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East Texan Magazine

A Healing Forest for Wolfdogs and Women Parolees

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EastTexan Spring2021AMY HOLZWORTH | PCE

By Jeff Fatheree

I was raised with the thought that pets were family, so the idea that there are dogs that are abused and abandoned is foreign to me. Having watched “Pit Bulls and Parolees” I learned that many of the dog world are abandoned, abused, deserted, and otherwise treated as if they have no worth in our society. Parolees often must feel the same things as these animals when they attempt to return to society.

They experience what it is like to be judged by appearance and past rather than looking for the beauty within. Tia Torres and her family and crew are not the normal society people and they choose to give both animals and humans second chances. Villalobos Dog Rescue in New Orleans was an outcropping of this idea. Tia began in California rescuing wolves and wolfdogs in the area she grew up. She made a trip to Sri Lanka and learned what it meant to truly be a community of man. The blending of religions from all over and the love that the people there had for each other spoke to her and she spent a year studying the different religions. She was raised Catholic but came to appreciate the beliefs of all types of spirituality. Sri Lanka left her with a love for all things of creation but particularly the animals.

Tia told me that when she returned from Sri Lanka, she had a vision to minister to the outcast of society. The wolfdogs she started with do not belong to either the wolf world or the dog world. Captured somewhere in-between they often are put down rather than rehabilitated as neither rescue center wants to house them. When they moved to Louisiana, they found a large population of Pit Bulls, labeled as a vicious breed. Most of them end up being put down when they no longer have a home and family to care for them or they have begun to lose in dog fights. The parolees in Louisiana, much like the dog population, were outcasts and found themselves living on the edge of society. Tia saw the beauty of both beneath the surface and the Villalobos (Village of Wolves) was born.

Having done animal rescue in Louisiana during Katrina, Tia and crew went back to California. Louisiana continued to call to them and in 2011 they spent a year transitioning to “The Big Easy” and working with the parole system to give the dogs of New Orleans and the men re-entering society a chance to work together to change both man and beast. Taking care of and learning to be responsible for something other than oneself is a giant step in returning to society. The animals rescued from the streets of New Orleans, like the men, had trust issues and had spent time relying on and worrying only about themselves to survive. This mix has helped heal man and beast and resulted in adoptions all over the country of the animals from Villalobos. Tia, her family, volunteers, parolees, and crew have truly formed a “pack” with the dogs of Louisiana.

In 2017 they expanded the operation to include a rural property in Assumption Parish. They work with the animal shelters in some of the smaller areas to help with resources and taking in animals that are unable to be cared for locally. They have some hounds and other pups that flourish better in the rural environment there and it also acts somewhat as a retreat and healing area for the staff. They live “down the road” from another Louisiana legend, Troy Landry of “Swamp People” fame. Troy has spent his life making a living off the swamp. Being the person Tia is, when she received a call for help from Henderson County Texas, she was on the way. Some wolfdogs had been abandoned when their owner took his own life, and the Sheriff needed assistance to capture them or he would have to put them down. She planned to be there two days capturing and getting housing for 40 wolfdogs.

1 EastTexan Spring2021AMY HOLZWORTH | PCE

A lady in Athens had purchased the property several years prior, but the previous owner never moved so she could take ownership. Finding that only fourteen of the animals would cooperate, she said before her brain could stop her, her mouth asked well what if we just buy the place? The lady said certainly she would sell as she loved the idea of the animals remaining in the location they had called home. Sheriff Botie Hillhouse said, “Tia, you just bought the ugliest piece on the block.” Tia told me she saw it as an almost enchanted healing forest and envisioned what the future might hold. She has gathered volunteers and family to begin cleaning the property and has a caretaker that stayed through the Winter Storm of 2021 to make sure the wolfdogs had food and water.

They have also begun working with the animals to reacquaint them with human contact and the changes in the animals’ demeanor have been nothing short of miraculous. The long-term goal and plans are to build cabins on the property for female parolees and their children, if they have them, to live and work with the animals. Wolfdogs react better to females than males as pack animals often do. She would also like to have additional cabins available for religious teachers to stay in and teach the parolees and minister to their needs.

They intend to teach life skills as well as concern for something other than themselves to the parolees. They can certainly use volunteer help, as well as donations to allow for feeding and housing, and Tia is always grateful to have assistance. Her target date for completion and grand opening of Villalobos Dog Rescue Texas, is June of 2021. Check their Facebook page for updates and ways to volunteer at Villalobos Rescue Center - TEXAS. We plan on being there to let you know what is going on. We will likely be revealing a new name for the Texas location that will still include VRC in the title but reflect the healing nature of the forest.

