To the Residents of 1103 NW 12th St.

I heard a song earlier today, The House that Built Me, and it desperately made me want to visit my childhood home. I thought that the least I could do was ask so I wrote this letter to the current resident of the home I grew up in. I also had this idea that it would be so cool to hear about other people’s experiences that did the same thing. I was fortunate that my childhood home was full of love and attention. Sometimes the attention came in the form of discipline I thought I could have lived without but it was good for me and shaped me into who I am today. If you haven’t visited your childhood home and this entry leads you to ask to do it, please, let me know how it went. i’ll keep you updated if I hear a response. Here is the letter I wrote to the people living in the House that Built Me.

Dear residents of 1103 NW 12th St.,

This may be the most bizarre letter you have ever received at your home. My name is David Barrera. I was born and raised in Andrews, TX. In fact, I was brought home from the hospital to your home and lived there until I left home after my graduation from high school. Like most 17-year-old kids from Andrews, TX, I couldn’t wait to spread my wings and fly and get away from that small town. I literally left Andrews, TX the morning after my high school graduation and moved to Corpus Christi. That was in 1988. I drove away and saw my parents standing in the front yard near the three trees that they had planted for each one of us; my mother in tears and my father with a somber look on his face. I didn’t realize how difficult this was for them until I became a parent. I have three children now.

My parents sold the house in 1991 and moved to Corpus Christi. Shortly after my parents moved to Corpus Christi, I moved to Houston. I remember when my parents got to Corpus Christi, my mother was very depressed. She cried for several days because she missed the home that she had raised me and my two older siblings in. I know the house has changed but I remember my brother and I helping my dad as he built on to the back of the house. As a child, my brother and shared the bedroom at the end and to the left of the hallway. My parents bedroom was right across the hallway, the one with the bathroom in it. My sister’s bedroom was right across from the hallway bathroom, close to the living room. The layout of the house may be very different now, I don’t know. As we got older, my father built a playroom at the back of the house. He had a small study attached to the playroom and there was a small bedroom at the very back of the house with a door that led to the back yard. That little room with the bathroom in it became my brothers room and later, that playroom became my parents master bedroom and my brothers little room became their walk in closet/bathroom. I could go on and on describing the house the way it was back then.

I did not go back to Andrews until July 2010. I still have some friends there that I connected with on Facebook and I went to see them and to see the little town that I had left behind back in 1988. I walked through the neighborhood, stopped and visited Mrs. Clark, next door to your house, and Billie Jones, catty-corner from your house. While I was at Billie Jones’ house, I told her that I would have loved to see the house but I didn’t have the nerve to ask to walk through. I thought it would have been inappropriate.

I’m a therapist in Corpus Christi now. After I left Houston, I moved back to Corpus Christi with my wife and children. Today, I was driving back to Corpus Christi from visiting two families in Laredo. I do assessments of people’s homes that are adopting children. As I was driving a song came on the radio called “The House that Built Me.” I got emotional when I heard this song and I remembered standing in front of your house, taking a picture, and remembering playing in the front yard. I so wanted to knock on the door and ask to see the house but I kept walking. Here is the picture I took.

home1

I was sad to see that the big mulberry tree in the back was gone but I was happy to see that the house was kept up. It looks like a really nice house and I’m thinking that if the walls could talk, they’d say that a happy family was raised in this house and that there are many happy memories stored in those walls. The hallway in your house has heard hours upon hours of children’s laughter when me and my siblings would pile pillows on top of each other and take a running leap to plunge down on each other. For some weird reason, we called this game, “Mr. Bambino”. That hallway also was our entry way to the dining room whenever we came out with our hair messed up or pillows stuffed up our shirts as we surprised our parents and their friends/relatives at the dinner table with whatever comedic acts we had planned. The living room is full of memories of Christmas gifts being opened with surprised faces seeing toys or disappointed faces seeing shirts and socks.

christmas andrews 2

We spent tons of time in the playroom, challenging friends to ping pong and my father used to have his orchestra concerts in the back yard. He was the orchestra teacher for all the schools. My mother spent much of her time in her sewing room that was just behind the den and I remember peaking in on my dad having his bible studies in his office by the playroom. We were a dog family and my dad had two weimeraners when we were growing up. Maggie and Fonzie. We later got two muts; Sylvester and Stallone. Those dogs would get out and we’d be walking up and down the street, yelling, “SYLVESTER!!! STALLONEY!!!”. I’m sure people thought we were crazy at first. We spent a lot of time on your front porch, waiting for the rain to stop so we could continue playing. My sister played jacks on your front porch and I played with hotwheels there and dug up doodle-bugs under the shrubs just to the left of the front door.

