The House Leroy
by Sherry Wachter & Patrick Dunphy

Create Space, 2014. ISBN 978-1-499-34368-7.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 05/15/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir

Although the word home conjures up images of a particular town, building, yard, or dwelling, home is also associated with biological family and friends who are closer than family. Sherry Wachter and Patrick Dunphy's The House Leroy is a lovely, illustrated account of turning a house into a home and a handyman into a father-grandfather-uncle—in other words, a family member. Families give and take. They matter to one another. This story tells how Leroy came into a mother and son's life, fixed up a temporary dwelling, and found meaning for his own life as well as a place he could finally call home.

Leroy came with Wachter's mother to help the family move out of a flooded house and into a drier one in Northeastern Oregon. He stayed, worked hard, and promised, "I won't leave you in a mess." Wachter presented him with one challenging set of blue prints after another. He figured out each job, and his self-respect grew. Ginger, the house cat, adopted him, and he earned a room of his own in a home where he was loved and respected.

He kept his promise about not leaving the family in a mess, but no one counted on the mess that emotional entanglements create. Sitting on the porch in the evenings, Sherry and Leroy talked about their pasts, "who God might be, and what it meant to be a good person." They became a family one day at a time.

The beauty of the renovations and the emerging gardens Sherry, Leroy, and Patrick created together are documented in the photos that bring this story to life. The cover photo, for example, shows the backs of Leroy rocking in a chair on the porch and Ginger on the step behind him. Ginger watches Leroy, who is looking out on the garden he created. Connection and creation mix in the photo. The candids on almost every page show two works-in-progress, a house and a soul, both in renovation.

Although I'm not sure why he's called the "House Leroy" or how earlier experiences contributed to his bearded, rumpled look, the photos show me that his life mattered in his final days; he finally found a home and a family that loves him.

This is a real-life story about not giving up. It is also a loving, heartfelt story of the magic that can occur when human beings connect in a particular place over a specific project. Finally it's a memorial to Leroy, who died in April of 2014.

The book, and especially the photos, will reawaken hope. It is a model for "making lemons out of lemonade," whether those lemons are physical, mental, or emotional.

Sherry Wachter is a writer, designer and teacher. Visit her blog & her website.

Sherry's son Patrick Dunphy is still in high school, and is a primo tuba player ("Seriously, Wachter says: "he wins awards and stuff").

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