The Story of My Stuff

photo 4-2In terms of earthly goods, I am not a wealthy person.  As a matter of fact, I got most  of my furniture pieces as gifts many years ago or from thrift stores and Craigslist. However, over the years, they have meshed together to make my house my unique palace.  As I sit in my living room and look around, I remember the stories attached to each piece and suddenly they seem like valuable old friends.  As a founding member of the Byrd Family Memory Keepers, I know it’s my job to place them in the Family Museum where they can be looked upon as treasures to be admired and not just “some old stuff we used to have in the house.”    My story and life are entwined in these pieces of wood, glass and fabric.  To tell you the story of them, I tell the story of myself, my friends and family.

It was the summer of 1979 and Bill and I were getting married on the last Saturday of July.  Bill had just graduated from East Carolina University and had started his “real” job at Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company.  It always amazed me that he got an engineering job with a philosophy degree.  I guess that was back when a college degree was a magic “calling card” that opened doors to employment.  Anyway, he had a job in the administration side of the company and starting pay was $11,500 a year.  With that and what I made as a church secretary, we were going to be rich!  I loved Bill, but a girl also marries a man for his potential.  His potential was already taking shape!photo 3-1

We got our first apartment a few months before we married.  Bill moved in first and we immediately started trying to put furniture in it.  He’d not worked long enough to pay cash for big ticket items and I didn’t make enough to pay for them either.

Luckily,  Bill’s earning potential got us credit at Davis Furniture Store in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and suddenly we were the owners of the fanciest cream colored couches I had ever sat upon and had the pleasure of owning!  Within the same week we also went shopping at Simmons Furniture Company in downtown Tarboro and bought pretty little solid cherry end tables with Queen Anne styled, cabriole legs and carved scallop embellishments on them.  Of course, I had to have matching brass lamps to sit on top of them.  We also purchased some framed Chinese prints.  I remember that it took me quite a while to make the decision on these purchases and Donald Morris (the salesperson who waited on us and a future Mayor of Tarboro)  was very patient with me!  It’s not every day that a girl gets to choose her first new living room “suite.”    To make me even happier, my brother Scot gave us a beautiful gilded gold mirror as a wedding gift from W.S. Clark and Sons Department Store (when they were still in the furniture business.) My brother had good taste!

I couldn’t wait to have them delivered to our new apartment and when the truck pulled up in front of our door, I was like a kid at Christmas.  Finally, I was getting a home of my own.  That night, as it became dark, we turned on our new lamps and walked back and forth on the side walk in front of our apartment.  “Look,”  I said in amazement to Bill.  “The lights are glowing from the windows. It looks like a home!”  I was already a “homebody.”

It was all coming together, but we were lacking something important; our dining room table. My grandparents pitched in proudly with their offering; a little kitchen table that they got when they were first married.  That was in 1928, which by the way was our first, home telephone number: 823-1928. Some things you never forget.

It was a humble little table, painted a tan/cream color.  I decided to strip it and bring it back to its former glory.  It wasn’t the prettiest wood and my grandmother told me it was painted when they got it.    Oh, well…I knew if I put some stain on it, the “uglies” would disappear.  What the stain didn’t cover, the place mats did!photo 1-3

Now, to find some chairs!  The table wasn’t very big and we needed four, small chairs.  This is when our friends, Victor Padgett and Lee Summerlin came to our rescue. These talented, creative guys owned a furniture company called Restoration Antiques.  They sold antiques but they also made antique reproductions.  We would spend many Saturday afternoons in their shop on Main Street in Tarboro, creating our wish list.

When they learned that we had a table but no chairs, they gave us a call.  “Hey, guys,” Victor said.  “Lee and I want to offer y’all some chairs to go with your table. They are a matching group of four, oak plank bottom chairs.  You can have them for $25.00 a piece.  They are actually worth much more than that but that will be our wedding present to you guys!”photo 2-1 photo 1-2

We couldn’t believe it!  We were getting chairs to match our table!  We went and picked them up the next day.  They were the perfect size.  It was like the prince putting on Cinderella’s lost shoe.  They fit!  After we loaded them into the car we thanked them and Victor said, “If you ever want to get rid of them, don’t give them away or sell them.  Let us buy them back from you.  It’s very rare to find a matching set of plank bottom chairs.  They’re well over a hundred years old.”

