Austin Way

This story appears in Gary Lloyd’s book, Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down SouthGet it here.


My grandmother lived in the greatest place when I was little.

It was perched atop a small hill in Birmingham, near Ruffner Mountain. The backyard was a dream. It was wide and deep, and when we weren’tt smacking around a white plastic ball with a blue wiffle bat, we filled a Folger’s can full of pecans and plucked honeysuckle from a nearby bush. There was an old Volkswagen in her detached garage, and I pretended to drive it.

At some point during my childhood, she moved to a smaller home, which sat at the crest of a bigger hill, with a view of the mountains. In the far distance, you could see the downtown Birmingham lights twinkle at night. This home’s backyard did not have space for even a croquet match, but an open field across the street served as our new baseball field. I liked that house on Austin Way. My great uncle still played the piano on Christmas Eve, there was still fudge in the kitchen, Atlanta Braves games still streamed on the television.

My family kept the home after my grandmother moved to an assisted living community, but no one lived there until 2012, when I moved in. It became the first home for my wife and me. It’s where we drove to after we got married, where I typed article after article, where Jessica completed her master’s degree. It’s where we re-mulched the front yard, where I fine-tuned my short game with a sand wedge across the street, where Jessica fiddled with that same piano’s keys.

After a year in that house, we found a bigger one we could grow into, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. We bought it, and teared up the day we moved. My grandmother’s house was two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with barely a yard to speak of, no neighbors younger than fifty, and the washer and dryer were crammed in our one-car garage. But a house holds so much more than possessions. It holds Christmases, sleepovers, Thanksgivings, birthdays and countless memories. There were many of those in that house. Closing the door behind you one final time can feel like the end of an era.

A family friend lived there for a while, and he even had the bathrooms updated and new flooring put down in the kitchen. It was nice. He moved out when my mother-in-law made the permanent move from Pace, Florida, to Birmingham. She purchased the home, and her little dog jumps at the front glass door when we visit. I pressure-washed the driveway and weed-eat her backyard in the summer. She always has a Powerade for me.

My grandmother passed in 2014, not long before we found our bigger home. We never told her that we had lived in her former house. Lord, the woman cared about us all so much that she’d have worried a hole in the floor thinking about the age of the water heater or a loose cabinet handle. She’d have smiled wide, though, knowing that her house stayed in the family.

The Wurlitzer piano was still in the corner of the living room when my mother-in-law moved in, and my dad offered to have it moved out, likely as a donation to that assisted living community. She said that she liked it there, a piece of family history staying in its rightful space.

I like it there, too.

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