75: The House That Ernie Built

75: The House That Ernie Built

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

The House That Ernie Built

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

My husband Fred’s grandchildren squealed with delight as they leaped from the dock into the cool lake. The cousins laughed and teased each other, just as my cousins and I did when we were young. The sky was blue, the sun was hot, and the breeze was gentle. We were enjoying a family picnic with Fred’s sons and their families at Fred’s former home. This was a special day in an atmosphere I loved. I knew I should be happy, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was numb — lost somewhere inside my memories.

Fred and I were a widower and a widow who were lucky enough to find each other after losing our spouses to cancer. When we married three years earlier, Fred sold this beautiful lake home to his son and joined me in my country house. Now, we were taking the next step. We decided that it was time to sell my house and the forty acres it sat on, and buy a smaller house in town. We wanted a place closer to medical facilities, shopping, friends, families, and church. Yet, it still needed to have big garages like the country house. Fred rebuilds antique motorcycles and has at least forty of them. He needed room for his stuff!

With those requirements, house hunting was a challenge. The real estate market was booming, and it proved almost impossible to find what we wanted. Day after day we studied the computer, but when we found one that looked interesting, it sold before our agent could show it to us. This went on for months. Finally, we gave up.

Then, Fred went online to look for motorcycle parts. Instead, he found a house that was for sale by its owner. It sounded perfect. It was meticulously built, had everything we wanted, and was even my favorite color—yellow. Plus, it had something we hadn’t even dreamed of finding. Its huge windows overlooked Lake Superior, and a short walk across the scenic highway would bring us to the lake’s rocky shore.

Earlier that morning, Fred and I went to look at it, fell in love, and signed the papers to buy it. We knew it was a place our friends and families would enjoy visiting. This would be our house. Now we wouldn’t be living in houses we’d shared with our previous spouses. Fred admitted that he’d never been comfortable living in Ernie’s house, and I understood. I wouldn’t have been comfortable living in the home his wife Suzy designed and loved.

However, instead of being excited about our great find, I now found myself strangely preoccupied. I adored the sweet little house that Fred and I had just agreed to buy. But, I was surprised by feelings of guilt. Now I would have to sell the house Ernie worked so hard to create.

Usually a social person, I was unhappy sitting by the lake and went for a long walk. I was crazy about Fred and loved the new life we had together. It was important to me that we live in a house that made him happy. What was wrong with me? My stomach churned with unexpected second thoughts. Ernie designed the house, then he built it all by himself. Usually, he was at work all day, then worked on the house until late at night.

There were so many memories there: the sunrises over the little lake, the magnificent rock garden he created for my birthday, and the antique pump he bought from an old farmer, painted bright red, and attached to our deck to surprise me on Mother’s Day. Some of his ashes were scattered by his deer stands in the woods. What would he think of me selling his creation?

Was I being disloyal to Ernie? Fred managed to keep his house in the family. I’d be selling Ernie’s house to a stranger. Yet, Fred and I prayed over and over about this decision. Why was I having doubts now? I walked back to Fred’s old house and joined his family for dinner.

I was quiet on the long drive home and prayed silently. I’d been praying to God about this for months, but I was still confused. I felt silly about it but I asked God for a sign.

And that’s when we drove up to our mailbox and pulled out the day’s mail. There was a large manila envelope that was addressed to me, had no return address, and had something heavy in one corner.

Opening the envelope, I didn’t find a letter or an explanation. It simply contained a pile of 35mm pictures. They were pictures of Lake Superior and most of them had Ernie in them — sitting by the lake, walking by the lake, or simply smiling at the camera with the lake in the background. Ernie and I had gone to the big lake whenever we could. I was puzzled. Where had the pictures come from? Fred and I sat in silence, gazing at the stack of pictures.

Pictures of Ernie by Lake Superior on the very day that we bought a house on the lake. How could this be?

Then, I remembered. About fifteen years before, I sold a story, along with these photos, to a travel magazine. The story was about travel along Lake Superior’s north shore, but it was never published because the magazine went out of business. These were the pictures I took for that article.

How was it possible they arrived the day we bought the Lake Superior house?

Fred looked at the pictures, then spoke gently. “What’s Ernie telling you?”

When I grasped the meaning of Fred’s words, I began to sob. My dear Fred held me close as I struggled to put this miracle into words.

“Ernie’s telling me it’s time to move on. I think he’s glad I’ll be living by our precious lake.”

Somehow my beloved Ernie found a way to reach down from heaven. He gave me the help I needed to move on with my life.

~Lou Zywicki Prudhomme

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