by P. Gaye Tapp
A towering magnolia tree sheltered me from the rush of traffic on Glenwood Avenue for 10 years. There were moments when I thought a car might careen onto the sidewalk, crash into the stucco wall, invade the serenity of my courtyard, and take that sacred magnolia tree with it.
The house it sheltered, one I lived in and came to love – still stands just off Raleigh’s Five Points.
Built in 1916, it had fallen on hard times and was renovated somewhat austerely just prior to my purchase. The house became a haven, a home, and a place I ultimately left, moving back to the small town where I grew up – something I never expected to do, but the time had come for a change.
Before I found the house, I’d been living in a corner condominium that looked out over a green commons – a leisurely seven-minute walk away. But I never felt at home there; somehow it always seemed a place of transition. Even so, the first week I moved into the house, I found myself quite lost and longing for home.
I’d adopted a dog, a pit bull, and as I stood out on the corner of White Oak and Glenwood with him that first Friday night, the tears came.
What had I done?
This oh-so familiar corner, one I’d passed for years, suddenly felt like the Land of Oz. We were Dorothy and Toto, followed by the munchkins and a field of poppies. A new house, a new dog, a new way to get where I was going. It seemed a long way from home.
I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
The American Staffordshire terrier (pit bull), now called Moses, made himself at home. Recovering from treatment for heartworms (no doubt the reason he was abandoned), Moses had passed his 30-day trial with flying colors and was sleeping with his mistress. He became my shadow. Though thoroughly kind and gentle, he was imposing, giving no quarter to the doorbell or noises from the street.
If Moses had the lay of the land, I was still trying to find my bearings.
I found solace in decorating. After all, I was a decorator and would be meeting clients at the house. Walls were being taken from a simpering yellow to apricot. My decorative painter, Sandy, was becoming my very own Eldin, like a Murphy Brown episode, a fixture as well as a font of knowledge. He was given a key to come in early to commence painting and would drop in daily to take Moses on long walks.
As September 1996 arrived, I was settling in beautifully. Then Hurricane Fran struck.
Oh, my God, I was in Kansas after all, and instead of Toto, there was Moses, the pit bull.
That night, I went from window to window watching the storm, with Moses charged – a bit like a lightning bolt – following on my heels. Without fear, and ready – ready for anything – Moses gave me courage and protection.
At midnight, I lost power, and the sump pump failed. There was nothing to do but start bailing muddy water out of the thing as its banks spilled over like the Nile. Moses was there by my side, a place he occupied for the next 12 years. An irrevocable bond with Moses and the house was formed that night, and we – and the tree – escaped Fran with relative ease. I finally felt I was home.
The house and that tree and my loyal shadow Moses were also safe cover in disappointment and heartache. Once, when a promising romance was waning, Moses stood by my side, always my champion, barking indignantly.
“But, Moses, you like me!”
“Not anymore,” I told my suitor, as princely Moses stood unyielding.
Moses was supreme in all his judgments – perhaps this is a quality inherent in the name – and as it is with most dogs, he was spot-on.
The house was a place where love abounded. My father’s 70th birthday was staged there – along with receptions, Christmas parties, and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my parents moved to Raleigh, building rooms onto the house. The house was expanding, embracing my mother and father, just as they had always embraced me.
During one of my father’s extended illnesses, Moses and I slept on a mattress hastily made up on the floor just off the bedroom. There were nights Moses abandoned his usual place by me, and slept at the foot of my father’s bed, giving solace where it was needed most. Moses would extend his devotion to all those I loved and cherished. He was generous to a fault.
After my father died, I began to feel a shift in the house. It was less like home and less like safety. I made the decision to move. It was as if overnight, a window had been left open, a door left ajar, a storm had passed over. It’s hard to explain, but Moses felt it, too. It was time to move on.
Just after the house sold, the new owner cut down my towering magnolia. The house stood vulnerable. Why? It wasn’t for me to say – but nothing stays the same – and a house is not always home.
We find our harbor where there is love…and a dog.