If you would like to join in and help, contact the Louisiana location. Email them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you wish to donate send a check to Villalobos Rescue Center P.O. Box 771127 New Orleans, LA. 70177 or go to their website at https://www.vrcpitbull.com/how-you-can-help/donations/ and send via PayPal. You do not need to make a reservation to come help but let them know you are on the way via email to the Athens or New Orleans center. You will love the reward of reaching out and giving a second chance to both pups and people.

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Overcoming - recovery gave me back my son

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Overcoming 2021COURTESY PHOTO Kyle and his mother, Nancy.

By Nancy Carr

Becoming a mother was one of the greatest joys I had ever experienced. Kyle was a vibrant, exuberant child with a larger-than-life personality from the day he was born. Our family was truly blessed. He was always the center of attention and became friends instantly with anyone he met. He had this thirst for life, until he was about 12 years old. That’s when things started to change and fracture our family unit until Kyle entered recovery in 2013.

Kyle was always precocious and outgoing, it was his defining character trait. So, when he started to isolate in middle school, I became extremely concerned. He began asking why he was “different” and why he didn’t fit in. As a parent, all I wanted to do was provide the best possible life for my child, so I looked into different therapists and psychologists to help him through this period. I thought, “he’ll grow out of it – he’s so personable and has such a bright future.”

Little did I know that would be the beginning of a decade-long battle against addiction. Kyle began showing signs of depression and anxiety. He asked to see doctors, who put him on prescriptions. Kyle began abusing those medications, and soon graduated from pills to heroin. His father and I would have never guessed our child was shooting up heroin at just 15 years old.

The next eight years would be filled with ups and downs. Kyle’s father and I were in complete denial of his addiction – we thought he would rebound every time he said “I’m done.” We sent him to multiple psychologists, therapists, treatment centers, and facilities. We were able to find centers in-network but we traded quality of care for cost. Finding a treatment center that treated all three aspects of addiction seemed nearly impossible. We saw him deteriorate in front of our eyes, attempt getting sober, then fall off again and again. Kyle would hide from the world feeling overwhelming shame and guilt, but continue using. He was a slave to the drugs.

In 2013, something finally happened. After a string of failed career moves, arrests, overdoses, and increasing medical problems, Kyle finally told us he couldn’t keep doing this. We sought out a treatment center that worked on mind, body, and spirit. As parents, all Kyle’s father and I wanted for him was to be happy and productive. We listened to addiction professionals who had overcome the same debilitating disease of addiction.

Our family experienced, what I like to call, “a collective enlightenment” as a result of Kyle’s recovery. Through intensive work, Kyle finally became open and honest enough to share with our family that he was gay. He had sat in fear for so many years, thinking we would turn our backs on him. He began coming out of his shell again and engaging in life for the first time in years. I saw the vibrant, social Kyle again. Our entire family started addressing issues we had glazed over for years. We became a true family unit.

Recovery has completely changed our lives. As a family, we’ve begun to have direct and open communication with one another. Kyle and his brother are best friends again. Kyle’s father and I have never had a better marriage. Kyle’s able to show up for us and participate in his own life again. But what’s most miraculous is how those dark days are now the foundation of the strong family bond we’ve built.

Almost four years later, our lives are completely different. It was through practicing honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, that Kyle found himself. He’s since identified that “different” feeling he experienced was due to his addiction and fear of coming out of the closet. Today, he’s a proud gay man and is a respected member of his community. He’s engaged to a wonderful man and living the life he’s always wanted. There is no greater gift than watching your child live life to the fullest, and that’s exactly what’s happened since Kyle got sober.

There’s no “right” way to prepare for a loved one’s addiction. This disease blindsides you, it hits you when you least expect it. Our family was able to overcome this disease by listening to our child, providing support any way we could, being cautious not to enable his addiction, and helping to find a recovery solution when Kyle became ready. My hope is that every parent who struggles with their child’s addiction is able to find the freedom we have, and to let them know that it gets better.

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A fadin’ renegade’s last stand

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doug supernaw 2FILE PHOTO Douglas Anderson Supernaw

By Chris Edwards

“Pass the word I’ve done the best I can.”

- Doug Supernaw, “Fadin’ Renegade”

Each year the Country Music Association rolls out its exceedingly ridiculous parade of high-dollar fashion and spraytans and back-slapping. There was a fuss made in the aftermath of the most recent ceremony, about how it did not include tributes to three bona-fide country legends who had passed: John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver. Two days after the show aired, another legend of country music passed right here in deep East Texas, Mr. Douglas Anderson Supernaw.

