me about the changes he had made and the ones he had planned for later. He told me that his accent was Hungarian, that he had come to America in 2002, working all over the country in nuclear power plants. He travelled a lot and he and his large family always had to live in cramped apartments. He hated the apartments. This house was an answer to prayer. Your Father would have liked that.
He went on to tell me how very happy he and his family are to live here. They finally have a home, he said. From the looks of the place, he indeed was doing his best to make it look like some Hungarian backwoods campsite, what with the large cooking pit in the backyard where Dad's garden used to be. The fact that he so obviously loved the place was a great encouragement to me.
But then, just before I left, he said something that nearly made me cry...
When your father came to see me, he sat at my table and drank coffee. He looked around the room and seemed sad. He told me that he had never wanted to leave, but had to because he couldn't keep up with everything that needed to be done. But, he was a very kind man, your father. He was glad that we were so happy here...
I pulled away from the house, and back down the driveway and safely onto 33. There was a giant knot in my throat all the way home, and even now as I write this, it's a hard thing to contemplate. Never once did Dad complain about having to leave his house. Never once did he raise an objection. I totally missed it...and that's probably exactly the way he wanted it.