Homes are inherently historical; they come with memories, and memories come with emotion. As we interview homeowners in preparation for the upcoming Community Powered Revitalization blitz, however, it's become clear that men and women in this community experience the past in different ways. Some of them are fleeing from thoughts and feelings they never invited into their homes. Others are clinging to memories as the seasons push them further away.
Either way, the ghosts they face demand a community response.
“Betsy” is a private person. She asked us not to give away too many details about her and we've changed her name here to help honor that request. When our photographer came to visit her, she asked that her face not be shown. It was too hard to smile, and she didn't want to fake one.
About a decade ago, Betsy lost a family member in the middle of moving into her first home. The house she wanted fell through. It was too late to go back to her apartment. Her realtor rushed to place her in a home, and she ended up settling on one without realizing its flaws.
“I needed peace. Just a place to sit and just breathe,” she said. “I really wanted a porch, to bring some of my childhood and my youth back. I used to sit on the porch and just talk and laugh.”
For a while, Betsy's wish was granted: she had a small, concrete porch that looked out across a lush yard. But over time, she noticed that the lawn didn't drain well. Runoff from her neighbors pooled on her property, killing the grass. In the last three years, her paradise became a warzone. She's had to dig a trench around her porch to keep the house from flooding. The battle exhausted her.
“Death changes people. You’d think we would be cohesive, but sometimes it will just tear you apart. It devastated my family,” she said. “I used to be the person who made you smile. When everybody was down, I was that person. The Clown. And when my situation hit, they didn’t know how to help me. Have you ever been in a situation like that? When you were there for everybody, and when it’s your turn, nobody’s there?”
Come April, someone will be there for Betsy. A whole team of Someones, in fact.
The Ghosts We Cling To
Where Betsy wants to escape her memories, Virginia clings to hers. Raised on Army bases across North America, Virginia didn't have a true home until her young adult life. Her parents — along with their four children — settled in Euless after twenty years of reassignments. Her current home has been in the family since 1967. By the time Virginia was laid off during the recession in 2010, it belonged to her.
“I inherited the house, and after having the house for ten years — my mother died in 2008 — I was going ok,” Virginia said. “I was keeping up with it and I was slowly paying down all the credit card bills from when I was employed. Then I had a triple bypass, after I had two car wrecks. And my brother died… the triple bypass was draining on my funds, so now I’m still making the payments on the credit card bills and really don’t have enough money to put into the house.”
Trapped by her debt and her obligations on the house — for which she must now pay increasing property taxes — Virginia is grateful, nonetheless.
“I would like to die here — in twenty years,” she laughed. “I do think my credit card bills will eventually be paid off, and once they’re paid off, barring another surgery, I should be able to handle the payment of the house without much problem.”
Keeping the house in the family is important to Virginia. She hopes to leave it to her daughter someday, but the lure of a reverse mortgage is growing more powerful. For now, her memories outweigh the financial benefit of slowly surrendering the property. In her mind's eye, she still sees her mother planting the now-sturdy trees in her front yard. Her memories — ghosts worth keeping — make the home that much more valuable. She just needs a little help keeping it up to code.