It was a wonderful place to grow up. It was a good neighborhood and it looks like it still is. We were constantly outside with all of the neighborhood kids and we played in the neighbors yards as much as played in our own.

martha david snowmen

I have my 25th reunion coming up in xxxx. I would like to ask you a favor. I apologize because I know it may be overstepping some boundaries but I have to ask. It would be So greatly appreciated if I can come and see the house that I grew up in. I’m 43 years old now. I have been shaped by my childhood experiences in your house. I now know what my mother went through back in 1991. My family has so many good memories in your house. A marriage got stronger and three children learned life’s important lessons from parents that loved them in your house. My father is 80 now. My mother is 76. They are still going strong. I completely understand if you don’t feel comfortable allowing a total stranger into your house. My wife and I will be coming to Andrews in xxxx and it would mean a great deal to me if I could spend 5 or 10 minutes walking through your home. It was the House that Built Me….and my brother and sister.

3 kids front of house

Please feel free to ignore this letter if you don’t feel comfortable with this request. If you do feel comfortable, I will be coming into town on xx/xx and will be leaving on xx/xx. My phone number is 361-xxx-xxxx. My email is xxxxxxx@hotmail.com. If you feel comfortable allowing me and my wife into your home for a brief time, it would mean the world to me. Thanks and God Bless.

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The Most Under-Appreciated Job in the World

I have a great father. He has always been a great provider. He has always been available to me. He’ll be 80 years old and he’s still available to me any time I need him. He’s one of the hardest working people and easily the most talented person I’ve ever known. He’s a great artist and a great musician. When I was growing up, he was a preacher at a Spanish Baptist Church and an orchestra teacher. He travelled a lot and was back and forth from my hometown of Andrews to Big Springs, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa, and Lubbock, playing in symphonies, weddings, and every other type of gathering. In the Summers, I remember him playing with us in the pool on our 3 day family vacations to the Holidome in San Angelo. Those were the favorite times of my life. Now, having said all that. I must say that I am guilty, just like most every other kid in the world at not recognizing my mother like I should.

Mother; the job that is the most under-appreciated job in the world. Dad’s are typically “the fun one” while moms are always the bad guys. Thinking about my childhood, Mom is the glue that held it all together. When my dad was bringing home the paychecks, she made meals fit for a king on the budget of a pauper. We always had the things we needed because Mom pinched pennies and made a dollar stretch farther than humanly possible. I remember going to the Green Stamp store and getting to choose something out of the little catalog after staying up late on the weekends, helping her put stamps in the books with a little wet sponge. Mom was a dentist in Mexico but when coming to the United States, she sacrificed her education and career to stay home with my older brother and later stayed home with us until we went to kindergarten. She turned down a trip to Baylor to become a full fledged dentist in the U.S. so that she could shape and mold healthy and happy children.

She would buy Izod, Fila, and Ellesse socks and take off the little alligator, the “F”, and the Ellesse symbols and sew them to our shorts and shirts so that we could look like a million bucks on the tennis court. She would save money so that we could have extra tennis rackets and the best tennis shoes because the shoes are always the most important. I remember standing in the lay-away lines at the stores in Odessa and Mom would put $10 dollars on one item and $20 on another, and we had everything our peers ever had and more.

