TGIF: Young Dorothy was right, there’s no place like home

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

Please don’t tell my wife, but I really don’t mind sitting through some of her favorite television shows as much as I make it sound.

In fact, there are a few of them that have me hooked. I just don’t like to admit it.

The latest such show involves the “Fixer to Fabulous” series on HGTV featuring Dave and Jenny Marrs. In a recent four-part special, the couple’s construction company took on the ambitious project of restoring an 1870s mansion with the idea of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast operation. You’ve seen the design: a two-story house with four large columns out front.

The bed-and-breakfast concept didn’t pan out, primarily due to the extra expense of meeting building codes that required a commercial kitchen, not to mention the extra labor professional on-site management would entail. They revised their plans and turned it into a vacation rental where one family or group rents the entire house. That eliminated the need to build into the home features that are mandated if bedrooms are being rented separately, and the facility is operated like a small hotel.

Someone with better information will have to convince me that the skilled and experienced experts on these shows don’t already know what pitfalls lie within the walls of these usually dilapidated structures they tackle. Still, it does add to the drama when certain costly “surprises” arise as the renovation proceeds. In this case, it turned out that the columns holding up the front roof were rotten from a bee infestation. They literally crumbled soon after work began.

But if that didn’t happen, it would have been the “unexpected” discovery of bad plumbing, or a leaky roof, or load-bearing wall that the plan had called for being removed. The predictable script usually includes an offsetting epiphany, however, when a beautiful hardwood floor is found under rotting carpet, or an elaborate stained-glass transom is salvaged and repurposed — as the Marrs project did — as a window in a luxurious chicken coop. Yes, I know I used the adjective “luxurious,” but you had to see it.

I’ll not spoil the remainder for anyone who has yet to watch this particular mini-series, but what interested me the most was when a man who had lived in the house as a child stopped by to admire their fixer-upper efforts. He had photographs of their family’s home dating back to the 1950s, before most of the land surrounding the house and been sold for development. The house had once been at the centerpiece of a 160-acre working farm, but a residential neighborhood in Rogers, Arkansas, has since surrounded it.

Now I was really hooked.

Has anyone who has reached retirement age not had nostalgic thoughts about the home or homes his family had during childhood? I guess there must be some, depending on the situations of their youth, but the three houses my family occupied that I remember before going off to college remind me of very special times. I say “that I remember” because my parents were renting a duplex the year I was born, and they bought a home before my first birthday.

That home was modest even by 1950s standards, but the neighborhood was one of those tight-knit collection of families we may never see again. It was during the years immediately after World War II, and children lived in every house. We were growing up together. Several of the fathers worked at the same plant. Several of the families went to the same church. Our elementary school was two blocks away.

Our next home was a rental, because the birth of my sister meant our family needed a larger house while my parents made plans to build their dream home. Dad was transferred to New Mexico before those plans could be realized, but Mom was quite pleased with the house they found there.

Dad was transferred back to North Carolina two weeks before I started college here in Brownwood, and the home they bought then was initially going to be a temporary place to live until something better could be found. That didn’t happen, so both parents lived there until their deaths. For Mom, that was 51 years later. It became the only house that my sister remembers growing up.

I don’t visit those three different cities often these days, but when I do, I always try to drive through those subdivisions. I remember the carefree days playing outside in the huge backyard in that first home. I remember playing with Lady, my pet collie, at the rental. The occupant of the New Mexico house where I lived caught me snapping a photo on one trip, and her son came out to talk. We had attended the same high school, and his aging mother was living there. He had moved away years ago but returned to care for her. They preferred that I not come inside.

These recollections also extend to houses I remember my grandparents having. The homeplace of my parental grandparents has been replaced by a shopping center, but I did visit it once as an adult. My maternal grandmother lived in several houses in Charleston, South Carolina, but her later years were spent in an apartment. She and her sisters, however, grew up in a stately Southern home that’s still in the family on the outskirts of another town. General Sherman occupied it during the Civil War, using it as a Union hospital in an agreement that spared it from being burned. Its future seems uncertain, as an adjacent airport is looking to expand.

The restoration of the historic house the Marrs family undertook will no doubt be a financial success, if only because the four hours of HGTV time that documented the work involved provide a level of national advertising that can’t be bought. People will come from miles around to spend a couple of nights there.

I’m just waiting to see if our own vacation plans will soon include a drive through this and other cities where HGTV shows are being produced. I’m looking at you, Laurel, Mississippi.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.