Restoring the Family Homeplace in Long Branch
The number of people these days who live in the same house, and even sleep in the same bedroom, for nearly 90 years must be a very small number. But Joyce Worley of the Panola County community of Long Branch did just that—from the day she was born in 1924 until the day she died in 2014. And now one of her sons, his wife, and their sons have renovated and restored the old family homeplace and are happily ensconced in its familiar comfort.
John Worley says, “I give my wife Terri much praise for agreeing to this project. It certainly has not been easy. A few years before Mom died, she told me she couldn’t leave me a lot of money, but she would like for us to keep her house. My reply was, ‘If you can’t leave me a lot of money, I don’t want your house!’ We laughed about it then, but when Mom died, and my brother Bud knew he didn’t have the time to give to a restoration project, I couldn’t let it go. I decided that I would rather live with the regret of keeping it than to regret selling it and not be able to buy it back! I have not regretted it yet. It really turned out to be a therapeutic thing for both of us!”
The home was built in 1911, and Joyce’s parents, Pope and Gertrude Haley, bought it in 1921. When her father died suddenly very shortly after she graduated from high school at 16, Joyce and her mother were faced with trying to survive and hold the household together during very hard financial times. Her mother raised chickens and had a milk cow, selling eggs, milk, and butter, also bartering with other farm families in the community, and Joyce took a job in Carthage for the Agricultural Adjustment Agency. Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, she remained very frugal throughout her life.
In 1951, Joyce married Winston “Doc” Worley, and after the wedding he moved into the house with Joyce and her mother with the idea that the newlyweds would buy their own place quickly. However, her mother died about two months later, and the couple ended up staying in the old homeplace and raising their two sons, Charles (“Bud”) and John there. Bud says, “Dad (who was as frugal as Mom!) really wanted to move into town because of the cost of driving back and forth every day with gasoline at 15 cents a gallon! But Mom was insistent that she did not want them to borrow money for a house, so we stayed right there in Long Branch! I have to add that however frugal they were with themselves, they were incredibly generous to others!”
Her sons say that when Joyce died, she left very few things of great monetary value, but she had saved absolutely everything of sentimental, family, or historical value. “She had already told us she didn’t want us to have an estate sale when she died,” says John. She wanted all her ‘heirlooms’ and ‘treasures’ to go to family members and everything else given to people who could use it.” They also laugh at some of the funny stories about the division of some of the “stuff,” including the friendly competition for things like the family’s antique mantel clock, the vintage adding machine, and the Coca-Cola clock that hung in their dad’s barber shop for as long as they remember.
They remember their mom as a person who loved history and loved people. “She was especially diligent in finding stories about the Long Branch pioneer families,” remembers Bud. “She was an ‘area worker’ for collecting information for The History of Panola County, published in conjunction with the Bicentennial. When local historian Leila Belle LaGrone complimented her, saying, ‘I wish every community around here had as much of its history researched and presented as Long Branch does,’ she was on cloud nine. She just could not have received a higher praise or a bigger compliment.”
Both sons have very fond memories of growing up in the old family home. John says, however, “Some of the best memories are of some of the saddest times. For example, around Labor Day of 1986, Daddy was diagnosed with cancer. Then at Thanksgiving that year, we had lots of family company, and Mom was concerned it was just too much for him. But he said, ‘No, I wish I could have my family here every day!’ And that’s what happened! His brother, sisters, nieces, and nephews made SURE it happened. People from his family were here every single day. His sisters took care of the house and all the meals so that Mom could devote all her time to taking care of Daddy. Those sisters were some of the best cooks in East Texas, and there were big meals every day, and on weekends there were always lots of visitors. We hardly ever ate in the dining room growing up, just in the kitchen, but during that time, we ate every meal in the dining room. Even though the reason for being together so much was sad, I have wonderful memories of my aunts and uncles being together, laughing and sharing stories.”
They also share memories of being born pretty late in their parents’ lives, so quite often people thought they were their grandchildren. Their dad was one of the youngest of 10 children, so he was born late in his own parents’ life as well; therefore, many of Bud’s and John’s cousins were more like parents to them. They also recall party lines and that phone calls from Carthage to Long Branch were long distance. “We never got to call people just to chat,” says Bud. “I remember how much Mom loved it when she got her first cell phone and could call all her friends for free and just talk all she wanted to. She could not believe her good fortune! It’s pretty neat, too, that when John and Terri needed a local phone number for their internet service, Mom’s old phone number was available, and they got it.”
No improvements were made to the house from the time it was built in 1911 until the 1940s, when the gas stove and heaters were installed, and the wiring for electricity was added, though John points out that there were only one or two outlets in most of the rooms. During the current renovation, the house was leveled and received all new wiring, plumbing, insulation, and air conditioning/heating units. John laments, “A lot of what we have done you can’t even see, but we knew it was all important for safety and longevity, so we didn’t think we had a choice.”
John says the most difficult part of the renovation was selecting the exterior paint color. Terri really wanted to paint the house yellow, which, ironically, was the color it was originally painted, but she couldn’t find quite the right shade. John preferred gray. After much debate, he asked, “Can’t we just paint it white?” Terri’s response: “No, it will be painted a color!” They finally found the current taupe color and decided it was just right.
The basic floor plan of the house has remained the same, with no huge structural changes, but a couple of rooms have new uses. The old dining room was remodeled to create a new modern kitchen, and the old kitchen became the master bedroom. An adjacent back porch was closed in to make room for a master bath and closet. The side porch was enclosed to create a laundry/utility room. The front entry hall was reconfigured a bit to allow for a powder room to be built under the stairway and to have a space for the family’s 1896 pump organ to be displayed near the front door. A small bedroom upstairs was converted to a bath, and closets were added. All the original wood floors in the house and the unique stairway have been retained. One of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive parts of the renovation was removing the layers of wallpaper (some of which crumbled into dust) from every room in the house to expose the shiplap walls, which have now been painted. The renovations have enabled a fourth generation of the family, John’s and Terri’s sons, Grant and Wade, to enjoy the home.
Bud also had what he calls a “barndominium” or “shop house” built on the 15-acre property, visible from the kitchen window of the big house. He did some of the finishing work himself and is pleased that he was able to use some materials from the old home, as well as some from the home his dad was raised in, in the project. “It’s a weekend home,” he says, “a place to take the grandchildren to go fishing, and also a place to put all the extra stuff we have accumulated over the years.” He also says that he and John have the best view of each other’s houses. “The old homeplace looks great,” he adds. “And it is so nice to know that our childhood home will continue to be in the family and look so good for a long time to come!”