I sat at my desk. Illuminated by a lantern. One of those Coleman lanterns with the little hanging bags. The ones that burn to a crisp if you don’t have the gas flowing from the canister below. We had just moved into our house. Maureen had flown to Colorado for the wedding of a family friend. I stayed behind. My first year of law school was beginning. It was August 1997. We had just moved into our house.
As I sit in a new space, I can’t help but laugh at how the time in our new house started. In the dark. Illuminated by a single lamp. I felt like Abraham Lincoln studying the law in the 1800s. Although we had closed on the house, we could only inhabit the downstairs space. The wood floors upstairs had been sanded, and the wax was drying. We couldn’t turn on the electricity, because all of the outlets were still open. They didn’t have faceplates. So, our builder gave us a lantern. A pretty funny gift for your new almost 3,000 square foot home!
As this August comes to a close, it has been 23 years since that day. There has been a lot of light in that house. A lot of love. For that matter, the house itself is love. As Maureen was wrapping up her masters degree in architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, she was also designing our home. We were renting a house at 45th and Mopac at the time. We had bought three lots in Travis Settlement in 1995, not longer after moving down to Austin from Chicago. We were amazed by the beautiful hill country. We were amazed that just 30 minutes out from town, one could buy a small piece of this serenity. On one of those lots would be our home.
When we purchased our land, 4005 Skillet Cove was just an address, a trivial pursuit piece on a site map. The road had not yet been built. We couldn’t drive down Auger Lane to our home, like we drove it at 2:30am just a couple of nights ago. Instead, Maureen and I would park our car on Bee Creek Road, climb through the open spot in the barbed wire fence, and walk up to the site of our future home with Malibu, our Keeshhound. On our way out from town, we’d buy a half dozen tamales from Rosie’s Tamale House and some Gatorades from a little convenience store on the corner. We had found our little slice of heaven. We would clear some trees, have our lunch, sip our drinks, and smile.
We would drive out many more times from the beginning of 1997 to that August. Our groundbreaking party was on February 1, 1997, with friends we had met in Austin since 1994. Looking east across the spot that would soon be our home, we barbecued burgers and sausages. Drank some beers. As we gazed back over the live oaks to the west, Comet Hale-Bopp was cutting across the dark sky. Truly dark in those days. It’s small spot of light sweeping across our solar system. As the concrete was poured into the frames for our slab, as the wood framing went up, and the stones were laid, we felt a new light dawning. There was nothing more exciting after a long day in the studio for Maureen or for me in my role as account manager for Apple than to drive west out Bee Cave Road, out Highway 71, turning right on either Bob Wire or Bee Creek to see what had happened that day.
Maureen and my love had been born years earlier, born in an Apple office in Chicago, as I gazed upon her the first time, born in the crucible of youth, but, quite frankly, our love was born in heaven long before either of us showed up to experience life. Our love as a married couple was given light at an altar on July 14, 1990, saying our vows at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois, saying our vows at 4pm that beautiful Saturday. However, in 1997, we were creating a shared space that flowed from our love for each other. Stone by stone, wood slat by wood slat, cabinet by cabinet, sink by sink, we weren’t just building a house, but a home, a sacred space for love. And, it was indeed sacred. Maureen spent time situating the house just right so that all of the windows on the east side of the house would welcome the light of a new day. She figured out where the sun rose on the day of the spring solstice and where it rose on the fall solstice, so that no matter where it came up on any of the days in between, you could look east and see the light of the sun, the light of God, ushering in a new day.
Maureen spent time crafting a house, literally carved into stone. With the rocks of the hill country, we wanted to walk in the front door and literally be suspended in the hills, the view, the light of the sun. As you walk down the hill on what would one day be a driveway, you see the view of the hills beyond, and as you open the front door, you walk into that view, with the three large French doors on the east wall. You walk into what was designed to feel like an old Texas stone farmhouse, with additions all around it. A kitchen to the left. A master bedroom to the right, an office above the master bedroom, reached by a spiral staircase. You walk down stairs to rooms that were empty at the time but would soon be filled by our children, Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn. We had to carve our foundation into the hill because we were on a sloping hillside, and so, rather than just a big slab, Maureen spent time thinking about how to build a house that fit this spot, this spot and no other. She spent time thinking about the site itself, not just capturing the light from the east but capturing the breezes from the west. Once constructed, we knew she had it just right, because Malibu always found just where to sit to capture those breezes. To cool off from the hot summer sun. We knew it was just right as we ate dinners over the years and celebrated special occasions on the deck below, as the breezes blew over the house, down the hill.
After Maureen’s passing on October 21, 2014, this house of love became a cocoon for Taylor, Kyla, Katelyn, and I. As we navigated the early shock of the consequences of her 11 year struggle with breast cancer and the grieving to follow, this house, this home, this little slice of heaven held us in its love, a love that was no longer just that of Maureen and I but that was also that of Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn. Their love, their joy, their lives were now a part of the fabric of this house, too. In August of 2017, Taylor left this cocoon to start his journey at the University of Virginia, and in August of 2020, Kyla also left for the University of Virginia, by way of Maureen’s parents in South Carolina. However, just like that January in 1997 as the house was being born, January of 2020 marked a similar turning point. Kyla and I were taking a walk on the roads that weren’t even there when Maureen and I first started thinking about our house.
It dawned on Kyla and I, as we were walking, that 2020 was going to be a big year of change for our family. Her acceptance to the University of Virginia had not yet happened, nor had the global pandemic of COVID-19, but we knew that this was still going to be a significant year. When she headed to college, it would just be Katelyn and I. We knew that our cocoon of love was springing forth its butterflies. We knew that these 2 1/2 acres, this little slice of heaven, would be too much for just her younger sister and I. We knew that the increasing traffic of 71 and the growth past Bee Cave and out to Spicewood was consuming more and more time to navigate. We knew. We knew it was time to sell. What we didn’t know, though, was just how this whole process was going to play out. That story of love, that story of magic, plays itself out in Part 2.