My father lived in the house for a few more years before re-marrying and moving to another state last year. But still, when I visited him, I continued to think of it as "going home." Now it will be sold and along with it, the last physical link to my childhood. We moved into the modest three-bedroom home when I was two-years old. My first childhood memory was when I stood upon my bed to look out the window and saw our next door neighbor's yellow garage with the dark black windows.
We had a fabulous wood behind the home. Tall elm trees lined the edge of the yard and multiplied into a cool, shallow glen; with a creek that lazily drizzled from a large water drainage pipe. Honeysuckle and lilac bushes filled the air with delectable perfume. The neighborhood kids would join my brother and me as we hiked down the small path and imagined ourselves to be great adventurers. There was clay in the banks along the creek and we took pleasure in digging it out and fashioning amazingly ugly ashtrays for our parents. We did what every kid should do when they're kids. We played outside until the sun set and got plenty muddy.
I'll never forget what was the pride and joy for my brother and myself - and made us the envy of the neighborhood: my father built us an honest-to-goodness tree house. But this wasn't a platform with a fake Jolly Roger hoisted on a tree limb passing itself off as a "house." It was a real little house, complete with walls, a roof, windows, and a door. I used to love to go up there and once it was warm, my brother and I would spend the night on the weekends. What fun we used to have up there in our own little world!
Years later, after my brother and I finished college, a neighbor across the street asked if my father would be willing to remove it if he helped him. He was concerned that some younger children wouldn't be able to resist the tree house and could possibly become hurt by trying to climb up - or worse, falling out once they had climbed up. My father agreed and they removed it. I felt relieved because the last thing I wanted to see was an accident.
Our home was filled with love and laughter, good home-cooking and plenty of fond memories. I remember the time I was getting ready for my prom and as I was blow-drying my hair, realized I had put too much conditioner on and it looked horrendously greasy. My mother hurried me to the kitchen sink to wash it out and we restyled my hair in time. I remember the times I'd return from a date and my mother would still be up, wanting to know how it went. I also remember the times I cried on her shoulder, disappointed and sure that I'd never get married. My mother would repeat after every one of those episodes that it would happen "some day" and to not lose hope. She never failed to make me feel better or dearly loved.
My father was "Mr. Fix-It" and he built a pool in the backyard with the help of a few teenage boys who lived on the street. As soon as Spring arrived, it wouldn't be too long before my brother and I would be begging him to open the pool. Finally the weekend would arrive when he'd peel back the cover and start the cleaning process. Summers were filled with my brother and I swimming around like fish and backyard dinners where my dad made the best barbecue chicken ever. We'd sit outside and slap at the mosquitoes, drinking lemonade and talking about everything and nothing. My father and I liked storms, in particular. Whenever one would roll in, we'd often head outside and sit under the carport, watching the lightening whiten the sky and smelling that great scent of earth being drenched by water. Sometimes we wouldn't say much. We'd just sit and watch God's tremendous sky drama unfold.
I have hundreds of great memories. Once my father moved away and I was facing the inevitability of the house being sold, I realized that my mother had truly made it a home. Although a man's presence is felt in a home, it is typically the woman who makes it a nurturing sanctuary. Her love and generous heart made it a home worth returning to, and one difficult to leave even when I was a young woman who needed to grow up. Home is where you know you can go when the world gives you the cold shoulder. Home is where you go when you're broken into pieces and need to be put back together. Home is where those who love us wait with open arms and open hearts. And now my sense of home has changed.
I remember when my mother was alive, how I'd often call her when I read of some awful occurrence of a mother doing something unspeakable to her children. I would call, commiserate, and then always end by saying this to her, "Mom, I am so glad I have you as a mom. God really blessed me." I was blessed by having two parents who loved me and the more evil I saw in the world, the more I was aware of just how blessed I really was.
So my understanding of "home" has changed from a physical structure to something more metaphysical. The relationships I have with my father, my brother, the rest of my family, my friends, and last but not least, my husband - now occupy a place in my heart that I call "home." The love created from relationship is what I find comfort in, and the memories of the past will always comfort and bring me joy. New memories are in the making. A cousin will be getting married in a week and with her, a new husband and more new relationships. Time moves on.
I've had to work a bit to get the priorities right. At first I didn't want to see my beloved childhood home slip away. But now I can see it has served its purpose and it's time to let it go. The physical will eventually crumble, but my memories are mine for a lifetime. The real "home," is inside of me.