Had the long, tall Texan died prior to the broadcast, I doubt they would have included a tribute to him, either.

The CMAs, like so much of what is trotted out to the general public as representative of the “music business” is fake, and Doug Supernaw was not. That guy was as real as Death Valley summers are hot.

If you’re a casual music fan of a certain age, you might remember when Supe was a big mainstream star, a time when “Reno” and “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” were played dozens of times a day on the radio. It was a time when there was still a place for country music that sounded like, well, country music, on the top of the Billboard charts, and there was a place in the big radio markets for great songs. Although that was all coming up on 30 years ago, those records, like Red and Rio Grande and You Still Got Me hold up as amazing collections of songs to this day.

doug supernawFILE PHOTO Douglas Anderson Supernaw

To most folks for whom music is not a big part of their life (and shame on them for their poor life choices), Supernaw was relegated to the “I haven’t heard anything about him in years” status, due to his disillusionment with the music business and other factors I won’t address here, but he was always around and always relevant. To that end, it was an honor to be able to chronicle his return to full-time touring and what was supposed to be a comeback to recorded product for this magazine’s inaugural issue back in 2018.

Sadly, it was a comeback that was cut all-too short. He was on a tear, playing great shows, promoting an album that showcased re-recordings of many of his old hits, and reminding the world that he was a force to be reckoned with. However, a nagging cough and other symptoms led to an eventual diagnosis of advanced forms of cancer in early 2019. The doctors, from what I’m told, did not give him much time, but they had no idea just how tough a man Doug Supernaw really was. He beat one of the cancers, and, after some aggressive treatments and the caring prayers and meditative energies from legions of fans and friends, it looked like he had beaten it all for good.

It was not to be, though.

The last time I saw him was during the Christmas parade in downtown Livingston in 2019. He was helping out in his wife Cissy’s shop downtown, and he looked great. Seeing him greet customers as they walked in, and help out with moving furniture and other goods, made me wonder if any of the folks coming into the store knew they were in the presence of greatness.

Things seemed to be going well for him in the drawn-out debacle that was 2020, but then in September, word had gotten around via social media that his health had taken a drastic and sudden wrong turn. That news was a punch to my solar plexus, and I’m sure it took the breath of many fans upon discovery.

The first time I saw Doug Supernaw onstage was at one of the Jasper Lions Club rodeos in the early ‘90s. I’d tagged along with my mom, and was blown away, not just by the music and his performance, but by the example I saw after the show.

I stood in line with my rodeo program to be autographed and waited impatiently. I still loathe standing in lines to this day, otherwise I’m about as longsuffering as a Hindu cow. What Doug was doing, though, was making sure that he not only signed whatever the fans in line had for him, but that he got to hang out and talk to each and every one of them for a bit. All of this, in spite of the fact that the sack full of Burger King goodies sitting on the table behind him was getting cold.

Through the years I’ve heard stories about how he played benefit shows for families in need, or for causes near to his heart, when he could have played big-paying shows, instead. I’ve heard stories about how he gave of his time to help coach Little League teams or would spring into action is someone needed help with their horses. He’d do anything for anyone. He was just a regular, very real guy, albeit one with a massive amount of talent and a beautiful, beautiful soul.

Despite how much he tried to blend in, however, there was just something magnetic about Doug. He had a sort of charisma that made him stand out wherever he was. I remember a few years ago hanging out with him at a Texas Country Music Association event in Longview, and there were a good many musicians, industry folks and fans coming and going; oblivious to most everything and everyone else but him. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to him.

Another time, at a party in San Marcos, after a music festival he’d played, he was the center of attention, even though it seemed like he would’ve been content to just sit on the host’s couch and eat pizza. Everyone at the party hung on his words about getting to meet Neil Young, or stories about playing Farm Aid events and of what the Beach Boys were really like.

chris and dougMOLLIE LASALLE | ETXN The late, great Doug Supernaw with the author, backstage.

One of the stories I’ve heard that best illustrates Doug Supernaw in a nutshell comes from the Midlandbased singer/songwriter Scott Hayley, whom Supe was mentoring shortly before he entered into hospice care. Hayley recently recounted via Facebook posting of how he and Doug were on a road-trip, and Tanya Tucker’s version of the Allen Shamblin tune “The House That Built Me” came on the radio. The song, which was a big hit when it was recorded by Miranda Lambert, recounts a house full of memories once occupied by the narrator, who returns as an adult to the house she grew up in.

When it hit radio with Lambert’s rendition, it was at a time that Supernaw wasn’t likely paying much attention to pop culture or what was on the radio. Hayley said that he looked over at his friend, who was riding shotgun, and the beauty of the song struck him to the point of bringing him to tears. “It’s so beautiful,” is what he said of the song.