We took them back home and put them around our table and tried them out.  Old and rare, huh?  We felt like we could get into this “antique” stuff.  We set the table with the new china we had received as wedding gifts,  lit some candles and went outside to see what how our apartment looked.  It was looking full and homey as it glowed in the ivory candle light.

I can’t tell you about our bedroom.  Bill wouldn’t let me see it until our wedding day.  It was my surprise and he decorated it and found the furniture for it himself.  That was when he was romantic!

I look back on our first apartment now and I enjoy my memories. In July, Bill and I will celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. We’ve lived in over thirty places within ten or so cities. Between all the years, the moves and six children, we’ve been through many living room,  dining room and bedroom suites.  After ten years, when we were moving away from New Orleans,  we gave our beautiful couches away to a ministry couple who had three children and very little else.  We still have the Chinese prints, the end tables (although now they are painted a cheery red to cover the scars,)  the beautiful gold mirror and my grandmother’s kitchen table.

We never sold the matching oak, plank bottom chairs.  They’ve received more wear and tear than any other pieces of furniture we’ve  owned and I dare not paint them.  As our family grew and the children got older,  the chairs became the “extra” chairs lining the dining room wall that the children’s friends would grab and pull up to the table when the regular dining chairs were full.  After years and years of fannies and bottoms sliding in and off of the seats, the metal snap on the back of their jean pockets wore groves into the famous planks.  I look at the deep scratches etched into the wood and I can only smile as I remember the good times we had sitting in the little chairs around a table, eating, talking about the day, settling family issues, making important decisions, writing songs and being creative. They are like winkles, showing age, wear and character.

The little oak chairs are on my back porch now, around an oak table Daddy got from a lady he worked with at Long Manufacturing Company.  Her name was Mildred and when she gave the pretty round table to Daddy,  she said it was as “old as the hills.” He later passed the table to me.  It’s even older now and it looks really nice with my scratched up chairs.  They are sitting there all alone  for now, waiting for our grandchildren and cousins to come and scratch them up some more.  At the Byrd Family Museum, wear and tear are allowed!photo 3

Here’s your song!  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it!  It was Dean Martin’s biggest hit and was number one on the charts for six weeks in 1956, the year I was conceived!  Whoops…Hope that wasn’t too much information!






My Bill Done Bought Me a House

“He makes his home where the living is best.” Latin proverb

I grew up with dreams of getting married, having children and buying a home. In 1979, Bill and I got married and six months later, at the age twenty-three, we bought a house in Tarboro, North Carolina. It wasn’t an extravagant house by any means. It was a small, white, wood frame, two bedroom home with one bath and a floor furnace in the hall. It cost us $23,000 and to me, it might as well had been the Taj Mahal. We did what many couples seem to do; we got a nice dog named Muffin. Every day, Bill would sing this song to her: “Oh do you know the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl…Who lives at 1100 Chapel Street?” Our mansion. Our dream.   It was time for a baby.

John was born three years after we were married. I quit my job so that I could be a stay-at-home mom and all of a sudden, finances got pretty tight. We sold the house for $29,000 to pay off our debts and moved into a nice rental home on a pretty street with brick homes. Life was good! We then got pregnant with Natalie and moved into the house next door because we needed more space. Once again, we were renters.

When Natalie was almost two years old, we left Tarboro so that Bill could pursue Christian Education Administration at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We put everything we owned into a U-Haul truck, said good-bye to the corporate world and went out on “Bill and Donna’s Excellent Adventure” to see where God would take us. In Virginia Beach, Bill got his education and Donna got another baby, Stacey. What was next for this family of five?