Mom made sure we knew how to keep our rooms clean and how to clean house. I know how to clean toilets, baseboards, and ceiling fans and when I walk into a house, I recognize that most people’s standards would never meet up to my mother’s standards. She started a cleaning business and employed a dozen or more ladies and at the same time had plenty of work for me and my brother to make us some money for ourselves. She did all this while making sure the house was in order and everything was always taken care of. For this reason, I never lived in a pig sty and people have always felt comfortable and enjoyed being in my home.

Mom taught me how to iron my clothes. For this reason, I had neatly pressed uniforms when I was a police officer and everyday I come to work, my dress shirts are nice and pressed and I save a ton of money on dry cleaning and laundering. Mom made sure I got my homework done. She took me to the Andrews County Library and had me enter reading contests and I won my first bicycle because I read more books than all my peers. She would take me to Whackers (like a Woolworth) when my grades came in and she bought me a hotwheel for every good grade I brought home. For this reason, I have a PhD at the back of my name every time I sign my signature.

Mom forced me to eat foods I didn’t want to eat. For this reason, I’ve developed a taste for good and healthy food. Mom taught me how to use the crock pot. For this reason, I can throw an awesome meal together for my kids before walking out the door when their mother is not home.

She would tell me things like, “If you’re around fire, you’ll smell like smoke,” “This too shall pass,” “God put me on earth to be your mother, not your friend, and when I say no, it means no,” and “I’m saying it because I need to say it, not because you need to hear it.” I find myself repeating these things to my kids like a mantra. She cried when I drove away from home the day after high school and when I went through the fire as a police officer, she told me that she prayed every day that God would lead me out of the darkness into a better place.

My mom’s an awesome mom and this is a note to everyone to begin recognizing all the things we miss because it’s right in front of us on a daily basis.

Sarah’s Smile

Sarah was born on January 14 in Houston,TX. When she was 3 months old the family moved to Corpus Christi but I stayed in Houston for a while longer to tie up some loose ends. Her first words came one weekend when I met her, her  mother and older sister at the IKEA on I-10. I was inside the store and waiting by the registers and when they walked in, she was the first of the three to see me. She yelled out her first word, “Da-Da.” My heart melted. All three of my children have special qualities and they are all wonderful in their own little ways.

I wanted to share about Sarah’s qualities. If you read my last post, you know my Aunt Rose passed away on January 14. This was Sarah’s birthday and understandably, we were distracted from the focus we typically would have had on her because of the loss. Either way, we were able to treat her and her friend to dinner the night before.

Sarah’s in the process of working on several art projects that she is going to enter in an art show in February. The other day, my 16 year old daughter picked me up from work. I don’t know what we were talking about that brought up Sarah but we both began commenting on how Sarah is such a free spirit and a true Bohemian. Allie said that there are kids that try to be “hip” but Sarah is just “hip” because that’s who she is.

Sarah is definitely an artist but she’s also an athlete. She is a killer on the tennis court. Her mind works unlike any I’ve ever seen. She gets distracted by the next best idea and all of her ideas are good. She’s smart. She’s aggressive because she’s a winner and she craves winning. She says she wants to be a cook and an artist. She says she wants to travel the world and I know she will. She’s fearless and when she sets a goal for herself, she goes after it and there’s nothing that can stop her. Her mother describes her as her rainbow because she is all colors. When she gets upset or sad, everyone knows it. When she is happy, she lights up the world around her in every direction.

Sarah’s creative mind is always at work. The best thing about her is that she has a heart of gold. She doesn’t always show that heart to her brother and sister but it’s there. Yesterday, she told me that she and her best friend were going to start a project to raise money for a restaurant that feeds the homeless. It’s a giant project but I know she will set her goal and it will become a reality. That heart of gold is the same reason that she loves every animal she sees. She volunteered to take care of the dogs and cats that were being adopted and she treats her own dog (Lulu) like a princess. When her Lulu’s sister got sick and passed, Sarah’s heart broke and since that time, Lulu has slept in her bed and has been comforted and is the happiest dog I’ve ever seen.

Sarah is strong but sensitive. She is all over the place and focused at the same time. Her passion for art and the other things she loves ensures that she is going to be successful. I always told her that I don’t care if she’s rich when she gets older but that she spends her life doing what she loves and I know this will be her reality. She is a natural beauty with piercing dark eyes and a heart of gold. She’s my angel. Whenever I look at her, I see the little girl that lights up everything around her. Dad loves you Sarah.

