I was in the middle of writing a post about our Christmas late this afternoon when the tornado siren began to wail out of the blue. It is unseasonably warm for Birmingham and we’d started the day with a thunderstorm, but we had no idea the storms would become severe- not at all what we were expecting on Christmas Day. Just two days ago there were tornado watches and warnings until late in the night – this one took us by surprise. At first we thought the storm would not affect us, but soon the reports changed…they began pinpointing neighborhoods, and ours was listed, right down to our specific area. My stomach dropped. We live on Red Mountain just below the news station. When our forecaster says that they are taking cover, we know that’s our signal to get to our safe place. Our house is built into the side of the mountain, and so the back part of the first floor is halfway under ground. We have a crawl space under the house, but I would rather the tornado take me than to huddle down there in the dark. We took the dogs to the laundry room and waited it out until the all clear was sounded. My stomach was in knots…my more-grounded husband was calm the entire time, making jokes to distract me. Such a good man.
As we sat together on couch cushions by the washer and dryer listening to the weatherman, I thought about so many things- how grateful I am for Dan and our life together, my love for our animals, and how sad I would be to lose our home to the whimsy of Mother Nature- much less our lives. I know that homes- things- can be replaced. But still…this old funky house that we dubbed Chez Gainey is not just a place that we live. It is something much more to us. Dan always says that Chez Gainey is the home that love built. He’s right- we found each other and only months later bought this house against all the odds, taking a chance on love, healing each other. We have been steadily working on it as a labor of love, bonding together, for over twelve years now. We have experienced so much life here in those twelve years, from the sublime to the heart wrenchingly sad. This house holds pieces of us, our stories. I call it our memory catcher, much like the Native American dream catcher.
In Native American culture, a dreamcatcher is a handmade object based on a hoop incorporating a loose net, and decorated with items unique to the particular dreamcatcher. There is belief that a dreamcatcher filters a person’s dreams, letting through only the good ones. It seems that everywhere I look I see precious memories captured in the web of our home. On this Christmas Day, I look out in our sunroom and see the scene of our last Christmas with both of our mothers here. It was the first white Christmas we’d had, and our mothers sat together, gazing out at the beautiful scene. As we sat at our dining room table to enjoy our little feast for two, the room seemed to ring with the laughter and conversation of holidays past with family and friends. In front of the fireplace, my soul dog Guinness left us; in front of our bedroom window, we held hands after our first walk through of the house, asking that if it was meant to be, that things would come together for us to make it happen. In the guest room is the bed my mother was born in and that I slept in for my entire youth. Everywhere I look, reminders of the events, the people, and animals with whom we have shared our lives. What a gift.
It’s not at all about living in the past. The gift of memories helps us to move forward in life with gratitude, teaching us lessons that we need to grow and change, to see the blessings that we have, large and small. Even when things go wrong, they help us to remember the good, too. Memories are also a touchstone, giving us a sense of place and a connection to the thread of history that runs through us. On this Christmas Day, I am grateful for the peaceful morning we enjoyed, the delicious meal we prepared together, the beauty of our festive home, the laughter and conversation- and the love. I am also grateful for the storm that reminded me yet again of my many blessings. Life is good.