Who Will Come Knocking?

At the door of the house who will come knocking?
An open door we enter
A closed door, a den
The world pulse beats beyond my door
—Pierre Albert Birot, translated from "Les Amusements Naturels"

During the early weeks of Covid, an older home behind my bungalow in Houston was demolished to build a grander home. I avoided watching this process mainly because it was one of the many houses my late brother, Bill Hall, an architectural designer, had extensively remodeled. It took five days to demolish it and cut down the 80-year-old oak tree.

With "stay at home" orders imminent and two more nearby houses Bill had remodeled slated to be demolished within a month, I decided to pack up and head to my old house on the prairie.

I bought this five room, 80-year-old house 41 years ago and had it moved to four acres of over-grazed, treeless prairie near Brenham, Texas. The house had been a rental for so long to so many it was hard to tell the last time someone thought of this place not just as a shelter but as a home, but it had good bones. During the three years of weekends that it took me to restore it and add a kitchen, bathrooms and a porch, I had sawed, drilled, nailed, sanded and painted every piece of wood in the house. My DNA is all over it, and its preservation and the hard work and my determination to finish it are part of my identity. Even before it was finished it became a place for family and friends to gather, willing to sleep on air mattresses scattered throughout the house and on the porch and tents in the yard. Everyone knew the key was on the hammock hook if they needed a get away.

I've never been able to spend this much time up here and rarely without guests, especially during the internationally known wildflowers season in this sweet spot in Texas. I spend my days doing maintenance chores and call at least one friend a day to break the solitude. When I want to sculpt, I prune the 30- to 40-year-old trees my late husband planted, trying to channel his expertise; when I want to draw, I mow meandering pathways through the painstakingly restored prairie. The only visitors to this gallery are the increasing number of silent, uncritical foragers.

My brother, Bill, had built shelves around my kitchen window as a birthday present shortly before he died. The oil and sweat from his hand gradually appeared on a board I never got around to painting. What has always been a heartbreaking symbol of his absence has become a comforting presence in the last three months.

What I also realized during these 14 weeks is that it's not a good place to grow older alone in without a supporting community, so subconsciously I've been saying my goodbyes. To keep this loss in perspective I turn on the news, the world's pulse, and constantly remind myself, "it's just a house."

Kathy Hall lives in Houston and Brenham, Texas.