New Orleans! We lived in three different abodes, one a pretty little town home set in a garden courtyard. The courtyard had thick, jungle-like greenery and trees I had never seen before, making up a type of exotic forest. Everything about New Orleans was different. The people talked like they were from the Bronx and they had Mardi Gras! The food was fabulous and I learned to cook Cajun delicacies. But I felt as if I was in a different country! My fourth child was born there. Jeremy. I think some of the music from New Orleans seeped into his soul. We always left each city with a piece of it in our hearts.

In Atlanta, we stayed in a Christian retreat center just outside the city. We had rustic rooms that looked like kid’s camp bunk rooms. The children thought that they had died and gone to heaven. They could jump on all the beds and run and play all over the expansive property.  We were the only ones staying there for months. It was almost like a vacation.

Orlando was our home for nine years and we lived in eight different places. At first, we lived in a condo on beautiful Lake Lotus. This was my first Florida home and my best remembrance of it is looking out of my sliding glass doors on the first morning up and seeing the mist rise out over the lake as a tiny boat sat on perfectly still water.  Some snowy white birds were on the shore and I thought to myself, “I live in Florida.” I smiled to myself for weeks, thinking I was the luckiest girl on earth.

We moved our growing family and tribe to what we called the “blue house.” It had four bedrooms that were filled to the brim with life. The first morning we were there, the older children went to school and by the time they got home, I had the house entirely decorated. Pictures on the walls, my cross stitched master pieces prominently displayed for all to see. I remember that Natalie walked in after school, looked around and said, “Momma! You put up our ways on the wall.” She automatically felt like she was home.

When we got married, I began cross stitching. I decided not to read as much (I was an avid reader) but to do something during my spare time that showed the work of my hands. During my pregnant and nursing years, (eleven or twelve years) I was a cross stitch artist. I spent so much money on custom framing that I could have made a down payment on a small house! Bill was always fussing about it, but I decided that my artwork would be a legacy for my children. No matter where we lived, that art decorated our walls. The day my last child, Cody was born, I stopped doing it and began to read again.

My last two children, Isaaca and Cody were born when we lived there. They were rare, Florida natives. Our family was complete. One dream accomplished!

Later, we lived in two other nice homes on lakes, one of which I actually caught my boys playing with baby alligators at a retention pond in the neighborhood. Next, I got to live out another dream of mine by living in a log cabin. We weren’t in the mountains but in Florida! I thought it must be the only log cabin in Orlando. The neat thing about it was that Bob Ross, the artist on T.V. lived next door. He was the kindest man. He took care of wounded squirrels and birds. One time, he showed Bill and me his basement studio and his 19th century art collection.  I know you’re jealous! It was so cool!

For me, the best thing about the house was the front yard and porch. I planted beautiful fern and caladium beds flanked by multi-colored impatiens in the front yard in the deep, green shade. I loved to drive into my driveway, sit in my car and look at that loveliness and from time to time, glance over at Bob Ross’ house. It satisfied me.

Of course, I’ve written about the apartment complexes we lived and ministered in. That certainly satisfied our desire for adventure but it also taught us that no matter where you live or who you live around, you find that people are just people. I recall that our son Jeremy made friends with a Haitian boy, Marcus, in one of the complexes. They played together every day and made a fort on the corner of the property with trash they found lying around the neighborhood. It was probably nicer than some of the temporary homes in Haiti. I hated that someone tore it down one day. There were two broken-hearted little boys!

Orlando entertained us all the time. In one house near Kissimmee, every night at 7:00, you could see the fireworks from Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World. It was the Fourth of July every day! At the apartment complex in “the hood,” you could see helicopter light shows all the time. They always flew low over where we lived, seeking out car thieves, drug dealers or murderers. We were Christian adventure junkies!

Miami was interesting! We lived in a condo at a resort right on the beach. Bill sold time-share out of it by day and did Spanish speaking church services at night and on the weekends in the conference rooms. Our apartment had two bedrooms and a sun room. There were eight of us and most of the kids slept on pallets on the floor. We felt as if God had given us a year’s vacation! After that, we got to stay for several months in an apartment in a flower nursery. That was odd, but hey, the place was loaded with nature’s colors and beautiful birds lived all around us too! It was so tropical. Plus, there was a great Cuban restaurant across the street at the gas station. Did I tell you Cuban food was one of my favorites?

