At 7 a.m., I sit on my enclosed back porch at my laptop. Through broad windows I can see a gray and pink velvet dawn. In the early light, two pairs of cardinals study the ground in the horse paddock in front of me, looking for breakfast. Scissortails flutter about. Eight errant geese fly high, high overhead. If I move to the door, my garden comes into view. Some pinking tomatoes will need to be picked before the afternoon rains move in.
Sitting here in the peace of the morning, the house drapes around me like a cherished shawl, filled with the things I love: plants, books, framed embroidery, family pictures and a relic or two from the Victorian house where I grew up. My golden cat, Twister, and his sister, Violet, with little white feet and round eyes, sit by me, devoted to my hobbling, aging person. This is my Eden, my Little House. Modest, scarcely 800 square feet, nevertheless palatial for a humble woman who once only dreamed of having a place to escape the roaring freeways of the city.
When I was small, my mother used to sing an old, sentimental song to me. The song concludes: “I’ll build a sweet little nest way out in the West/And I’ll let the rest of the world go by.” There is such tranquility in that line. Yet few of us have the opportunity to “let the rest of the world go by.” My days were spent commuting to work, coping with the hubbub of high school English classes, grading papers, single-parenting my children, tending an elderly mother, maintaining a house, yard and automobile, stretching a monthly paycheck that never seemed to be enough for my family’s needs—responsibilities ad infinitum.
Then the tumult of my world quieted. The children grew up and built their own worlds. Mother, at 102 years, slipped away in her sleep, and I reached 65 years, retirement time. My friends were creating their getaways, and I craved a summer cottage, a place to call my own. But a scornful secret voice laughed at the lilting one: “Forget it, Maggie. Buy a lawn chair, some earplugs to stifle the roar of I-45, and stop yearning for the impossible.”
But the impossible became possible through a fortunate turn of events. I was offered a half-time position, using my English skills, with a modest salary to fortify my retirement income. In the meantime, my son and his wife moved into a home on FM 977 and County Road 408 at Evans Chapel, just west of Leona in Leon County. Knowing of my love for the area, my son offered me a plot behind his home for my dream getaway. Why not? I found a local carpenter who had solid skills, and a bank that approved a small home loan. At completion, the little house resembled a plain crackerbox: 500 square feet with a bedroom, a bath and a living-dining room-kitchen in one room. I squeezed every penny. I selected the most economical fixtures I could find. I painted the interior myself. Scouting discount stores, my daughter and sister-in-law helped me select and coordinate furnishings. To enhance the plain, flat front of the square house, I affixed window boxes to each of the four windows. I dug, planted, mowed, trimmed. Soon I had a fence to frame the front of the property. My weekends were filled with work—for the love of the little house. And its name became The Little House.
That was 2000. Since, I have added an enclosed porch on the back of the house and an open garage. I have had family and friends here for parties, had holidays here, birthdays, reunions and even a summer workshop for English teachers. But most often, I come alone with the cats, work in the yard, write, read, listen to an Astros game and watch the birds.
My house is the completion of an old woman’s dream. Your dream, if you have such a dream, is probably very different. Yet, if you long for a place to come to and feel you can never attain it, do not be daunted. If I can do it, anybody can.
Writer Henry David Thoreau, who had perhaps the world’s most famous retreat, a cabin on Walden Pond, advises us about dreams: “If you have built castles in the air, that is where they should be … Now put the foundations under them …”
My advice to you in building those foundations: Don’t wait—act now, because tomorrows aren’t trustworthy; don’t be afraid to take risks; sacrifice for what you want; work hard—above all, have fun in what you do. Certainly, my Little House does not house a Thoreau. It is the fulfillment of a dream, a place of peace for one simple woman who longed to escape the city and created that escape on a county road in Texas.
Navasota Valley and Houston County Electric Cooperatives serve Leon County.
Margaret Smith, a retired schoolteacher, lives in Spring when she’s not at her Little House.