“The flood was the act of a merciful God.” So said my father in 2001, in the weeks after Tropical Storm Allison hit, filling our Braeswood-area home—the one I’d grown up in—with five feet of water.
We were in Philadelphia for a wedding when the surprise storm parked itself over Houston. My brother, holding down the fort, called to report the rising waters. While my mom showed mild concern, my dad showed none at all. Beyond a few more calls home to make sure their son and the dogs were okay, they didn’t alter their plans, staying on for a few days before finally going home to assess the damage.
The family returned to a war zone. Our street, lined with wreckage, would never be the same. The verdict on our house: total loss. My parents salvaged what items they could, tossed the rest—including all record of my early life, in the form of photos, letters, books and yearbooks I’d stashed in a closet—and moved into an apartment. Through it all, my father was weirdly upbeat.
It was only later that I came to understand how much he’d hated that house. Built in the 1950s by an apparently not-very-good engineer for his own use, it was a failure in design, with a disaster of a foundation that my parents had spent thousands repairing, multiple times. After each round of construction finished up, cracks in the walls would immediately reappear. Finally, somebody realized the house was actually missing some piers, and my folks more or less gave up.
“There was a crack in the living room so wide, you could see the house across the street,” Dad recalled later. “Since I was not going to spend any more money fixing a foundation that could not be fixed, I was prepared to spend the rest of my life with that crack.”
Why didn’t they move? My mom didn’t love the house either, but she was embedded, attached not only to the work she’d put into decorating it, but to the neighbors, and to the birds that had moved inside another crack, off the dining room. Always an animal lover, she didn’t want to disturb them, so had her own reasons for accepting the home’s shifting bricks.
“Your mother never would have left that house,” my dad would say in the years after the storm, grinning like he’d won the lottery. She, of course, rolled her eyes.
My folks ended up buying another home with a great foundation, elevated above a set of steps, with no wall birds, near Rice. It was a chance at a new beginning they otherwise might have been denied. They love the house, although my father likes to speak cheerfully of how, one day, when it goes back on the market, it will be bulldozed immediately. (The structure is older, but prices on the lot have shot up.)
As flood stories go, ours may be somewhat unusual, but the sense of renewal that accompanies moving into a new home is universal. It’s a time to shed old belongings, start fresh with the neighbors, get and stay organized, redecorate, remodel and, in a way, get another shot at living your best life.
Still, some of us, like my mom, might need a little push to move on up. Which is why, for this month’s cover story, we talked to 10 Houstonians who are loving life in our 10 favorite neighborhoods of 2017. If you’re in the market, you need look no further for inspiration.