"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The house that built a family

No trip home would be complete without a stop at the old homestead.  Prior to our move to the area, we'd rented and this place provided an opportunity to purchase a piece of land and build a house that we would call ours.  At the time, we were a small family of seven under thirteen but would soon grow to the nine of today.

As children, we walked the untouched property imagining the future and visited with bated breath at each step of construction.

The house exterior has changed just a little.  The yard my father tenderly cared for is far over grown, but the trees that stand guard remember a time when the laughter of nine children rang through these woods.

The owners are travelers, a neighbor tells me, so I silently walk all around.  Do they know, I can't help but wonder, that these trees served as bases for games played in the cool of firefly filled evenings?  Of children gathered on a driveway's end awaiting the lighting of carefully carved Jack o' lanterns? Of snowball fights and sled hills made?  Of lawnmowers run and wildflower wreathes?  If they stood quietly, I think they would see a father with tearful children gathered to bury a young kitten's body.  If they stood quietly, I think they would hear the laughter of crawdad catching and play down near the stream.

Would these new owners be able to see two little boys slip down the front hill bearing fishing gear in an early morning mist?  Would they see a mother stand over the cleaning of a fish no bigger than a six year old fist to the delight of boyish pride?  Would they see buckets of freshly picked blackberries lined up amid girls, purple from fingers to mouth?  Could they tell that this driveway had been Picasso's canvas with it's dozens of sidewalk chalk drawings?  That this deck had been the Globe theatre for the reciting of world class plays?

I'd bet in the onset of twilight, the shadow of a family building traditions can be seen.  Over there around a bonfire, and there working together to build winter's supply of wood.  Across the way, pulling weeds from a garden, and there raking leaves or planting spring's flowers.

There's a shadow of a girl in this place and I can feel her close to me.  She's buried a box of treasure under that oak.  She's creating a game in the woods.  She's carrying a picnic trailing little ones behind.  She's creeping out in the dark to star gaze with an older brother.  She stands barefoot in the snow embarrassed to have her school vice principal turned nighttime firefighter assisting in the extinguish of a chimney fire.  She perches on the deck rail breathing in the air as her father loads her belongings into a college bound car.  She sits on these steps eating pork rinds and boiled peanuts with grandparents only minutes into her newly married life.  She rocks her first new baby to sleep under the eaves of this porch on a visit in the pouring of a torrential rain.  And then she fades away from here.

I walk on the deck and peer in vacant windows.  So much has changed inside but the bones remain the same.  Looking up to the second level windows, I wonder if the echoes of girls laughter in a shared bedroom can be heard as conversations lead to the avoidance of sleep.  Can they hear the inkling of tape recorded primary songs or scripture stories hushing the exuberance to sleep?  Do these people love the patterns each season's moonlight leave on the floor?  Do they throw open the windows to sleepily drift away on the wings of insect night music?

Their personal belongings must lay in closets that once were haunted houses, grocery stores and fortune teller's dens.  As they walk down their stairs and hall, are they even aware of the coats of paint covering signature graffiti of little boys learning to spell?  Can they hear the voices in the master bedroom's night darkness as teenagers quietly unload the workings of their day at the foot of their parent's bed?  Do they wonder how many little ones can fit into that bathroom tub?  Can they feel the reverent pause of children unsuspectingly encountering parents knelt in prayer?

I stand at the kitchen door.  It has been opened millions of times, I'd bet.  Reflected in the glass of it's door, I can almost see a wife and mother watching a husband leave down the dirt road for work.  She watches children leave and waits for them to come home, teens to return from dates, new drivers to back out of the driveway, the UPS man to bring her a package.  No matter that in the small corner room to her left, rests piles of laundry to be dealt with and mountains of shoes for endless dirty feet.  

Can the present owners of the house feel the love of that mother deep in conversation with children in that kitchen?  Do they feel the urge to hold hands while blessing each meal around the table in that breakfast nook?  Do they feel extra hands working as an invisible family pulls together to clean the remnants of each meal? They are certain not to know of the picnic table once at the kitchen's center.  The hours of homework done there, the lessons in canning, the crafting, the cakes made, the missionaries fed, the haircuts given, the board games played.

I can almost hear piano music drifting from the living room beyond as imaginary children race through and a sewing machine hums in the corner.  Now, the room seems sterile.  How can these people help but sit in this room and feel the walls radiate with the power of a family.  Circled in prayer, morning and night.  Reading the scriptures and discussions together.  Lessons being taught as young testimonies grow.  Of sick children, concerned children, and father's blessings given.  I know as I stand looking through these glass double doors, I can feel it.  It's still there though so much time has passed.
I've taken my pictures and turn now to leave and a voice behind me says, "Honey, this moment will never be the same."

You're right, Dad, my heart answers as I walk up the drive to join hands with the man waiting there.  I feel the wind of two little boys blow past me on bikes and turn to catch sight of a curly haired girl smiling in tap shoes atop the well's flat concrete box.  She bends down to pick up a cat at her feet and waves his paw in my general direction.

And I climb in my car and turn toward my home, to my house that is building my family.


  1. I was fine until that thing right at the end. Thanks for the photos. I loved the photos of the gunshop too. Sometimes I realize how very far from home I am. Man, I miss that place!

  2. And...what the heck, they have an air conditioner?? Mom and Dad had us convinced that that house couldn't take an air conditioner!

  3. Just beautiful, Marlowe! I'm so glad you got to take your time and look all around! Did you ever hear about the changes made to our NC home? They clear-cut the woods and it's all sod now!

  4. That was beautiful....and sad....and uplifting...all at once. I can't imagine going home and someone else living there. My mom is still in the house that she and my dad built 50+ years ago. I know that it is "just a house"....but.....sigh....

  5. love this post and esp. the ending pic. sometimes you have to go home, just to let things replay in your mind...glad you had a great visit and reunion with friends and church family! hugs, cathy