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At Home in Houston A story of a House, a hurricane, and, eventually, hope.

In all honesty, I might know my grandparents’ house better than I know my own. I know the rocky pool deck from afternoons with my cousins, reading good books and talking about life. I know the pampas grass on the bayou, and have spent long hours beside it, raking leaves and carefully avoiding fire ants. I know the neighborhood cats, the rusty and faded old gas pump, the cacti inhabiting the windowsills.

But I haven’t been there in over a year, and at this point it’s apparent that I’ll never return.

Cats often found their way into my grandparents' yard, entering through a hole in the bushes and leaving through a hole in the fence. This cat was a common visitor, and often stayed for nearly a half hour, purring loudly while my cousins and I fawned over it.

My granddad worked for the Shell Oil Company, my grandma was a Home Economics major. The two of them met at Oregon State University, as they were both working for the school paper. They got married, had two children, and moved around the country until they finally settled in the house that means so much to me; a house on the outskirts of Houston, backing Buffalo Bayou and nestled near a small elementary school. A house which, over the next 43 years, would become a home — for my grandparents, for my mom and uncle, and even for me.

All my life, I’ve heard stories about the Houston house. I’ve heard tales of the baby alligator in the backyard, of summers so hot my mother and her brother jumped into the pool fully clothed, of April Fools Day pranks played on my grandma. Time and time again, I was told the stories of the house, and every word brought me closer to my family.

One of the most striking features of my grandparents' house was the sheer amount of plants scattered throughout their property. Cacti resided both inside and out, positioned around the family room, behind the kitchen table, and along the rocky pool deck. The other outdoor plants were common hiding places for the small lizards living in the yard.

As I grew up, more and more of my own memories began to involve the Houston house. I spent countless Christmas mornings sitting with my cousins at the top of the stairs, waiting impatiently to see what Santa brought and complaining that everyone else was allowed to go downstairs before us. So many evenings were spent around the kitchen table, playing cards and eating key lime pie while the old clock in the dining room chimed on the hour. Every chance I got, I would run outside and chase lizards. As I tried to sneak up on them and their shimmering green bodies, sun beamed down upon me, both from the sky and the bright landscape painted on the wall of the garage, its round and golden sun overlayed on the bluest of skies and shining emerald grass. And when I saw the house and its giant magnolia tree disappear down the street on December 30, 2016, I never would’ve expected it to be my last memory of Houston.

Living in Texas comes with risks, of course, but in my head, none of the risks would ever affect us. Hurricanes and floods were always things I heard about in the news, things that were relevant, yet detached from my personal life. There were scares, times when houses in my grandparents’ neighborhood flooded, or trees fell down, but in the 43 years my grandparents lived in their house in Houston, only one hurricane caused true devastation to them — Hurricane Harvey.

As a native Michigander, I never understood how truly destructive hurricanes and the following floods were until I saw the way it affected a place I knew so well. I didn’t understand how the mildew set in, how the furniture floated away. But when I saw pictures of my 84 year old grandmother standing knee-deep in water in the family room, trying desperately to put their belongings on high shelves so they could be salvaged, I started to understand. The realization intensified when my grandparents evacuated across the street to a neighbor’s house, and when days later, they were rescued by a boat after the water had risen to five feet. When the house was torn down on Dec. 5, 2017, that was when the knowledge fully hit me — there was no going back.

Beside my grandparents' pool stood a stone lion. During Hurricane Harvey, I remember seeing photos of the pool area and being startled to find it unrecognizable. The uniform brown of flood water was so different than the image of the pool in my mind; one of bright blue water and leafy green bayou plants contrasting the red metal bow hung on the fence gate.

I never got to say goodbye to the house in Houston. Nearly a year ago, I had been oblivious to the fact that it would be my last time sprawled on the floor playing Life with my cousins, my last time going for a run on the bayou. I didn’t know it would be my last time visiting the elementary school and scorning the fading map on the blacktop for having Michigan painted backwards. I didn’t know it would be my last time seeing the tall painted giraffe in the dining room, a giraffe who bore the unfortunate and ironic name of Harvey — Harvey the giraffe, stolen away from my family by Harvey the hurricane. Mostly, I didn’t know it would be my last time in Houston.

Despite the fact that I never lived in the house, it felt like home. Home was lying in the dark with my cousins on Christmas Eve, straining our ears to try to hear reindeer landing on the roof above. It was wading in the pool with my cousins when it was too chilly to swim, and it was showing various family members the three-legged frog we had found in the yard. Home was the entire family squeezed in front of the TV, watching Jeopardy and hearing my granddad know what almost every answer was. Home was Houston, but more than that, home was being with my family.

My idea of “home” is different now, but the change has been good in many ways. The fact that I now have my grandparents living 10 minutes away from me is, after all, a huge shift from the three hour airport ordeal I had to go through previously. I can make new memories now, more frequent ones, memories of listening to Johnny Cash with my granddad, or of sitting with my grandma while she pours adoration upon my cat. The new memories may not be in the same house, not even the same state, but they’re with the same people and, I’ve begun to realize, the people are what count.

My grandparents' house in the mid-1970s. The small tree behind the mailbox would eventually grow to cover the entire lefthand side of the yard, making the house recognizable from all the way down the street.
Created By
Lucy Scott
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