That story spoke volumes to me about what kind of a guy Doug was. He was, on the surface, a fun-loving fellow who was the life of the party, and someone who loved to laugh (and make others laugh) but he was also a guy with an enormous amount of talent and a truly beautiful soul.

The wave of mainstream popularity that Supernaw enjoyed in the early 1990s may have been his own slice of 15 minutes of fame, but he was important to many people far beyond the short, fickle memories and attention spans of gauche mainstream culture. All of that CMA Awards glitz and readymade Instagram-posting “outlaw” stuff is, again, utterly fake and Doug Supernaw was not.

His success and legacy prove that every now and again the good guys finish first and come out on top, and lately, that same concept holds true with the popularity of real artists like Jason Isbell, Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton making legit art.

Their popularity probably seems like an aberration to those whose image of country music is defined by Jason Aldean and rapped verses about tractors and beer over computer-generated drumbeats. I’m sure that if Doug Supernaw were just starting out today, he would seem like an outlier, confined to what mainstream radio looks at as the ghetto of “Americana” or “traditional country.” But then again, the real music and real people making that music are still out there. It just requires more effort to find them than most folks are willing to commit.

To many around Livingston, no doubt, he was just Doug, a magnetic and charming fellow who could be seen around town just enjoying life and the company of friends and his lovely wife Cissy.

If such a thing as an angel on earth exists, it is his widow. Supposedly, in the mid-90’s when Doug was hanging out in the area, after a gig, he spotted her and said something to the effect of one day he’d return and marry her. Well, he must’ve had a bit of Nostradamus in him, because that’s what happened, and he not only found the love of his life, but a renewed vitality and commitment to his artform.

God bless Doug Supernaw, a most incredible artist and an even better human being.

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Happy Days Diner & Tammy’s Country Kitchen

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EastTexan Winter2021 tammys 2EMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Fried steak fingers from Happy Days Diner.

By Emily Banks Wooten

“One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock. Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock. Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock. We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

When I heard that song during my childhood and adolescence I knew it was Tuesday night and time to gather around the TV with my family to watch the beloved sitcom “Happy Days” and see what the Cunninghams were up to. Oh, how we loved that middle-class family from Milwaukee and their idyllic life in the 1950s.

While it’s not Al’s Diner and you won’t find Richie or Fonzie there, you will find some solid good food at Happy Days Diner in Shepherd, Texas. There’s a jukebox in the front corner and the walls are covered with pictures of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart, as well as a few classic cars.

The menu is entertaining as all the dishes are song titles from the 50s and 60s.

On a recent trip there, my 13-year-old daughter and I ordered the “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” which was hand-breaded homemade steak fingers with cream gravy, a choice of French fries or mashed potatoes, a house salad and a dinner roll. She chose brown gravy for her mashed potatoes while I preferred the cream gravy for mine.

The plate arrived with four beautiful steak fingers that were each the size of the palm of my hand. I kid you not. They were first class. The meat was tender and the crunchy breading was perfect. I’d definitely order it again.

the “Ooo Baby Baby,” which was two center cut pork chops, fried or grilled, with choice of French fries or mashed potatoes, a house salad and a dinner roll. He ordered them grilled and was a little disappointed. While they were seasoned perfectly, he said, they were so thin that they’d dried out during grilling.

EastTexan Winter2021 tammys 3EMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Pork chops from Happy Days Diner.

Our first experience at Happy Days Diner was in August of 2006. I was three and a half months pregnant with our daughter and we’d stopped there for breakfast on the way to Houston for a day of shopping and a movie. I had two scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and hashbrowns with a side order of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. I ate and enjoyed every bite and didn’t think a thing of it. My sweet husband didn’t say a word but just smiled and continued drinking his coffee. Several days later, I accidentally overheard him telling my mother that he’d never given much thought to that whole “eating for two” thing but that he’d certainly witnessed an increase in my appetite as my pregnancy had progressed. We still laugh about that today.

We’ve had something of a family tradition evolve over the years at Happy Days. After we’ve placed our order, to pass the time as we’re waiting on the food to arrive, we each select our favorite picture of Elvis and Marilyn from the selection on the walls. There are plenty from which to choose and it’s not uncommon for our individual faves to change from one visit to the next.

And once you’ve satisfied your appetite at the Happy Days Diner, you may also do a little shopping. There’s a rack with a selection of T-shirts for sale, as well as a large array of hair bows and $1 hair scrunchies. You may also replenish your stash of Scentsy wax bars or Avon Skin So Soft.