I loved Miami! It was blue and aqua and green and white and it smelled of all kinds of foods and it was the only place where I had ever been where you could stand on a street corner and hear car radios blasting in at least three different languages at one time. Sensory overload! It was glorious!

The next place we lived was Alabama, God’s Country! We lived there for nine years and served in a church with the loveliest, kindest people we had ever met! We lived in one house for eight years, the longest time we had ever stayed in one home. The kids really grew up in that house and over time, it became a showplace to me. I planted rose gardens and dug flower beds in red clay, as hard as cement. I added truckloads of black, rich soil to the red dirt and mixed it with my hands every year and miracle of miracles, the flowers were stellar! My pride and joy! My little bit of heaven!

I had an artistic friend, Candice, who came and painted in free-hand, lyrics on my walls. I had a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, “Our House,” painted all around the house, over the fireplace, the piano, dining table and chair railing down the hallway. It was our mantra. It made us all happy to see it and we smiled every time we walked by the beautiful, free flowing words. That house held so many dreams in it…It was a magical house where our kids came to live there as young children and left as adults.

The children all moved to Nashville, Tennessee because music was calling and they had dreams to live out. When that happened, I had a breakdown. We were leaving Alabama too, and they were all in a new town without me. I felt as if my life had been pulled out from me. My life was a beautifully, set table and someone yanked the table cloth out from under it.

But God had plans for us. Bill and I went to Sneads Ferry, North Carolina to work, after twenty eight years of ministry life, at my cousin and her husband’s real estate company, Treasure Realty. Our lives had completely changed and in my heart I thought it was only temporary. Bill and I desperately wanted to be in Nashville. We made plans pleaded with God to let us go…open the doors…get us near our children. They were our home. We just wanted to be near them.

And somehow, it didn’t happen. Nothing worked out for us. There was not even a crack of door opening anywhere. So…

We lived in lovely places in Sneads Ferry. Twice, we lived in condos on the beach. For a little over a year we lived in a garden home and since last March, we’ve lived in my cousin’s downstairs apartment in their home on the Intra Coastal Waterway. Not too shabby! God always gives us the best places!

We’ve been here for three years now and I have to tell you, after a while, we just chose to be happy.   I can’t tell you the day I decided to do that but we thought, “At our age, we need the stability of work. Also, we are celebrated here and people love us! We have other family members near us. What’s not to like?”

Little by little, I began to see myself in Sneads Ferry. Bill and I started looking for a house, not to rent but to buy! I must announce that we found one.   We saw it on a Sunday and within a few weeks, it was our house! We are over the moon ecstatic about it! After thirty-two years, we are home owners again!

We are having the inside painted now and we will move in a few weeks. I can sit on the front porch and actually hear the ocean roaring from a half mile away. When we lived in Alabama, we lived right off of Interstate 20 and at night I would lie in bed and hear the big trucks rolling down the highway traveling to and from Atlanta and Birmingham. They sounded like the ocean’s roar to me and I would pretend I was at the beach, going to sleep under the oceans hypnotic spell.

I don’t have to pretend anymore! It is the ocean and I have a big front porch! Come and sit with me and let’s visit!

My brother-in-law, Keith used to always tease me and ask, “When are you guys going to stop renting houses and buy one?” I’d always answer back, “Don’t you worry about it. My Bill is going to buy me a house one day.” It became a family joke and as some of my Southern friends would say, “Donna’s Bill done bought her a house!” I just may have to have Candice come up and paint some free-spirited words on my wall or just put the old ones back because: “Our house, is very, very, very fine house.”

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Oh, and by the way…Nashville is never out of the picture! One day, Nashville. Me and You…Just you wait and see!



Here’s a couple songs….enjoy!





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