The SEC Championship football game is playing on a television in an empty living room.
In this room there is no furniture, no framed pictures, no lamps, and no signs of life. Just a barren house and spiders who died of old age.
This used to be my mother-in-law’s house. Now that she is no longer with us, it’s a tomb.
My wife and I are seated on the hard floor, watching our last game in this room, eating box dinners. The Michelob never tasted so bittersweet.
Alabama just intercepted the ball. My wife leaps to her feet, howling, dancing the Cabbage Patch, shouting at the TV.
We are big TV shouters in this family. It’s tradition. My wife is worse about shouting than I am. If you ever get a chance, ask my wife about the time Washington Nationals Park security approached her about yelling inappropriate remarks to a starting pitcher regarding his mother.
But anyway, it’s hard to believe that only one hundred days ago this living room was populated with cushy sofas, oaken side tables, brass floor lamps, gaudy 1970s wall art, and easy chairs.
What’s more, these rooms once contained my mother-in-law’s Christmas decorations, her cookbook anthologies, her porcelain figurines, her past issues of “Southern Living” dating back to February 1966, and her closets full of outdated polyester clothing.
But after the recent estate sale, all that remains is a TV.
Over the years I watched this TV a lot with with my mother-in-law. I have seen roughly four million Hallmark Channel Christmas movies on this screen. I’ve seen each episode of “Murder She Wrote” six or seven times. And I’ve watched all nine seasons of “Little House on the Prairie” thrice.
And, of course, each year the family would gather in this den to watch the SEC Championship. On this humble 48-inch low-definition screen, I’ve seen Alabama win seven SEC titles. After tonight, eight.
It all seems like ancient history now.
Still, when I close my eyes I can remember the old days spent in the company of these walls. Long ago, my wife’s parents would sit in His and Hers BarcaLoungers, the TV would be blaring at a volume loud enough to affect the migratory patterns of geese.
Come December, the Christmas decor would be in full bloom. This room always looked swell for Christmas.
My mother-in-law recruited me to put up the holiday decorations because I am a pushover. Decorating this house was a three-week-long affair. I spent most of that time dangling from a six-story ladder, hyperventilating, and muttering the 23rd Psalm.
The old woman would bark orders like a little communist dictator. She was a vicious taskmaster when it came to decorations. By the time we family members finished adorning every nanometer of her blamed house, we were homicidal. Or inebriated.
Then she fed us homemade cheese straws and all was forgotten.
But Alabama football games were by far my favorite activity at this house. My father-in-law would shout at the television, dog cuss, and throw glassware at the screen. And that was just during the commercial breaks. He hollered much louder during the game itself.
The rest of the family would joyously chime in, shouting after each major play.
One day, the old man encouraged me to join in all the shouting. “No thanks,” I said, inasmuch as I didn’t do much shouting in those days. I was a quiet kid, accustomed to watching games alone. You don’t shout when you watch games alone.
But my father-in-law would not tolerate quietness. Not in his living room. He coaxed me to raise my voice one afternoon until I strained a diaphragm muscle from yelling at the Samsung television like an idiot.
And I had a blast.
There I was, yelling at an inanimate flatscreen along with this loud, and gaily animated family. We ate popcorn by the fistful, spilled drinks on our laps, and pounded our fists on coffee tables like professional wrestlers during critical third-down situations. It was nothing short of magical.
But nothing lasts forever. Especially not magical stuff. People get older. People get sick. Loved ones leave this world. We lost my wife’s father first. Then her mother’s health went downhill.
It wasn’t long before my wife and I were putting up Christmas decorations while her mother was attached to a nasal cannula, struggling to breathe. The old woman didn’t have the energy to bark orders anymore. She didn’t even have the stamina to care about cheese straws.
Sitting in this vacant house brings it all back. Tonight I wonder if it all really happened. Was it all real, our lives? Or was it just a dream?
Were we really that youthful and naïve couple once? Did we really have a life here? Where did my freckles go? When did we start getting old?