Happy Days Diner is located at 6230 US-59 in Shepherd. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They don’t deliver but they do offer take-out. The telephone number is 936-628-6515.

Some time back we received a circular in our local newspaper that was a menu for a place called Tammy’s Country Kitchen, east of Woodville. The menu touted the “best burgers in town” and “breakfast all day.”

My husband and I decided to drive over one Saturday and check it out. I’d studied the menu pretty closely and had a fairly good idea of what I was planning to order. On the way over, however, I decided to look it up on my Trip Advisor app and check out the reviews. There were plenty and one after another raved over the burgers.

EastTexan Winter2021 tammysEMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Cheeseburger and sweet potatoe fries from Tammy's Country Kitchen..

My curiosity was definitely piqued so I changed my mind about my order once there. I selected a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries and my husband ordered a hamburger and onion rings. Oh. My. Goodness. The reviewers had not overstated. That may have been the best burger I’ve ever had. I’ve wracked my brain trying to determine what it was that made it so good and I still can’t put my finger on it. I do know, however, that there will be more Saturdays in our future in which my husband and I will drive over there for no other reason than to get those burgers again. We enjoyed both the sweet potato fries and onion rings too.

Tammy’s Country Kitchen is located on 233 US Hwy. 190, one mile east of Woodville. Hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The telephone number is 409-331-9

While they don’t deliver, they do offer curbside pickup.

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Stronger than ever

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EastTexan Winter 2 2021

By Debbie Robins
 
Jeremiah 29:11. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Because of Him, we are stronger than ever. Stronger than ever? That was the last sentence I typed when I originally wrote the article about the April 22, 2020 tornado that destroyed our home of 20 years. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm? How could that be true after a devastating storm touched down and took 3 lives? Took homes away from families. Their belongings strewn into a careless wind tunnel, with no discrimination of age. No care for the people that would become homeless. No mercy for those who were already having their own struggles just trying to get through life.

The struggles have been real. It has been more than 5 months since the tornado touched down. In short, the house is in the process of being re-built. We have been very blessed to have several amazing builders and contractors build this Ark. If we learned anything from this ordeal, it is to truly love your neighbors as yourself, and to trust in the Lord. This is where we obtained our strength. And this is where it all began….

Living in a hotel for 2 months while trying to decide if we should rebuild or move on, was a difficult decision, to put it mildly. We spent most of our days collecting receipts, itemizing items for insurance, and doing laundry. I learned that if I bought totes, it was easier to organize our belongings while in the hotel. I had totes of food, toiletries, shoes, tools, insurance receipts, blankets, pillows. Everything we could salvage that we may need at the hotel. Except Kip didn’t have socks. So, he went and bought socks. Who would think something so little, such as owning a pair of socks would be important enough to write about? The little things really did matter. Friends and coworkers gave us totes of snacks for the kids, and we received gift cards to restaurants and Lowes. It was amazing and so very helpful. Hotel living with a family of 5, plus 2 dogs, and no real space to spread out, was starting to get to all of us. We had stopped living. All that we knew at that moment was stress and an unknown future. Kip surprised me one night and took me to a dinner in Galveston; hoping to bring back some of the happy times we have always known together. We ordered dinner from the waiter, and there we were, just sitting at dinner like we used to do. I looked up at him, watching as he stirred his tea. I remember we always loved to make tea at home. I started thinking about that word: Home. We didn’t have one anymore. Tears started swelling up in my eyes, and I looked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t notice. I tried to ignore the huge lump in my throat as I struggled to fight back the tears, that appeared from nowhere. I couldn’t stop them. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and he saw. He grabbed both of my hands from across the table and held them firmly. He asked, “What’s wrong?” I sobbed, “I just want to go HOME!” The next thing I knew, we were holding hands across from each other with our arms on the table, and we both had tears running down our faces. At that very moment, our Pastor, Brother Randy Piatt called. We hadn’t spoken to Randy in months, but we had been messaging each other through all of this. How in the world did he know to call right this moment? Kip answered, and they prayed together, and after they hung up, Kip shared the conversation with me. We both felt a lot better, as this was just the little nudge of encouragement we needed at that very moment. This enabled us to look at the bright side of things, and we would see the sunshine through the clouds.

