Tuesday, October 15, 2013

place III

if i am ever in a position to buy my own home, i hope for an old home. 

i have spent too many years of my life with real wooden doors and hardwood floors and cabinet doors that won't stay closed to be able to settle for wall-to-wall carpeting and cardboard-thin doors. 

i'm a big fan of storytelling, and i have long cleaved to the notion that houses can be the best at it. imagine the ease of settling into a home that already knows how to be one. or the comfort of little feet running up and down your hallway after so many others have. or the stains in the oven of meals-gone-wrong relieving you of feeling like the only one who makes mistakes in the kitchen. homes retain pieces of our souls, and i can think of nothing more comforting than for the good spirits that existed there before us to continue bringing that peace. 

when my grandmother passed away, my family began a yearlong process of cleaning out her home. in this large, 80+ year old farm house were sixty years of my grandparents' lives together. books, photographs, souvenirs, homemade toys, clothes, trunks, dishes, papers, linens, and probably enough furniture - that had traveled from germany to ohio to seattle to mississippi - to fill a small antique shop.

every inch of the place was searched and torn down. pieces that had the most value, in terms of sentiment, were given to those who asked for it. i got some dishes, books, table linens, bed spreads, old pots, jewelry. but the most prized piece of all, was my grandmother's wedding rings. fused together, long ago, and melted and molded and bent through repairs all through these past several decades. it doesn't even make a perfect circle anymore. not symmetrical, beat up. but a perfect fit for my hands. a piece of her story to keep with me every day. 

in the ashes of the remains of this house, there were several pieces of beautiful antique silverware that God only knows was hidden in the cracks. stories were explored, logic was settled upon, but one can't help but wonder what else was hidden that is never to be recovered. notes. letters. gaps to be filled.

houses can tell stories, but sadly, they can't speak.

now my own family has rebuilt on the same space, and traces still exist of what was. traces from our own old home and this one. but the smells are gone. 

i remember the crisp smell of starched sheets when we would stay the night. making blackberry jelly from our pickings in the heat and the thorns. a thousand homemade breakfast spreads always on the kitchen table. thanksgiving and a dining room table longer than the equator. corners and creaks. history. always. ice cream. in. the. freezer.

i remember my father's, aunt's, and uncles' stories of childhood in that home and imagining them in the same places and rooms i would find myself.

i remember the poems i wrote in lament for the impending loss of the deteriorating place. personification, they call it.

the house would represent a life gone. but like all losses, somewhere in those burials and cremations, somewhere in the feeling that, i too, am sinking beneath the earth in mourning, i manage to look up one more time. an act of courage. courage to keep breathing. courage to refuse the past a hold on me beyond memory. courage to believe that there is something else for me. maybe something better.

i was not just saying good bye to a home. i was saying good bye to a storyteller. i was fearful of the pressure to be faced of having to carry on what the house could no longer accomplish. would i be that faithful storyteller? will my own home tell tales of joy and laughter? will its walls be protectors of peace and secrets? will its windows absorb imagination and thirst for adventure? will its table offer meals that are sacred and comforting? will its beds be strong fortresses for safety and sweet dreams? only if we are all of these. only if we are worth such a reflection by a home.

but past the goodbyes of what once was, of a lost home, i was grateful. i felt peace for the love i was sure the house received, peace that its soul could still live on. and i was grateful for the love the house provided in being a home to more people than i will probably ever know. 

i think of all the trends in architecture, furniture, appearance, and location. where and what makes a house a good house. and i always come back to the fact that people are not impressed by how much the piece over the mantle cost or where you ordered your coffee table. people are impressed when they get to take their shoes off and be. people are impressed when you paid attention to the details of their stay and made them family. people will remember you not because of what you cooked, but because you made a meal for them.

every being yearns for a full life. for exotic narratives to make up their days. we dream of the Great Wall and foreign sands and these are good. the world is abundant and capacious, and begs for new eyes to see it. but to believe that such extravagance exists out there and not in our own coves is a lie. home is always a place we want to be and to where we all will return. while perhaps not always literally, we will find our bodies remaking what we knew and loved and wishing for it all back again. when we learn to be in the present and love the little things, we will have a full life. pay attention. our shared meals and communal experiences make our enjoyment. the place doesn't have to be specific. but may i always remember that just as it is the people that make the place, so the place makes the people. 


  1. Given that I spent this past weekend with my grandparents', my absolute favorite place in the world, this is exactly how I am feeling, too. Thank you for this.

    1. There's no place like home, but there's no place like grandma's either.