Speaking of old. In a few months this old house will be sold. Some happy family will move into this place, renovate it, fix it up, and turn it into a real estate peach. On that day, all our memories will be covered beneath latex interior paint. The sound of our laughter will be forever embedded within these walls, never to be heard again.
But tonight—just for tonight—my wife and I are happy. We are watching Alabama win, and remembering our life as it was. We are rubbing elbows with familiar ghosts and friendly spirits. We are smiling.
And, of course, we are shouting at the TV.
Brad - December 5, 2021 6:50 am
Penn Wells - December 5, 2021 6:56 am
My hat is off to Bama and the amazing Bruce Young.
That is all.
Christina - December 5, 2021 7:06 am
It is so bittersweet. Hope these cherished memories will linger long…
Carole Couch-Moormann - December 5, 2021 7:23 am
Although this is sad, I love it. So many of us now have lost our parents and we are getting older. I am not an Alabama fan even though I live in Alabama but I loved this story. It was very touching. Thank you. Good night.
Sandi. - December 5, 2021 7:45 am
It’s heartwarming that you and Jamie savor the remembrances of happier times in her parents’ house. The memory is a good thing. I was really hoping that GA. would win that football game though.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - December 5, 2021 8:03 am
Why don’t y’all move there?
Ann - December 5, 2021 8:12 am
The Christmas season is a great time for mixed feelings and memories. I qualify for a good deal of this column and I do know when the physical things are “ gone” the sweet memories grow stronger. The house may disappear but not what was there. In fact some details are even more vivid…cherish these times, they will also be passed on….and don’t forget to treasure the now!
Betty Martinez Lowery - December 5, 2021 10:35 am
In old age, we wrap ourselves in a blanket woven from the fibers of our most cherished memories. I believe yours will be truly warm, fluffy, ample and luxurious.
Suzanne Pickens - December 5, 2021 10:41 am
One does holler and cuss at the TV when one is alone! Especially when one is a Gator fan! Bless y’all’s hearts!
Nell Thomas - December 5, 2021 10:56 am
Great story. Experiencing similar situation with my Mom’s house.
Unless you two decide to move in – the best thing that could happen would be to come across someone that would love it and the means to take care of it. I think that would make parting with it a little easier.
Robin Ungano - December 5, 2021 11:00 am
This really hits home personally for me, for so many reasons…Thank you for sharing with us.
JB - December 5, 2021 11:24 am
For those of us who have been in the “about to be sold” world, we understand. It hurts. It will hurt worse once its sold and you can never go back.
Donna - December 5, 2021 11:51 am
I loved everything about this except for the part where Georgia lost. Love to you and Jamie!
Pete Tucker - December 5, 2021 11:53 am
Interesting story. Well-told.
Candace - December 5, 2021 12:01 pm
Well said. But your mom will continue to live on. Many people will refer to her house by who lived there previously. “You know the house. It’s where the “So-and-So” family lived.” It’s never your house until you leave.
Lisa K Riley - December 5, 2021 12:35 pm
Holler as loud as you can for as long as you can. They hear it in Heaven. I can just see the Barcaloungers all in a row and the most monstrous big screen…popcorn scattered across the cloud tops. Memories keep us going, Sean.
Joy Jacobs - December 5, 2021 12:39 pm
I hope my kids and grandkids have great memories of us.❤️
Denise Walker - December 5, 2021 12:53 pm
It’s so hard to say goodbye to a lifestyle. I know. I lost my mom in 2015, had an estate sale, and sold the house. The good memories return after a while and settle your soul. Peace to you and your sweet wife (we also shout at the TV)
And Roll Tide!
Darlene - December 5, 2021 12:56 pm
I lost my dad in December 2004 and my mom in April of 2015. The world ..without them is simply not as shiny.
After my dad died, I was in the grocery store getting ready for Christmas and I started putting all kinds of cookie ingredients in my cart for Daddy’s usual holiday sweets “surprise”. (Hardly a surprise, it happened every year!) Then, I remembered .. he was gone. I knew it, intellectually but my heart hadn’t gotten the memo. “Cleanup on aisle 5. Some lady just had a meltdown.”