EastTexan Winter2021

Our day got a little brighter a few weeks later, when our daughter Jordan and our amazing son-in law (who we call our son), flew in from Honolulu, Hawaii to surprise us after the tornado destroyed the family home. Jordan is a sergeant in the Army, and Grant already served his Army time, after re-enlisting. During Covid-19, the military was extremely strict on allowing travel for their enlisted, so we knew Jordan and Grant wouldn’t be able to fly down after the tornado. But somehow, they got special permission, and showed up on the front lawn. I was inside cleaning up debris, while talking on the phone. I looked outside to see two people walking up. This was common, as people were always walking up to say, "Hi," or to pass out food or toiletries to tornado victims. I didn’t even recognize them, nor would I have ever fathomed they would be able to fly to Texas. It was them. Jordan and Grant were walking across our front yard. I kept looking at them, thinking surely I’m mistaken. I dropped my phone call and gave them a big hug. This was the happiest we had been in a while. To have our kids home during this tragedy was such a needed blessing. Our other kids couldn’t come down, and it would be far too emotional for them, not to mention they had work and weren’t able to leave. But we were extremely blessed to have Jordan and Grant home. We all stayed back at the hotel the week they were here, enjoying each other’s company. We made many trips to the house, and they helped us pack up and dishes and food that was salvageable in the cabinets. It was hard when it was time for them to leave, but I was happy for the time we got with them.

After the kids left to go back home, we made trips to the house almost daily, to haul off storm debris, knock out walls, haul huge, heavy piles of wood, glass, and sheetrock to the curb, hoping the city would pick it up as promised. Many hours of difficult, manual labor were put into this, and working in 100 degree temperatures was extremely difficult and exhausting. We faced many challenges.

It seemed that every time we went to the house, it was raining. Not just a sprinkle, but rain. It was almost like something was telling us to go away. Don’t rebuild here. It’s not worth it. The house is a complete wreck. It’s a wet, demolished, soggy mess. You could smell the rotting sheetrock, and the mold growing on the wood. Flies were out of control, chasing us around, dodging a swat. We bought a “fly salt gun” just to have some fun shooting at the flies. It looked like a toy rifle, but you load it with salt, aim it at the flies, and pow. It was oddly satisfying.

We tried buying bug spray and fly bait at stores, but they were all sold out. Every time we went inside the house, it seemed to get worse and worse with the smells of the soaked wood, house debris, wet sheetrock, and the flies. As it rained, water poured from our ceiling above us, and soaked our heads and clothes. There were puddles of dirty water on the tile. When we went upstairs, all that existed was a staircase to nowhere. There were a few leaning walls, that were somehow still standing, and the sky. That’s it. (We always liked the open concept look, but this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.) It was very disheartening to stand upstairs with no roof, no ceiling. You just felt vulnerable. We asked ourselves countless times, “What are we doing?” Why are we even pondering the thought of rebuilding this mess. It’s awful. Maybe we are just confused, or stressed out, and don’t know where else to go or what to do. God, we need a sign. Please, just give us a sign so that we know what you want us to do. Silence. The only sign we received was more rain. Soaking wet, exhausted, confused, stressed out, and basically homeless, we decided to head back to the hotel. I loaded Mikie and the wet dogs up in the car, while Kip was still inside rummaging through the house.

I caught a glimpse of him standing upstairs, or what used to be upstairs, in the old “Beach Room.” (I had themed bedrooms). He was just standing there, upstairs, exposed under the open sky, while it rained on him. He was looking helpless and overwhelmed with confusion and doubt. I saw him look around, walk a few steps, stop, and just stare again. I felt awful for him. He’s the man of the house; the one with all the answers or solutions. But this time,
he lacked both. He then disappeared out of sight, as I waited in the car; rain tapping on the roof. I just kept looking at that house thinking, “There’s just no way, this house is a huge mess.” I must have said those words a million times. A few moments later, he got in the car and just sat in silence, drenched. We just sat there without talking for what seemed like an eternity.

Then, out of nowhere, he pulls out a photograph that he was holding. It was a photo of a double rainbow, that we had taken over 10 years ago.

The double rainbow in the photograph was shining brightly across the lake, right in front of our home. It was not often that we would see a double rainbow, so we felt very lucky to have captured it with our camera. This was back in the day where we would develop all our photographs.