Allie

My 16 year old daughter picked me up at work last night. We’re a family with three drivers (now that Allie has her license) and only two vehicles. I know we’ll be buying her a new car next year before she goes off to college but for the time being, to save several hundred dollars a month, getting dropped off and picked up from work is an inconvenience I can live with. She picked me up and on the short 7 minute drive home, she vented all the way home, complaining about her brother doing this and that and mother being this way and that way and she ended her rant by saying, “This is why I want to move 9 hours away.” It made me a little sad to hear her say these words but I remember like it was yesterday feeling this exact same way. I didn’t have a younger brother. My brother and sister were older and I was the baby of the family but for a number of reasons, I couldn’t wait to leave the nest. Honestly, I don’t remember what they were other than wanting to get out of a small town and just to be on my own and to be responsible for myself.

Several years passed and I found myself living alone in Houston, still a kid in my early 20’s, in the police academy, living in an efficiency apartment with very very few furnishings, and although I had plenty of friends to hang out with, I found myself feeling very lonely and missing my brother, my sister, and my parents. I was on my own and rather than wanting to be on my own, I wanted family around me. My brother Robert came to visit me and he had been there two days and he had to go back to Corpus Christi. It was a Friday and we were sitting at the pool and I told him, “Why don’t you stay the weekend?” I didn’t have to be at the academy and it was two more days for us to hang out together. He made a phone call and it turned out he had to get back. He left and I remember like it was yesterday. I went back into my tiny apartment and I was overwhelmed with sadness. I had missed my brother, my whole family for that matter and I would have done anything to hang out with him for just two more days. It was crazy that I was feeling that way. No one had died. No one had moved to the other side of the world or to another continent.

Looking back, I know that was a transition point in my life. After spending that day in my apartment, lonely and missing family, I went back with my normal schedule of friends, dates, etc. I have never felt that way since. When I left home after high school, I came to a town where there was a sister, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had family close to fill the void of missing parents and being that my brother had been off at college, I was used to him not being around. Now, I was an adult and finally on my own. I’m in my 40’s now and my oldest child can’t wait to get out from under my roof. She can’t wait to leave home, get away from her siblings, and to be independent. She’s going to go through what I went through and she’s going to go through it much earlier in her life than I did, I think.

Allie was a beautiful little girl and now she’s a beautiful young lady. Her mother and I sat in bed last night talking about how she was always such a good child and now that she’s a teen, how she’s responsible and considerate. I don’t worry about her. She’ll be successful and whatever man earns her heart will be fortunate beyond his understanding. What I know for sure is that the sadness that I felt when my brother drove away from my apartment complex in North Houston will pale in comparison to how I will feel when Allie drives away after high school.

I Was There…

I think these three words, more than any other, define a life well spent. When most people hear those words they think of the time they were present at a historical event. Maybe it was a great time they had with friends. Maybe it was at Times Square on December 31, 1999 at 11:59 pm. Maybe it was when Saddam Hussein was captured. Maybe it was some tragic historical event like September 11, 2001 and the person remembers when the buildings came down and he/she was just up the street. I don’t have a laundry list of places I was at when historical things happened. I have a few moments in my life that some people may consider important or memorable but overall, I’ve led a fairly uneventful life. I haven’t been to any other continent in the world. I’ve only visited a few states other than my own. I’ve never beheld the majesty of the Grand Canyon and I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore or visited the Whitehouse. Honestly, I don’t have much desire to do these things. This blog entry is mainly for my children because when I reflect now and someday when I look back on my life, I want to be able to say, “I was there…” for the really important moments.

I was there when all my children were born and those moments were the greatest moments of my life. I was in the middle of a drug sting when Allie was born. I got the 911 page from my father and raced from Houston to Corpus Christi, getting stopped by a DPS trooper for speeding just outside of Victoria. It was a scary situation but you made it and you’re a beautiful and smart young lady. Sarah was born in Houston and although she only lived there for 3 months, she still considers herself a Houstonian. Sarah and Isaiah’s deliveries went smoothly and I’m thankful to have such beautiful and healthy children.

