Jun 7, 2012

THE Rock House

We huddle by the fire in the stone fireplace, trying to bring sixty years of living in this house to some sort of end. This rock house has seen everything, birth and death, marriage and divorce, and tragedy and triumph. Now it hears nothing, feels nothing.

By Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

THE Rock House | Alzheimer's Reading Room
The Rock House
Rough, sunburned grass on bare feet, the stinging smell of cypress trees in the blazing Texas sun: then flying home to mama frying okra, corn bread cooking, black eyed peas bubbling in their shells, pitchers of ice tea sweating on the cool white tiles of the kitchen counter, always a shiver of cool in that house.

After lunch, the grown -ups would take a nap in the high heat of the afternoon. We would be back outside again, sheltered by the tall pecan trees, lying on mama's quilts, reading the books from Miss Chester Good's library.

In the bright blue Octobers, we would gather pecans in our skirts. Mama said they were paper shell, the best pecans. When we shelled the pecans, our hands would be scratched and sore at the end of the afternoon, but there would be a big bowl of pecans ready for the Christmas fudge.

Coming home from rehearsing the Christmas chorale, the house would be filled with the glorious smells of chocolate.


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Spring can come early to North Texas. Sometimes, the wild flowers are out by Valentine's Day. Mama said to watch the pecan trees; they were never fooled by warm February days. She would remind us of the old Texas saying,

"If it thunders in February, it will freeze in April".

But always by Easter the lawn was a carpet of wildflowers, the Indian paintbrush, wine cups, and mama's beloved blue bonnets. And then it was summer again, and there was always the cool fastness of the pretty rock house.

The idea for a house built of rock was born on the day that Mama and Daddy were on a corn run. The farmer was hauling rocks out of his recently cleared field when they drove up with a truck full of feed corn. Mama noticed how the sun made the rocks sparkle. They took a closer look, and daddy offered the farmer the corn for free, if they could haul those rocks back to North Texas. The farmer thought daddy was crazy for trading a truck load of good corn for some old rocks, but they shook hands on it.

Daddy knew those old rocks were petrified wood. He saw the fossils of leaves, the fans of ancient ferns, and the actual logs in the stone. Dad built their house out of these old rocks. The fireplace was designed by Mama. It was built of the same petrified wood that enclosed the house. The stone sparkled and gleamed in sunlight or firelight.

The rock house raised four children, heard piano lessons, the seven part harmony of family reunions, and the quiet of wet Sunday afternoons. It provided a place for a dying Grandmother; held a wedding, and five years later, a funeral for the groom.

Then the rock house held only Mama. There was a new round of birthday parties with lamb cake, singing parties, piano concerts, weddings of the grandchildren. One of the bright blue October days, Mama left her rock house forever, the way she said she would: feet first, with her boots on.

That February, spring did not come early to North Texas. The pecan trees held tightly to their closed, fuzzy buds. All the wild flowers waited for the wise pecan trees.

My sisters and I sit by the fireplace in the empty house and sort out boxes and boxes of photographs. The rock house is desperately cold.

We huddle by the fire in the stone fireplace, trying to bring sixty years of living in this house to some sort of end. This rock house has seen everything, birth and death, marriage and divorce, and tragedy and triumph. Now it hears nothing, feels nothing.

This rock house has been through everything except abandonment. Now we must leave it.

We, who know this house like our own bodies, must leave this house that has never left us. We divide the pictures and try to separate evenly the photos of mama and daddy.

Those people who look out of strangers' eyes in the faded sepia are added to the wood fire. The photographs curl and burn. Suddenly there is thunder.

We look at each other and say, "It will freeze in April."

And we know that by April, this house that we lived in for so many years, will be gone and will live on only inside of us.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers
Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. Tom is a gerontologist and has specialized in creating and researching dementia specific training programs. Karen Brenner is a Montessori educator and has specialized in working with children who are deaf or communication disordered. They have been published in magazines and journals both in the US and internationally. Learn more about Tom and Karen at Brenner Pathways

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room