June 27, 2016

wayne cottage | the back story

Wayne Cottage
[the back story]


"This house should be our house. How cool would that be?" This is roughly the conversation that took place when Megan and I hunted down Converse Street on a whim, one Saturday in our first year of marriage. The year would have been 2009 or 10, and at that time we didn’t even know the address. We just knew the house. Sort-of. Looking back, it’s a wonder that we even found it that day, in the era just before smart phones put Google Maps in your hand. We leaned over the dash, looking up at house after house, winding through the sprawling streets, with random hairpin turns and a surprising amount of elevation change in the secluded area that abuts the east side of downtown Greenville. A neighborhood that’s been known, since the early 1900’s, as Overbrook. I didn’t exactly even know the house I was looking for. The only picture I had was in my head, from a 4x6 photo that I had used to draw the house (pencil and paper) during my senior year in high school. I’ll come back to that. But we did find it that day in 2009/10, and we didn’t know then that our random visit (or trespass) was going to bear any significance for the family that we would soon be. Even though it was some time before the thought resurfaced, a seed was planted that day, in the minds of a couple of newly weds, that would set into motion our desire and interest to own it and restore it. "This house should be our house. Lord, might we have this house?" We didn’t know until much later that half of the neighborhood shared our sentiments. 

I want to be as respectful as I can be with the history of this house because what is, for our family, a matter of great joy has been and still is a matter of great sorrow (and joy, too, I think) for Wayne’s family. Wayne was the previous owner of our Converse Street house, and was a friend of my parents and grandmother (and half of Greenville). His life is worth better chronicling than I have details to deliver, but I knew him as a tradesmen, a painter, and a friendly man. He was, among other things, a Marine, a father and grandfather, a restorationist, an artist and an avid dancer. During the fall of my senior year of high school, he painted my parents' house inside and out, which is (I suppose) what lead to the time that he joined us for a Thanksgiving dinner. My facts are fuzzy on what exactly the occasion was (maybe it wasn’t a holiday), but what I do remember is that he joined us for a meal, and shared pictures of this ‘cottage’ that he had bought, near downtown, that had totally captured his imagination. He was absolutely in love with the house. He lamented, over a piece of pie, sitting beside me on my parents sofa that he had commissioned someone to draw the house for him and had been disappointed in the likeness. Having some (some being the operative) giftedness in drawing, I said that I would gladly take a stab at improving on the first round. He agreed, and what ensued was my first (and likely last) piece of commissioned artwork. It took a year of not doing, and a few hours of drawing to complete. In fact, I think that he’d forgotten it by the time I finally delivered the drawing. My mom begged me (what mom doesn’t treasure her kid’s creations) not to give him the original.

When we started stopping-by Converse once or twice a year back in 2012, Wayne was still knee deep in restoring joists in the lower floor. Hours a day, working by artificial light in a hand-dug cellar, placing beams, posts and floor jacks. The fun stuff that no-one would notice. He had also given the exterior a fresh painting, and a new roof with copper hips—a feat that you’ll appreciate if you’ve seen how tall and steep this place is. We would call him (having either gotten his number from my grandmother, or just from tax records), and leave him harassing messages, telling him that we would be happy to take the project off of his hands if he were interested. "Wayne, there’s a tree growing in the kitchen—are you even working on this place anymore?...Wayne, if you say, Mike leave me alone, I promise I won’t have my feelings hurt, and I will quit asking about this place." I imagine him listening to our voicemails, or reading our notes in his mailbox with a smile, feeling proud of the house that he loved and the adoration that it received from others. But why on earth would he sell it? It was his house in the city. His most loved project. And we weren’t the only ones approaching him with propositions. "This house should be our house. How cool would that be?"