I was there when they all took their first steps and I walked behind them to make sure they didn’t fall. Allie, you passed your walker down to your sister and she walked faster than any of you. Isaiah took a little longer because Sarah insisted on carrying him most of the time.

I was there for Isaiah’s first haircut and I hated to see him lose his beautiful soft baby curls.

I was there when Sarah said her first word. I was living/working in Houston and my family was living in Corpus Christi. We met at the Ikea and when she saw me, she screamed out, “Dadda.” Allie’s first words were Blockbuster and Schlotsky’s. You can imagine where we spent most of our time when Allie was a baby. Isaiah didn’t speak until he was three. Sarah spoke for him and when he said, “Uh Uh Uh” Sarah would interpret and tell us, “He says he’s thirsty.” You fight like cats and dogs now but you were best friends when you were little.

I was there when Allie caught her first fish. We were at the T-heads in downtown Corpus Christi and she was fishing with a purple Danny the Dinosaur rod and reel. It was a monster Sheephead and I was more excited about it than she was. Isaiah’s my fishing buddy now but Allie still holds the record for the biggest fish.

I was there for first days of school and I always enjoyed hearing about all the activities that you did. Sarah wanted to be dropped off just like  Allie. As we pulled up to the school, Sarah said, “You can drop me off here. I can do this on my own.” You haven’t changed a bit.

I was there for birthday parties and I always felt that they came too soon together. Now, all of you are taller than your mother and I’m wondering, “where did all the time go?”

I was there when you lost your two front teeth and I made sure the tooth fairy compensated you well. There’s a little container in my desk full of teeth. I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them. I know…it’s gross.

I was there to watch you all acting silly and to laugh along with you. You all have my sense of humor now because of it and you’re mother can’t stand it when we are all laughing at the same warped and twisted jokes.

I was there to stay up at night with all of you when you were sick, carrying all of you, and rocking all of you to sleep when you were babies.

If there’s anything that I can pass on to parents everywhere and my own children when they become parents….it’s to be able to say, “I was there…” I love you kids.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

I picked up my children from school yesterday and we made our monthly trip to a little shop called My Favorite Muffin. After leaving the muffin shop, we were on our way to take one of their friends home and the conversation of my oldest daughter’s religion class came up. Somewhere in the midst of that conversation, my oldest daughter said, “I don’t care what my teacher says, I believe that dogs go to heaven.” Being someone that has owned dogs all my life, I agreed and said that dogs have a distinct personality, which tells me that they have a soul, which in turn leads me to believe that they do go to heaven. On top of that, I believe that Heaven is a perfect place, full of happiness and where there is no stress and no worry. I can’t imagine a place full of happiness without the love of a dog.

There are brief moments in my day when I experience that happiness and whatever amount of stress I’m under goes away. One of those moments is when I walk in the door to my home and my two dogs meet me at the door, jumping on me and wagging their tails, waiting on me to give them their chicken treats. Jackie and Lulu are sisters and I always refer to them as “my girls.” We got them from a friend and when we saw the group of five puppies, we had to get both of them. Something about their personalities that jumped out at us, even as puppies. We always referred to Jackie as “the smart one” and Lulu as “the cute dumb one.” Sarah, my middle child, is like me. She’s the animal lover in the house. She always says she wants to be a veterinarian. She spent time trying to teach the dogs trick and was, for the most part unsuccessful. She was able to teach Lulu to sit and she managed to teach Jackie to stand on her hind legs and turn in circles. Regardless, neither of the girls learned to fetch. Whenever the girls would escape from the house or the back yard, they would stick together. Jackie would keep an eye on Lulu and when we would go out on the front porch to call the dogs to come home, Jackie would come running and most times she would leave Lulu behind. I would tell her, “go get your sister” and Jackie would run back out and it was like she was telling Lulu, “Come On! They’re calling us!” just like little girls playing with friends down the block, and they’d both come running.

