- The House That Built Me
#VQRTS, #VQRTrueStory, grandparents, grandfather, home, family history, nostalgia, death, childhood, memory, loss, Louisiana
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[End Page 14]
In January 2019, a few months after Pawpaw's death, I rode with Mawmaw to check on Uncle Red: the only Jones left on the street. I hadn't been back in over a decade: I was away at college, then grad school in Massachusetts, but my wife and I had recently moved back south and were living in Houston. This time I could freely walk the perimeter of the old house, now empty and falling apart. I placed my palm on the rotting wood, the paint-peeled paneling, the same way I had touched my Pawpaw's shoulder, the sweaty sleeve of his white tee as he took his last breath in a hospice bed—the way we touch things we're letting go of. I peered through the windows. No bourré games being taken a little too seriously. No pot of gumbo steaming on the stove.
That December, I was sitting in the yard of my Houston rental when my mom forwarded me a Zillow listing. I swiped through photos of a modern home with clean vinyl siding and an open floor plan. There was something familiar but unplaceable about it until my eyes caught the address. My grandparents' house, remodeled and flipped. My wife and I spent the next few days weighing the pros and cons. Ultimately, she reminded me of the promise I made to her when we were teens: Now's your chance. We were under contract two weeks later.
Mawmaw moved into the house, along with other family members who had been renting together. But I didn't feel the overwhelming happiness I expected—instead I felt nothing. After move-in, she stood in the kitchen and looked around. Pawpaw wasn't there, but traces of him were. His Zippo lighter on a shelf next to his fishing hat. His portrait on the wall. An indentation from a champagne cork when they celebrated an anniversary still pressed in the ceiling tiles. Mawmaw, not the emotional type, hugged and thanked me. When I wrapped my arms around her, her chest heaved, and I felt, for the first time, the weight of it all. I worried I was dredging up trauma; they lost the house together, but only one got to come back. I have to believe the pain of returning tempers the pain of being gone. It does for me. [End Page 15]
Baylea Jones holds an MFA in fiction from Western New England University. She has led writing workshops for GrubStreet, WITS, Putney Student Travel in Greece, and currently teaches at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and Houston Community College. Her fiction received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train, and she has published essays at HuffPost, Electric Literature, BuzzFeed, and more. She is currently working on a memoir.