By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
I had made it a point not to return. Once you’ve lived in, loved and left a house, best leave it be. The “new” owners have had the barn-red house by the river for three years longer than I did. When recently they invited me to stop by while I was in the area, to be polite I agreed. And I know full well that politeness can get you into trouble.
This house wasn’t just any house. It had an old gristmill on the site, and it sat so close to the river you could wet a hook through an open door. The core was 100 years old, but don’t imagine a grand old farmhouse or Victorian. A wing had been added every decade, including the obligatory den of the 1960s, replete with orange and green shag and dark faux paneling.
If houses were fashion, this one would have been a 100-year-old man wearing a leisure suit. I had to have it, of course.
My late husband Don first fixed the hole in the kitchen floor. Then he set to work trying to execute whatever visions I shared. By the time we left the old place, it was hard to go.
It took me about five seconds after arriving the other day to realize the home was in good hands. Capable hands. Creative hands. Many hands.
Max and Sherrie Fulbright have six children and a posse of dogs, including one who looks a lot like my beloved yellow dog Mabel. There are cats and chickens in the yard and baby goats in a pen, Sherrie’s Mother’s Day gifts.
I walked up the old, oddly spaced concrete steps onto a porch where the Confederate jasmine I planted 15 years ago now is full and profuse, fragrant proof I was there. Then I went through the front screened door – a terrific old one the Fulbrights found somewhere – into a perfect and magical blend of what was and what is, a dizzying journey.
The old redwood fence was now the floor. Art was everywhere. Walls had murals. Some walls I remembered were gone. Rooms that made perfect sense had been added, all with big windows to enhance the river view. Did I mention Max designs houses for a living?
Best of all, at the heart of the house, the ceiling had burst wide open and new walls went straight up, at least 30 feet, letting in light and sucking up heat. It was Architectural Digest meets Lemony Snicket. Max made the first cut at night while the children were sleeping.
Beneath the square “turret,” for lack of a better word, ran a homemade table, long enough to seat King Arthur’s knights if Arthur hadn’t insisted on round. Sunflowers and cakes filled that table, and old friends and neighbors pulled up chairs to it. One of the Fulbright children quietly strummed a guitar. There was so much life in that room you could have sliced and served it up like the cake.
I wanted to cry with happiness but didn’t. I’ve never been so pleased about change. You can’t go home again, but you can be glad good people are in it.
Don used to marvel that there wasn’t a square corner in the entire strange house. There still isn’t. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.