Over the last couple of days, Jackie was looking depressed. We knew she didn’t feel good. She wasn’t wagging her tail and she didn’t want to get off her bed. At 10:30 last night we decided to take Jackie to the emergency room. After blood work and urinalysis, the doctor gave us the bad news and without going into detail, I ended up having to make the decision to end Jackie’s pain. She had several problems and we were surprised to find out that she didn’t seem to be sick until the very end. I feel strongly that she was sick for a while but because she was such a happy dog and always needing to look out for her sister, she held on and ignored a lot of the pain she was in. Her tail kept on wagging even on those days that she didn’t feel like it and every time her sister went out the back door, she knew that she had to go out there and keep an eye on her.

We brought Jackie home last night and I put her on the sofa wrapped in a towel while I woke up the kids and let them know about their dog. We all cried and I spoke with them about the reality of having animals in the family and the inevitable difficulty of losing them. I told the kids that they could see Jackie one last time before I buried her if they wanted to and they chose to not remember her wrapped in a towel but running around the house and sitting on top of the sofa, peering out of the front window, waiting to bark at the mail man. Lulu walked around the house, searching for her sister. I let the kids know that it was going to be important to give Lulu extra attention. Sarah put Lulu in her bed and cried herself to sleep and I laid Jackie to rest between the two plumerias against the side fence. How fortunate we were to enjoy Jackie over the last four years and the unconditional love of a dog. Regardless of my daughter’s religion teacher’s opinion, I’ll look forward to seeing her again.

To a Father who will soon be missing his Son…

It’s 1:20 in the morning.  Tomorrow I go back to my old schedule.  I’ve been working nights for the past several months and it has taken a toll on me.  I worked nights for years as a cop and again for years in the same psychiatric unit where I am now.  I’m not 22 years old anymore and my body clock is screaming at me telling me to stop abusing it.  So, after being awake all night last night, sleeping until 2pm, waking up, seeing 4 clients in the afternoon, eating dinner with the wife and another couple, everyone in my house is asleep and I sit here, deep in introspection, needing to pass 30 or 40 minutes of time that I know it will take to convince my brain that it needs to start slowing down.

An interesting thing happened tonight while we were at dinner.  Everyone sat at their tables, conversing with family and friends.  Waiters and restaurant staff went back and forth dealing with the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant and in the middle of it all, a loud chime went out.  It was a man at a table directly behind where we were sitting.  He was tapping his glass with his knife.

“Can I have everyone’s attention?  Hello….Can I have everyone’s attention!  I want to make a toast!”

I thought this guy was drunk, maybe he was?  Regardless, the words he said stopped everyone cold.

“I want to make a toast……to my son.  He leaves for Iraq this weekend.”  He looks down at his son and says, “I love you son and I’m proud of you.”

A lump formed in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears.  I looked at my wife and her eyes were watering.  I wanted to get up and go over to this father and son, hug them both and tell them “Thank You.”  Thank you to the son for serving his country and Thank you to the father for sharing that moment with us. We drift off at times, living in our own worlds, dealing with the problems of our own lives while Fathers and Mothers are telling their children good-bye like this on a regular basis.  It  helps to put things in perspective.  My heart is heavy for this father right now and although I don’t know him, I’ll pray for his son and his safe return.

My Son

My son just woke up and in a daze, walked into my office.  “Is everything ok son?”

“yeah” (in a slow voice with his eyes halfway shut)

“go back to sleep son and i’ll come in and give you a kiss before I go to sleep.”

“I love you dad” (as he turns and walks back to his bedroom)

“I love you too son.”

Several years ago my son and I got into the habit of writing letters to one another.  Of course, because I live on the computer, most of my notes were typed.  He would write me stories and ask me what I thought.  This is my encouragement to fathers…build those moments because eventually…they will be gone and we’ll have the memories. I wanted to share one of his stories and one of my letters to him.

I’ll finish this entry with a toast to my father.  I think you did a great job Dad.  My son is a caring little boy with a good heart.  I followed your lead and I try to do everything for him that you did with me.   I’m proud to be your son.

My Dad