When my father was told he was going to die soon, he declared he would not die in our house. It was the home where he and my mother had raised my brother and sister and me. “This has been a happy place,” he told us. “Your mother will probably live the rest of her life here. If I die here, then every time you go into the room where it happened, that’s what you’ll think about.” He made plans to move to Corpus Christi to a house my mother had recently inherited, and he and my mother walked out of their home together, knowing that she would come back and he wouldn’t.
The first time they had seen our house was in 1961, when I was two years old. My father had resigned as minister of the First Baptist Church in Nacogdoches to run for Congress on a civil rights agenda, and lost, and accepted the job of president of San Marcos Baptist Academy. He scouted out the house and took my mother to see it, a huge old structure that inhabits almost a whole block in the historic district of San Marcos, just down the hill from Wonder Cave. She sat in the car looking at it. “What do you think?” he asked her.
The exterior architecture was perfect Greek Revival copied from a house on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, but the interior was a Victorian horror. The rooms were dreary, the woodwork coated in dark-red varnish, the walls covered with garish wallpapers.
“Who would wash all the windows?” she wanted to know.
It’s a testament to my father’s infectious enthusiasm, his foresight, and general bullheadedness that they bought the house. It needed to be re-plumbed, re-wired, re-floored, and re-roofed. For a year I toddled along behind the work crews, inhaling fumes of varnish remover and playing in lead paint sanded off the exterior. The paint was so thick on the ground it looked like snow, and I have always wondered if my slow reading and poor math skills are because of this remodel. We moved into the house when I was three and my brother was six; my parents named it Crookwood, because the previous owners were the Woods. My sister was born a year later, and was brought home and laid on the blue vinyl window seat cushion that my brother and I called