THEY SOLD THE FAMILY HOME after their mother died at age 87, only a few years after they’d lost their father, also at 87. And the nine children in Esto’s Wells family always regretted it.
“Well, we all had houses,” said Frances Wells Kirkland. “We did the wrong thing — we sold it. Then we wanted it back as soon as we sold it.”
“Even after we sold it, we just couldn’t let it go,” said Jeanette Wells Berry.
They watched the house waste away, in recent years sitting empty and silent, without the life and laughter of their big happy family or any other. By then the two Wells sisters lived together next door in a modern brick home. When the opportunity to buy back the house unexpectedly came along last year, they did not hesitate.
Their brother Billy, now 79 and the baby boy of the family, stopped by one morning, as he usually does, and announced the family home was for sale.
“So me and Frances high-tailed it down to Bonifay and bought it,” said Jeanette. The listing price on the home was $10,000, but they got it for $9,000. And then they faced the daunting task of what to do with it. “It was filled with trash from the front to the back,” said Jeanette.
A neighbor got to work and made restoring the house his pet project, refusing pay. Their sister Louise Wells McGowan, 80, volunteered her son, a skilled carpenter, to help out. Jeanette, 84, cleaned up the outside. Frances, 76, and a nearby neighbor did much of the inside painting.
“This was my retirement project,” says Frances. “We had to put in new everything. And we had a good time doing it.”
Other neighbors chipped in. Some donated furniture. Their preacher and his wife gave some things. Another sister, Martha Sue Wells Register, 86, persuaded her son to bring over a piano he’d bought for his daughter.
“We never ate by ourselves when we were growing up,” said Jeanette. “Everybody came by.”
And now they do again. Although there’s still work to be done, and no one actually lives there, the family home is once again a gathering place. On Tuesday nights the ladies from Esto Baptist Church get together there. The sisters also host game nights, with the card game they call 3/13 a favorite. The extended family will come for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When a neighbor stopped by on a recent Saturday night, she gravitated toward the piano and sat down to play the old hymn, “What a Day That Will Be.” Jeanette and Frances sang along. “That’s the song y’all sang at mother’s funeral,” the neighbor remembered.
“It’s like being at home again,” said Frances.
“Life has been so good for our family,” said Jeanette. “You may remember: We had a good mama and daddy.”