The home that Peter Paularinne single-handedly built for his family is a house of love.
He made the living room windowsills with pecky cypress. He carved wooden hearts for the door handles in the bedroom. Scalloped shelves line the walls.
After putting in long days as a media coordinator for the Florida Mental Health Institute, Peter fought through exhaustion to work on his house of love. He often told his wife, Cathy, that every nail he hammered was for her and their two young sons, Devin and Austin. Whatever decorative touches Cathy wanted, Peter joyfully delivered.
Today, the home radiates warmth. Sitting on a hidden pasture in Temple Terrace, it has an ambience that suggests a country inn.
Peter promised Cathy that the house would be small but adorable, and the promise has been fulfilled. Two teddy bears sit in the living room, each adorned with a picture of Peter and the boys.
"We see him in everything in here," Cathy wistfully said. "His fingerprints are on every board. Yet he's not here."
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At first, doctors thought Peter had a ruptured appendix. As the surgery extended from one hour to the next, Cathy feared that there was nothing simple about his condition.
Finally, the doctor emerged, grim. They discovered Peter had mucinous adenocarcinoma with pseudomyxoma peritonei. It was as bad as all those vowels and syllables would suggest. No, it was worse. Cancer had filled his appendix and when the organ ruptured, it spread the cancer throughout his abdomen.
"I asked the doctor, 'Are you telling me my husband is going to die?' He said, 'Yes.' "
The surgery would be the first of many in Peter's 14-month battle, or what he called his "blessed journey" during a testimony at church.
When they traveled for Peter's medical care, the boys stayed with their immediate and extended family: Seffner Christian Academy. Devin and Austin attend the school, and Peter's challenge strengthened the bond between the school and the Paularinne family.
The family held on to hope, steeled by faith and powered by Peter's resolve, but the journey ended in March 2006. Friends and family members filled First Baptist Church of Temple Terrace. Relatives wrote poems and songs and letters about Peter.
The journey proved to be a test, and Cathy says they passed. Devin tells his teammates on the Seffner Christian basketball team never to give up on their faith. Austin says that maybe God had him go through this so he can help other kids faced with similar circumstances.
"You can make two choices when you don't get what you pray for," Cathy explained. "You can be bitter or better.
"We choose to be better."
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Seffner Christian leaders and students supported the family throughout, but they never knew about the house that Peter built. The home, while charming, is too small for a family of three. Peter never built the bedrooms for Devin, 16, and Austin, 13. Not until eight months after Peter's death did school officials learn that the boys make do with air mattresses and makeshift sleeping arrangements.
Devin and Austin have never known what it's like to have their own rooms or a sleepover. Austin envisions bedroom walls covered with dirt bike posters. Devin sees orange and blue University of Florida pennants. Cathy just wants enough room for her family to eat together at a table instead of using TV trays.
For more than a year, Duncan and other school officials and parents have worked to find a way to complete the house. It has been no easy task, given the drop in the housing market, but the goals remain ambitious: raise $100,000 for the house and another $100,000 for a family trust fund.
On April 26, the academy will hold a benefit dinner and auction in the school gym. It will be a tribute to Peter's devotion, Cathy's faith and the boys' strength.
Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 226-3406.