Sunday, September 8, 2013

How To Build A House That Lasts

From today's Times and News-Star

For months I cased the property, trying to figure out what kind of mind was behind what was going on in the patch of woods across from our home in Ruston. Except for this woodsy spot where I’ve seen foxes and deer, this city side road has houses all around. But one day last year a piece of heavy equipment went in there and trees got cut and hauled and, little by little, the clearing became perfect for a sort of in-town BatCave, and right across the street from me.

I didn’t want to bother anybody or be in the way, and the work was being done 40 yards off the road; mainly you could just hear stuff. So in the evenings I’d ease over. First a foundation, then something like Legos went up. Somebody was building a concrete house!; the “Legos” were forms.

And then another house or maybe a garage?, and something else, a shed or cookhouse, to the side. How did it fit together? And on those evenings, all around, just me and birds and squirrels and quiet in the middle of town, and just enough trees cut for the house but no more than necessary, and all this being done by a guy people in town told me was Mr. R.L. “Lynn” May from Simsboro, a gentleman who moved dirt and hauled stuff and built things and rented property and figured it out as he went along, and he went along almost every day because he enjoyed work and people and trying things in new ways -- but still HIS way.

On a spring Sunday I snuck over and there he sat, in the shade, eating frozen yogurt. He’d come just to think and plan a bit more with one of his sons, who was driving in. “You caught me on break,” he said, and he smiled with this round face, and immediately you felt you’d known him for 10 years, and then he was explaining to me their dream home and saying to come over if there was ever a tornado because this thing was going to be all concrete, and he hoped it worked out, he said laughing, with me up on a ladder, “like it did the way I read about it in that book.”

You should see it. Almost finished. All this by him and family and a few others. The “cookhouse” I’d imagined is a reading room. The garage has an upstairs for grandkids. All fit together in the neatest, most efficient but comfortable way. A month of hard work inside and it would be done, and he could be at Huddle House with his buddies for coffee in four minutes and Mrs. Alice, for 40 years his wife, since the time he turned 24, would be in the middle of town.

But life will tie your hands at times, knock the wind out of you and sit you down right where you stand. So I was surprised to find myself at his funeral last week, three days after an accident took his life while he was working alone in Simsboro. But I was not surprised the service began 70 minutes late: people just kept coming and coming, each to say goodbye to the smiling gentleman, a unsuspecting genius who found ways to make something out of nothing and friends out of people who were strangers two minutes before, the kind of daddy and husband and friend who makes everyone feel like his lucky neighbor.