My mom died a week before I turned 60. If you think you can’t be an orphan at 60, you’ll only understand when you become one. She lived with us the last ten years of her life and I had gotten used to the breadcrumbs she left in the butter and the smell of her White Diamond dusting powder wafting down the hall. I still have her dusting powder but it’s not the same smell without her in it.
Still, I’m grateful for the holes in my heart. It’s sacred ground and a constant reminder of how fortunate I was to love and be loved by them. Someday, we’ll all be together again. ❤️ Merry Christmas Sean & Jamie. We miss you, Mother Mary.
Karen - December 5, 2021 11:50 pm
You always touch my heart. I have so many memories of my family. Those were wonderful times. Disposing of all their treasures and then their home is not easy. Some new family will make wonderful memories in the home . This is a good thing.
Morton Vice - December 5, 2021 1:04 pm
Pretty daggone good article…
Bobby Birmingham - December 5, 2021 1:12 pm
I don’t believe good karma can get buried under mere latex… I believe it lingers on, and adds a certain timbre to the vibe of the place. The next family may just find themselves wondering “Why are we so happy here”??
flacbe - December 5, 2021 1:21 pm
In a nutshell! You just described what I’ve been through with my loved ones passing over the last many years. It started with my mom maw, then my daddy and father-in-law passed within a month of each other, our only child got married and left home and it was just us left. My mom lived behind us and all the memories of grilling before the game and on Sunday afternoons stopped on a dime. My husband, my mom and me would get in the car and just drive on the weekends trying to fill the time. We sold our home of 32 years, all the memories of first steps, birthdays, 4th of July’s, Christmas’s sold and only tucked away in our hearts. I did a walk through video of my mom maw’s home that I still have saved on a private youtube video that includes the sound of her screen door when I opened but I couldn’t take the smell with me, the smell that felt like I was home when I walked through her door. I did the same for our home before we sold it. I am a Real Estate Agent and what I have learned is how sad I get when I walk into a once alive home with all the knick knacks, gold carpet, the collectibles that meant the world to that home owner. It hit me one day when I walked in seeing all their hard work that bought that home and all the things they loved, just sitting there after the family had picked what they wanted to keep, being priced for the estate sale, You Really Can’t Take It With You. We work so hard to buy things these days just to be sold later. My new goal is to leave hearts with a Hey y’all member that time she did this, that we went here or wow she loved me so much. Aging is not for sissies not just because your body tends to find a new spot to hurt everyday, it’s the fact that we have so much sudden changes from empty nest, to our elders in our families leaving us. I can remember going to see my mom maw and her had been crying and literally saying she was missing her people. Big Hug to your and Jamie, cause that description you just wrote was how we watched football at my house with my daddy, my father-in-law, husband, son and we were all Hollering at the players, coaches and the ref’s.
Christy Davis Ritter - December 5, 2021 1:22 pm
Leaky leaky leaky eyes. You never fail to make it happen. We watched the game here in Oklahoma. We watched a lot of football in the past 9 days. It was emotional for sure. And yesterday I put up our tree and cried over a few ornaments. Ah the holidays… ah memories… ah football. May we have them all forever.
elizabethroosje - December 5, 2021 1:26 pm
Much love to you and Jamie 💙
Paul McCutchen - December 5, 2021 2:05 pm
Being raised in Arkansas I always “root” for the hogs. Now I live in Georgia and if the Hogs don’t win then my heart is still with the SEC west. My mother is the sports fanatic especially when it comes to the razorbacks. She will temper her enthusiasm by cooking in the kitchen and listening on the radio. Since the radio is a few seconds ahead of the television and something exciting happens, she will step into the den and watch it. Football, basketball or baseball it doesn’t matter the sport just as long as it is the Hogs. She probably is the reason I yell at the TV.
Lulu - December 5, 2021 2:05 pm
Aw, I love, love, love this Sean. I’m 91 years old…I’m living in Texas but I’m a Sooner born, Sooner bred and when I die…I’ll be Sooner dead. Bur I have a good friend who lives down the hall and is an Alabaman…so I rooted for Bama last night. Exciting game. Our Sooners will be in the SEC soon. Whoops!