EastTexan Winter 3 2021

The picture was wet and faded. I just looked at him with a confused expression on my face. Typical these days. Kip explained that as he was walking around the house upstairs, he went to the laundry room. He told me he was talking to God, asking what to do with the house. He said he looked down at the floor, and he spotted something poking out from underneath the washing machine. He reached down to pick it up, and discovered it was the picture of the double rainbow. When he first showed me the photo, I was not sure why this photo was so significant to Kip. He then flipped it over and I noticed there was writing on the back
of it. We had never seen that anyone had written on the back of" "this photograph before this day. There was no doubt, this was Victoria’s handwriting. The writing was more than just words written on the back of a photograph, scribbled by a 10-year-old child; these words would mean something significant to our entire family all these years later. Victoria, our 24-year-old daughter, had written on the back of this photo when she was about 10 years old. In cursive writing, it said, “A Piece of Home.” Oh my gosh. That was our sign. This is the sign from God we had been waiting for. An answer to our prayers. This rainbow signifies God’s Promise. Here we were, sitting in the car holding
a wet photo, looking at a demolished house that was getting more soaked by the rain, and we just received our answer. God’s Promise. While sitting in the car in the driveway that rainy day,

Kip and I looked at each other as tears swelled up in our eyes. We really didn’t have much to say. We sat in silence in the car, rain still coming down. We both knew what this meant. We took one last look at our house that was in shambles as we backed out of the driveway. We stopped one last time, looked at the house, and he exclaimed, “You see Debbie, this is God’s Promise. We are coming home, and we will rebuild.”
We left that afternoon feeling content, feeling this was the right decision.

After that day, we had more ambition, more confidence, more strength. We were stronger than ever. Kip worked for many days drawing out his own blueprints for the house. He isn’t an architect, or a builder. But he drew it exactly as we wanted it, and today, it is built exactly as it was drawn by him. I’m not sure how he was able to draw out a blueprint, demolish his home, rebuild his home, and work a full-time job. It was catching up to him though. The stress became too much, as the demands of his job and the builders were colliding in a force too strong for him to conquer. He decided to leave his job, as he had a home to build. So, I started calling him “Noah,” after Noah’s Ark. God had given him the ability and knowledge to draw up floor plans and manage a rebuild. It has gone rather smoothly, considering the size of this new “Ark,” and the amount of damage done from the tornado. Our daughter Victoria who wrote those words on the rainbow photograph, is also an artist, who lives in California with her amazing husband, (who we also call our son). She painted us a large painting of an Octopus for one of our themed rooms in the house, a few years ago. This painting was lovingly named, “Paths,” for all the paths that we take along the way in life. We treasured this painting, as it was from Victoria, and meant so many different things to everyone. We had Paths hanging in the media room, which was blown away by the tornado. Paths was found later, but he was mangled, wet, and damaged beyond repair. Since we lost that beloved painting, we asked Victoria to paint us another Paths. She obliged but she decided the new painting would be a little different. We now have “Octavia.” Octavia means strength, and eight. We are not sure what the “eight” will mean for us, but the word “strength” has a lot more meaning to us these days. Octavia is a beautiful Octopus painting in brighter colors, and her canvas is larger than Path’s canvas was. We are eagerly awaiting to adorn our walls with Octavia in our new home.

The word “home” sounds very exciting to us, but this build would not be possible without the amazing workmanship of a dear friend, Jerry Foote. He was there for us several years ago when we were remodeling the house. He hung new sheetrock, paint, and all of the trim work inside. After the tornado, he called to check on us, and asked if there were anything he could do to help us. He is an expert at his job. He is now working on our house as if it were his own. He is very respectful, knowledgeable, and highly skilled. He has been there since the beginning, designing, and installing all the plumbing, he has built a retaining wall, hung doors, cut out concrete; the list goes on, and continues. He has been there every day as a consultant for us, as well as for the other contractors we have on site. He is working hard alongside them and making sure all goes perfectly. We honestly feel we could not rebuild this house without him. We look up to Jerry and will forever be grateful to him for helping to get our home back. He has sacrificed his days to work out in the dangerously hot Texas heat, in the middle of August. Walls have gone up, roof is now on, plumbing and electrical has been installed. Kip installed all of the electrical, as he loves electrical work. We started our search for a framer, to get the house framed in, but we ended up finding a builder and a friend: JC, with JC Construction. With his knowledge and contacts, we have been able to do a lot more than just frame the house. His expertise has given us a stronger home than we could have ever hoped for. His crew constructed our home from a single graph paper that was drawn and re-designed by Kip multiple times. But because of our newfound relationship, the house turned out better than if we had given him and his crew an engineered blueprint. There were many questions that came up during construction, and JC offered suggestions and guidance; never steering us in the wrong way. Without Kip, Jerry, and JC working together, it would not be possible to have our “Ark” as it stands today. We now have a roof, and I’m so grateful. We still have a long way to go.

