Today’s challenge in the 15 Habits Of Great Writers was to “steal” inspiration from someone else. The point is to find something that inspires you to create something. I picked one of my favorite songs by Miranda Lambert called The House That Built Me, written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.
I’ve always loved this song because it’s what I call a story song, meaning it’s easy to picture the story told within the lyrics. I decided to write a short story based on the song. In keeping with yesterday’s challenge of doing more than just practice, I’ve included the story below. I’d love to know your thoughts. Please leave a comment. Is there a song you’ve found inspiring?
With a copy of the old drawing of the house my father made years ago clutched in one hand, I headed up the walk. The gentle breeze offered no relief from the oppressive heat of the late afternoon. I sat on the front porch steps and placed my palm over the childlike handprint in the cement. A lost memory resurfaced and I smiled.
“Can I help you?” I turned to see a woman standing in the doorway, blurred by the netting of the screen-door. Her auburn hair was pulled up in a messy ponytail and she was wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
“I’m sorry,” I jumped to my feet. “I didn’t think anyone was home.”
“You make a habit of lollygaggin’ when no one’s ’round?” I couldn’t tell through her thick accent if she was angry or not.
“Ma’am, I know you don’t know me from Adam,” I wiped my hands on my jeans in a nervous gesture. “I just…” My voice trailed off unsure what to say. I stared at the handprint.
“Look Darlin’, I don’t have all day, if your selling somethin’,” she let out a puff of air.
“That’s mine,” I pointed to the step, “and up those stairs in that little back bedroom is where I did my homework,” I blurted before I lost my nerve. “If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.” I ached just to be near this place again.
Her face softened and she let out a sigh. “You thirsty? Sure is hot out here.” She offered opening the screen-door.
“Yes, thank you,” I said timidly stepping through the door and back in time. Everything looked so different and yet familiar. I could see the sitting room where Momma used to sew. The floor was now scattered with matchbox cars and Legos.
“Come on back to the kitchen,” the woman hollered as she headed down the hallway on the right. Different pictures graced the frames hanging along the wall, but all I could see were images of my childhood.
“Sweet tea alright?” She asked as I entered the kitchen.
“Yes, Ma’am.” If I closed my eyes, I could almost smell Momma’s apple pie baking in the oven.
“Call me Rhetta, honey.” The woman offered, handing me a glass. “I’m not that old yet.” She smiled.
“Thanks, Rhetta. I’m Cassie Jackson.” I returned the smile before taking a sip of the syrupy sweet tea.
“Your daddy use to own Jackson’s Hardware?” Rhetta asked taking a seat at the table.
“My granddaddy, but that was before I was born,” I added, though I wasn’t sure why.
“That’s right. I heard they had family up north.” I raised an eyebrow wondering how she knew. As if reading my expression, she added, “Two words outta your mouth, I knew you weren’t from ’round here. Sit, child.” She gestured at the chair across from her.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked settling in to the wooden chair.
“Been a couple a years, I guess.” She swatted at a lock of hair that had fallen in her eyes. “Bought it from Ol’ Mr. Rigby when his wife passed. He moved over to Collier to live with his daughter,” she drawled.
I nodded as if I knew who she was talking about. I lost interest as I traced the pattern of the wallpaper with my eyes. I couldn’t remember what color the kitchen used to be.
“You wanna take a look around? I gotta finish up these dishes ‘for the kids get home.”
“You don’t mind? I won’t take anything,” I smiled, “Maybe a memory or two.”
“If I’s worried ’bout that, you’d still be sittin’ on that porch,” she chuckled. “You know your way ’round,” she urged shewing me out of the kitchen.
I trailed my fingers along the banister as I made my way up the stairs. The top step creaked as I hit the landing. I remembered sitting there listening to the TV when I was supposed to be in bed.
The door to my old bedroom was open, drawing me forward. The blue walls felt soothing, but I yearned to see the pale yellow color I had known. I could almost hear the sounds of my guitar wafting through the air as I learned to play.
Shelves along one wall held more toys and books. A pair of tiny pajamas lay strewn across the bed. Everything looked so small.
I caught sight of the live oak in the back yard through the window. I couldn’t wait to race home from school to climb the winding branches.
“My two youngest love to climb that thing,” Rhetta announced from the doorway.
I jumped at the sudden noise and turned to face her. “Bet you didn’t know my favorite dog was buried in the yard.” I replied with a heavy heart. Rhetta leaned against the doorframe in response.
“I thought if I could just touch this place, to feel it…,” I trailed off, weighed down by a brokenness I couldn’t explain. “I guess it’s true what they say, you can’t go home again.”
“Let me show you somethin’.” Rhetta crossed the room and opened the closet door. The inside panel was lined with two sets of tick marks every few inches up the door followed by ascending numbers. The letters CJ were inscribed along one set, RT on the other. “Those are my Ricky’s marks. These were here when we moved in,” she said pointing to the others. I bet those are yours.” I smiled at the thought. “There’s still a part of you in this place.” Rhetta placed a hand on my arm.
I fought at the tears welling in my eyes. “Thanks, Rhetta,” I managed. “I should probably go, I’ve taken enough of your time.”
We made our way down the stairs and back outside on the front porch. I pulled the folded up drawing of the house from my back pocket and held it out to Rhetta. “Will you give this to Ricky?” I asked. “Tell him CJ wanted him to have it.”
“He’d like that.” Rhetta smiled. “You ever need reminding of where you’ve been, come back and see me.p, you hear?” Rhetta pulled me in to an unexpected hug.
“Thanks,” I whispered, turning to leave.
My father may have built the house, I thought as I walked away. But it’s the memories that built me.