My dad worked in the oilfield most all of his life. So we moved every year…really never had a long time home. My husband was a career military man so our family moved all over. But that doesn’t mean we’re without tons of sweet memories. My parents, in-laws and my husband are all gone now. My four sons and their families will have a house full of memorabilia to deal with when I’m gone. I’m sure they will feel exactly as you and Jamie. Thank you for this sweet piece. Hugs to you and Jamie wrapped in Peace and Joy!
PEGGY THOMPSON - December 5, 2021 2:05 pm
Wonderful memories…keep them close & God Bless!
JACKIE LEON DARNELL - December 5, 2021 2:12 pm
Judy - December 5, 2021 2:21 pm
Our house is now occupied by 7th generation of habitants. I know this does not happen in the USA. If the porch could talk we would all be in The Big House and the screen door has survived 1,262,000 slams. My son and family live here and he worked from home long before covid arrived. There is still a rotary phone and a tv in a console big enough to house a family. I am the cheese straw Queen and people still hide in the closet eating them and not sharing. You want to hear hollering, steal a cheese straw.Our family has lived here,died here,loved here,hollered here and gathered here for 173 years.
Melanie - December 5, 2021 2:46 pm
I’m glad you watched the game with Mother Mary. She was there and wouldn’t have it any other way. Roll Tide. ❤️
Ruth Mitchell - December 5, 2021 2:49 pm
My new goal in this life is to help make happy memories for my children and grandchildren. You show how it’s the little things like watching a ballgame that are forever imprinted on their DNA. Thank you for reminding me that recalling simple activities can flood us with our warm, fuzzy feelings we once shared.
I loved today’s blog, and, by the way, at my house we shouted at the tv during the great SEC Championship also. Roll Tide!
willybearden - December 5, 2021 3:34 pm
Man, you are such a fine writer and a fine human being.
Barbara J Schweck - December 5, 2021 3:44 pm
Great memories of football games with my dad. He had season tickets to Ga Tech football for umpteen years. He and I always went. Always rode Marta, always stopped at the Varsity, always had the same seats, always screamed during the game, and always walked back up the hill to the Marta Station to the beat of a drum that a kid played for quarters. If the Georgia-Georgia Tech game was in Athens that year, we were home screaming at the TV. Such precious, precious memories. When dad finally gave up his tickets, he stopped on the hill up to the Marta station and handed the kid who played drums an envelope. I asked dad what did he give him. He said, ” I gave him a couple of hundred dollars, I would never have made it up this hill all this years if he hadn’t been here” Did it matter that
GeorgiaTech is not the football kings, no, what matters are the precious times that I got to spend with just me and my dad. and a team that we loved.
Nancy Carnahan - December 5, 2021 4:33 pm
I was cleaning out my mother’s house just before she moved into assisted living. I found FIFTY-FOUR pairs of polyester pants–several different sizes! And yest she always wore a dress to church.
DAVID A WILSON - December 5, 2021 4:41 pm
Aging is definitely sad: again GREAT writing!
Bob - December 5, 2021 5:40 pm
Sean, I was trying to read this to my wife, but broke down several times in tears. You really hit home with this 67 year old thinking about my lost loved ones. By the way, we are Ole Miss Rebels, but we were pulling hard for Bama last night! May God bless you and your wife.
Linda Moon - December 5, 2021 5:48 pm
I’ve been thinking about Mother Mary recently – wondering how you and Jamie are doing without her in this Christmas Season. “Used to be” can be very hard, and magical stuff doesn’t last forever. But memories and stories will last as long as we keep telling them. I’m smiling now while reading this one. My mother’s house has been sold for a long time, but the memories and lots of meaningful stuff of hers are still with me. Roll Tide!
steve - December 5, 2021 6:33 pm
Janet Reiter - December 5, 2021 6:40 pm
I enjoy your stories so much because your history is so similar to mine. You take me home Sean of the south. Thanks for sharing all these treasures with us readers. Merry Christmas and Roll tide.
