Wife Brenda and I have lived in four houses together. We started in Burnettown, S.C., in the house where my parents lived when I was born. My father, Jabo, and my uncle Guy built the house in the early ’50s, working from plans for a cotton-mill company house. The house had three little bedrooms and one bathroom. My brother and sister each had their own bedroom. I slept in a little bed in my parents’ room until my brother moved out, when I was about 6.
The outside of the house was clad with asbestos shingles. Jabo was a sheet-metal worker by trade, and he put on a tin roof. Last time I saw the house, the roof was rusty but intact.
Since the late ’60s, the asbestos shingles have been mostly covered with brick veneer. Jabo had always wanted a brick house, so he hired a mason named Frank to brick-veneer the place. The deal was, Frank would brick up the house, and Jabo would trade him an International Harvester pickup truck. Well, once Frank got about 80 percent into the job, with nothing left to do but the tricky edges and angles, Jabo told Frank he could go ahead and drive the truck home. That was the last we ever saw of Frank. The brick job still isn’t quite done.
After the brick veneer, Jabo’s next home-improvement job was installing a giant central heat-and-air unit that he said he found by the side of the road. This particular heat-and-air unit was meant for a commercial building about 10 times the size of our house, so when the blower turned on, the curtains above the ducts blew up to the ceiling, and the temperature in the house swung about 10 degrees in two minutes.
In 1971, Jabo died, and I got the house. When Brenda joined me there in 1975, the mighty heat-and-air unit was on its last legs. Our first summer together, during a solid month of 100-degree days, the unit failed. Mold grew on the walls and on some of the furniture. We slept with his-and-hers fans at the foot of the bed.
Soon after that, the septic system failed, causing the commode to overflow. That’s when I discovered that Jabo, whose creed was “Never do anything half-ass,” had rigged an overflow pipe from the septic tank to the creek behind the house. The Jowers house had been putting raw sewage into Horse Creek for years.
Given my irritable nature and my low tolerance of non-working house parts, I just had to toss and turn at night thinking about all these problems, right?
Well, nope. Truth is, I had Brenda, a Gibson L5-S solid-body electric guitar, and a band to play it in. I was as stupid-happy as Frisbee-fetching golden retriever.
These days, when I start thinking that I just won’t be satisfied until I get my very own glass-walled multi-nozzled turbo shower, I just have to slap myself upside the head and think about what really matters here.
What matters is, I’ve still got Brenda, a woman who proved her love and strength by rotating the tires on our old Mercury using only a bumper jack and a lug wrench. And I’ve got daughter Jess, a second-baseman who’s now big and strong enough to sting my glove hand when she fires the ball to me at first. I get to come home to these two wonders every day, and I’m proud to say that they’re glad to see me. I get to pile up on the couch with them every night, with Jess’ head on Brenda’s right shoulder and mine on her left; we watch I Love Lucy reruns until one of us falls asleep, signaling bedtime. If there’s a luckier man alive, I swear, I don’t know how he stands it.
Sure, it would be nice to have the best house on the best block in town, complete with a staff to clean it, to cook the meals, and to take care of the grounds. Maybe even a mint-condition late-’50s Corvette out in the garage. I’d enjoy that as much as anybody. But I’m pretty sure that if it came down to it, the Jowerses could move back into what’s left of the old Burnettown house, and life would still be pretty good.
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