Fast forward a couple of years to 2014. Megan and I were living in our very first house at the time, a fixer-upper with no less than 500 hours of blood, sweat and tears in it (not counting the countless hours, late nights and Saturdays that our family and friends had put in). It was the two bedroom house that my mom’s family of five grew up in. We had just had our second little guy, and were beginning to search seriously for a larger place. What transpired that summer, for Wayne’s family, is tough to re-live. Wayne didn’t get to finish his Converse project. Through a few conversations with his daughter that fall, we began to see that we might have the opportunity to finish what he started. But it would be an acute matter of timing for us to sell our house and make that a reality..if they decided they would indeed sell the house..if we could indeed afford it. A matter that was so entirely out of our hands, that it would have to happen exactly as it did. We had, that fall, visited the house with Wayne’s daughter, Patricia, on her recommendation that we should see how much work needed to be done before seriously considering undertaking the project. "Be careful on the back porch, there are yellow jackets," she said as we approached the rear entry, us smiling like cheshire cats at the first chance we’d had to see the inside (not counting many a peep through a dusty window). I probably still had welts on my legs from the stings that I had received from the same yellow jackets months before, but I heeded her advice on the bees with a (very affected) surprised and cautious look in an attempt to not creep her out with the knowledge that I was familiar with the back porch AND the bees. I hope she’ll forgive me for having been disingenuous. We toured the inside, loved the place even more than we thought we would have, and relayed that we would jump at the opportunity to own it, should she and her sisters decide to sell it. "No, don’t make me an offer. If we decide to sell it, we’ll come up with a price." Months pass. 

It’s mid-morning on a weekday, now a few days before Christmas 2014. My neighbor calls me and asks if we would ever be interested in selling our home. "Funny you should ask, Drew—it’s not listed, but we’ve been considering it." (Drew) "I have a friend who would like to live in the area, would you mind if I show it to him, if for nothing else than to see what the houses on the street look like inside?" (Me) "I’m at work, and Megan is out of the house—you’re welcome to show it, key’s on the back porch." Two hours pass. Call from Drew. "There’s a contract sitting on your dining room table, in case you’re interested." 

It still isn’t even lunch time, and my phone rings again. This time, it’s Ala, a friend of Wayne’s daughter who is helping the family sell Converse St. "WAIT, it’s for sale? Has it been listed? How did I miss this? Am I too late?" (Ala) "No Mike, it hasn’t been listed—Patricia and her sisters would like you and Megan to have the house if you are interested." We talk for a minute, and I have to ask her to repeat the asking price—it’s generously low and I’m confident I’ve heard incorrectly. No mistake. Now it’s lunchtime and I’m reflecting—I woke up and went to work this morning with no intentions and certainly no prospects of selling my house, and no idea whether this Converse dream that has seemed closer to possibly being a reality than we ever actually expected might ever happen. By lunchtime, through no effort of my own, everything has changed.

"This house should be our house. Lord, might we have this house?" A lot has taken place since we bought Converse from Patricia and her sisters in February of 2015. The process has been slow, like you would expect with restoring a house that’s nearly 100 years old. We’ve had the benefit of a great contractor and his experience bank to navigate the additions and mechanical up-fits  and it’s truly for joy that we stay up until 3am a couple of nights a week working on walls or floors or trim or paint or other little projects. Sometimes solo, sometimes with great friends. We’ve sent 8-10 massive dumpsters to the landfill, full of the 100-year old horse hair plaster that covered the 10-inch thick structural brick walls of the interior. Most nights, late late (or early early, depending on how you look at it), I clean up my tools and just stand looking at the walls, wondering what kind of life existed in this place over the past ten decades, and drinking in the details that don’t exist in modern day construction. I feel a love for these walls and floors and windows and doors. I know that this house was a gift to my family. And for it I am grateful. My hope (our hope) is this: that the best years that this old house will know are yet to come. That there will be love and peace and kindness and service and truth and humility grown here, in gratitude to the One who planted us here, and in honor of the man who loved this house before us. Right now, the process seems never ending, and we’re ready to be home. But, I know that this time will seem short in our memory, and that what will be left is the feeling that down to setting the very last door, or nailing the last piece of trim, or applying the last bit of paint, we’ve enjoyed finishing what Wayne started years ago.


  1. all the happy tears for your sweet family. what a joy it is to witness y'all in this labor of love. we can't wait to sit down at your table so very soon.

  2. There are a hundred critics for every artist but, in my estimation, this is one damn fine piece of writing.

  3. It was God's will you have this house. I'm sure Daddy has watch you and Megan as you work with a big smile on his face. I know he's proud that this house he love so will have a family to fill it soon. Thank you so much for finishing what our daddy didn't get to. Thank you for honoring his memory and for always making us feel as though we can stop by at anytime.
    Smiling through tears
    Julie Wood Keys