Karen Stephens Bassett - December 5, 2021 7:06 pm
Few things make me happier than watching my Mama watch Alabama football. She is legally blind and deaf, but nothing perks her up better than a Bama game. She will be 93 in a couple of weeks and had four nephews play for Alabama during the 60’s. One played for Auburn but we don’t discuss that. Roll Tide Roll!
Sandra - December 5, 2021 8:16 pm
Roll Tide Roll 🏈🐘🏈 and yes I do yell even by myself. It’s amazing how things change when someone you love passes, and you only have your memories. Wishing you and Jamie a blessed Christmas. Way to go BAMA
Cathy M - December 5, 2021 8:42 pm
I won’t comment on Football bc I don’t really understand the game and when I do watch one with my husband he repeats everything the commentator says into my face. Then I get upset when players get hurt. Tell me that I am crazy but both my boys played high school football. I never missed a game . My husband once asked me why I went to the games bc I did not really understand the game at all. I replied that I attended the games in case they got hurt. He asked what I thought I would do should that happen. I told him I would go to the field. He said that I could not do that. Fortunately, I never had to but I can promise you nobody could have stopped me. Now empty houses. I grew up in Mobile and last yr. while visiting my youngest brother we went riding around to all our old haunts. So much fun. He asked if I wanted to see the house we lived in and I said I did not for fear it would look sad. He went anyway. I covered my eyes as we entered the subdivision. When he told me to open them I smiled. That little cape cod story and a half sat up on an incline and looked great. Won’t ever go back bc I want to remember it as it was that day. The whole neighborhood looked good and we remembered every family and had a great time . I just know somebody special will buy your mother in laws house. You will ride by one day and smile. Thanks for all your stories
Bette Martell - December 5, 2021 9:19 pm
I’m happy I recently subscribed to your web site; I’ve enjoyed all of your posts, some, like this one, sad. But I like
the way you wrote it.
BTW, I’m NOT happy with the way the game turned out.
Ginger Smith - December 5, 2021 10:36 pm
Sunrise, sunset. It is a favorite song in our family.
I need Mother Mary’s cheese straw recipe. Thanks. Blessings.
Susan Marancik - December 6, 2021 1:02 am
Thank you! My family has been through those times of moving on from long time traditions in a home – my childhood home,my in laws home. We all have so many memories! You captured the beauty that the walls of homes everywhere hold for us, so thank you. Your writing captures many moments that have also shaped my character and life – not the same experiences, but relatable moments.
Gayle Wilson - December 6, 2021 1:14 am
The loss of those we love bring the memories strong and the ache hard. And as you said Sean, there are times I wake in the morning and feel that it was all a dream and that our crazy rescue dog will come over to my side of the bed and look at me like I am her personal servant…which I was. I still expect our best friend, who was like a brother to us, to call and ask me if we are ready to go on another trip, or just to hear each other’s voice. Those are the memories that make your heart ache hard. But, you wouldn’t trade those memories for anything in the world.
Gloria Rose - December 6, 2021 2:10 am
You never lose the memories. My mother has been gone almost 30 years but if I close my eyes I can walk into her back door and move through every room of the house the way she left it. If I try real hard I can have the kitchen filled with the fragrance of my favorite dinner coming from pots and pans on the stove. My prayers are that long after bones and joints have given away to time and toil, my memories remain to warm my heart and keep those I have loved close.
Willie37 - December 6, 2021 2:15 am
Great work, Sean. How can you invoke so many visions in just a few paragraphs?
Larry Wall - December 6, 2021 6:32 pm
Poignant, brother Sean. Poignant and sweet indeed. Merry Christmas to you and Jamie.
MaryLu - December 6, 2021 11:10 pm
Tears. Memories. You can really tear at the heartstrings, Sean. My family didn’t shout at the TV or deck the halls quite like this, but they always cheered for Alabama (several family alumni); but when the house was nearly empty for the final time I swear I heard a swish in the hall of my mom passing by. My childhood home was now in the hands of strangers and even twenty years later you’ve made me cry, and I thought that didn’t happen anymore.
pjvfree - December 10, 2021 10:21 am
When we sold our home at the closing the young women looked me in the eye and told me, “I will take good care of your home”