EastTexan Winter 4 2021

This brings me to the HVAC system. The week after the tornado hit, and everyone was still scrambling for hope and sanity, Kip happened upon Roger, and didn’t even realize who it was until they started talking. Roger was at the front of our subdivision, with his wife Tammy. They were both grilling hamburgers and hotdogs on their barbeque pits, to feed all of the tornado victims. Roger and Tammy were the couple who came to rescue injured victims by their boat. They are the couple that were out boating the day the tornado hit and came by our peninsula to see if we needed any help immediately after it touched down. Since they were in a boat, they could boat people out to ambulances. They loaded up Taylor, Oma, and the young boy that was injured, and took us all to the Kickapoo Marina to wait on ambulances in the rain, while driving through a debris- filled lake. They let us put doors we used as gurneys on their new boat seats, not caring if we damaged them or their new pontoon boat. Not caring about their own safety, but the safety of those injured. After the tornado, they continued with their heroic actions. They spent countless hours that led into months, cooking hamburgers and other food from their bar-b-que pits and delivering them to the tornado victims. They spent their own money to feed those in need long after the tornado. When Kip first saw Roger grilling the food, he wasn’t sure who he was, until they started talking. Kip realized it was the guy and lady that rescued the victims that were thrown from their homes. Kip asked Roger, “Why did you do what you did that night?” Roger humbly stated, “It was just the right thing to do.” Kip later found out that Roger installed HVAC systems, and he never had any doubt that Roger would be our guy to do the job. When we finally had the house ready to install the system 5 months later, we called on Roger, and he came to the house to do a walk-through. When Roger and I saw each other, we just hugged for a long time, eyes swellingwith tears once again. We didn’t have to say a word; we knew.

Tammy had canned some fresh jars of Cowgirl Candy, several amazing varieties of jellies, and divinity for Roger to give us. I treasured this and didn’t even want to open the jars, as they were such a precious offering. Tammy has her own story of the events of that awful evening, and I hope one day, she shares it. Oma keeps in touch with us. She texts us often and seems happy under the circumstances. She is with her son, as she decided not to rebuild on her property next door to us. She is still recovering but she is having a difficult time physically. In the process of all of this, Oma wanted us to take ownership of her lot. Kip has spent over 20 years taking care of this yard, even before she lived there. But now to purchase it, knowing there won’t be another Oma next door, is very bittersweet. So much of “her” is still on that lot. I remember her always being on her front porch. Her front porch isn’t there anymore. I remember bringing dinner to her front door. Her door is gone. Her house is gone. It is lonely without her here. I remember all of the pies she would bring us, now we only have the memories to cherish since she lives far away from us now.

EastTexan Winter 5 2021

Kip and Kalyn have since pursued their own dreams and started a new chapter. Kalyn is attending college, aspiring to become a NICU RN, like I did when I first became a nurse. She is currently living in her college dorm. She comes to visit us on weekends when she is able. Kip has been an avid fisherman since the age of 3. He has been a deck hand in the U. S. Virgin Islands in the past and is currently a deck hand for a charter company in Galveston. He just received his Captain’s license and aims to open his own charter business in the near future. We are proud of their resilience despite the adversities they have endured.

Adversity is a word we know all too well. I learned on Facebook that it was Taylor’s birthday on August 28. That morning, I walked to the end of the peninsula and stood looking at the exact location we had found him on April 22. I relived the moment of seeing him on the wet ground, moaning. I relived the moment where we all stood around him as his own brother, and other men loaded him onto a door that was detached from a home, and carried him onto the boat; using the door as a gurney. I relived being by his side when he took his last breath, with tears rolling down my face as I watched helplessly, with no tools to help him and no ambulance in sight. Our only hope was to perform CPR on him, until Paramedics arrived. I talked to Taylor, as I stood looking over the lake towards what used to be his home, and I told him I was so sorry that I couldn’t save him. I told him I think about him and Brooke every day, and that we will always remember them. I told him I know he’s singing his karaoke up there with Jesus and the Angels, and that from this moment on, I will be happy that he is with Brooke in Heaven, and I will not be sad, but that’s easier said than done.
Thankfully, the young boy, who I later found out is Taylor’s nephew, is finally home from the hospital after recovering from the broken bones and surgeries that he endured after being thrown from his house with his mom, Taylor, and Brooke. I won’t be sad any longer, as I know Taylor and Brooke are home together forever. There is a time and a season for everything. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3.

These times of missing Oma, losing Brooke and Taylor, and remembering him on his birthday, are sad reminders of how quickly lives can change, and how the most important thing at that moment, is talking to the person right in front of you, right then. That moment might not be there again. That moment will soon be a memory. Now is the time to count our blessings, love more, and rebuild our lives. It’s time to be home.

Cutline for art photo: Daughter Victoria Robins replaces the destroyed artwork she had painted years ago with a new painting titled 'Octavia.'

Original story found in the East Texan 2021 Winter edition.

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