January 24, 2013

Coming Home

Everyone has heard that old saying—“you can’t go home again”. I suppose in some sense that’s true. We change, life changes us and our circumstances, and therefore it can’t possibly be the same. But on another more fundamental level, it is possible to come full circle, to complete one of those cycles within cycles that define and encapsulate our journey through incarnation, and return to a point that might be called Home.

What is Home? I’ve thought about that quite a lot lately. I’ve lived in lots of places with varying degrees of hominess, and I’ve lived in some that were never more than stopping off points, places to hang your hat on the way to the next place. I came very close in Texas, in a small town just north of the Big Bend. I was a stranger there when I first arrived, yet it felt welcoming and comforting, familiar when it shouldn’t have. A part of me will always belong there, always long for the breathtaking vistas and magic of that high desert landscape. I think perhaps I felt closer to Spirit, to God and the Goddess’ handiwork in that magnificent land. It was like being in a holy place or temple, so it occurs to me now that perhaps it wasn’t so much Home, as the conclusion of some long Pilgrimage, the reward for the struggle up to then. Perhaps you can’t abide for very long in sacred precincts, but are required, after refreshing yourself, to move on.

However, the recent move we’ve undertaken from North Carolina to Florida feels like a Homecoming for me. It hasn’t been easy, still isn’t, as of this writing, even after being here for several weeks, but the feeling of having come Home is undeniable. The decision to move back here was made early last year, but the doing was something else. Anyone who’s ever made a nonlocal move knows all the hassles and maneuvering involved in the undertaking. Firstly, we knew we had to wait for the end of the school year. Our youngest was completing four grueling and yet infinitely rewarding years at the pilot Early College High School in western NC. It was four years of intensive work for her― two hours spent on the bus each school day, and many sixty mile round trips to school functions, PTSA meetings and so forth. Instead of the usual teenage social whirl, her evenings and weekends were filled with homework, research and projects. But, in the spring of this year she graduated from both college and high school, Salutatorian for her class, and with diploma and associate of arts degree in hand.

We put our little cabin in the woods up for sale. We started pre-packing just to unclutter the small house, scrubbing, cleaning and repairing, all to put our best face forward to the real estate buying public in a less than robust market. The summer was spent cleaning for showings, doing more packing and trying to plan amidst the usual backdrop of work and chores. There were hopeful showings and disappointingly low offers. Summer fleeted by and the first autumn chill in western NC blew in an acceptable offer on the house. We were quite surprised to find that the couple who’d made the offer never actually saw the house until they came up (from FL) to meet the home inspector. They’d made their offer solely on information and pictures online, and a discussion with their realtor. By then we were deep into packing everything, and slightly taken aback that they might visit and not like the house, or be daunted by the distance it lay from town and the accoutrements of civilization. Luckily, they were enchanted by it and the sale process continued. There were other bumps along the way, confusion about the closing date, difficulty arranging for the movers, and so forth.

Meanwhile, at this end of the move, the house and property were being anxiously readied for occupancy. Though it had not been vacant for very long, a great deal of work was done in anticipation of our arrival. We were to be greeted with a fresh coat of paint on the main living areas, newly cut pastures and yard, and a pressure cleaned outdoor façade. Before I go on, I should provide some history about “The House” and our family.

I didn’t actually grow up here. By the time my parents bought this piece of property, a wild tract of scrub palmetto, live oak and pine trees, started clearing and moved a mobile home onto it, I was already a teenager, the oldest of four daughters. Don’t get me wrong—it was lovely and peaceful out here even then—but from my teenaged perspective I’d been transported to the ends of the earth. Ten miles outside of town (over four miles from the school bus stop) in a stretch of undeveloped scrubland and pine forest, my sisters and I felt cut off from friends and even civilization. The work was hard. Clearing land, putting in gardens and pens for chickens and other fowl, starting the foundation for the future house, and even having to do things like burn our own garbage; primitive, and quite the opposite of the life our teenage dreams told us we should be living.

The Barn in the late 1960's
We knew our parents worked very hard, but I know now that we really had very little clue of just how hard, of how much they sacrificed and pushed themselves to bring a dream into fruition. To say that I resented my dad in those days would be an understatement. It seemed that he had an endless list of chores for all of us, and he was often irritable or aggravated at us for not doing things as well as he liked and expected. Wearing the self-involved and largely selfish mantle of the adolescent, I really didn’t pay much attention to the fact that he worked all day at his job, and then spent every waking moment in the evening and on weekends working on this place. My mother never stopped either. From gardening, to canning and preserving, cooking for us, taking care of our growing flock of feathered friends, helping out wherever she could on construction, and even starting to work part time, she was never still. Both of my parents were to become an inspiration to me, but I was still some years from that realization in those days.

I should be ashamed now to admit how hard I tried to avoid the seemingly never ending work that went into building and shaping this place, but despite my best efforts at avoidance, much of my time and energy were spent here during those years. As the house took form and substance, arising from the sandy barren which would someday become a lawn, every member of our family contributed sweat, muscle, sometimes blood and tears, and ultimately parts of all our selves into its building. I can’t look at this place now without seeing my mom and dad everywhere, without hearing the echoes of my sisters and I laughing, bantering, fighting or weeping. I didn’t live here for very long after the house was finished. I was restless and rebellious—even then afflicted with a wanderlust that would over the years take me across this country and see me reside in three other states.
The House newly built in the early 1970's
    
But the house we built, this property that my parents sacrificed so much to shape, was always home. It was where we, as a family, formed our core traditions. Thanksgiving with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins gathered for a feast, and touch football games out front that deteriorated into melees of helpless laughter and confusion; Christmas Eve gatherings that grew with each passing year as my sisters and I became adults and started families of our own; Easter egg hunts where the eggs began to number in the hundreds and kids from toddlers to teens took part with equal joy. We had weddings and parties that opened the house to friends and loved ones, extending the family and enveloping us in its warmth; we played softball, volleyball, badminton and countless other games on the lawn with the fierce competitive delight that only belongs to family.

Presents on Christmas Eve in years gone by.
The house was our safe haven too, the place we returned to, to heal our wounds and recover from the travails that life so often has to offer. Whether it was divorce, disappointment, health or job woes, or just the need of temporary shelter, we always knew we could come home.

So much has changed over the years. Not just the family itself, though there have been as many rearrangements in that dynamic as there are of us at this point, but of the house and property as well. The house has been painted, redecorated, restored, updated and added on to. The property is largely cleared except for a woodlot out back. It is mainly pasture now. New outbuildings have been added; fences torn down and rebuilt. Like all of us in its family, “The House” has evolved through more than four decades into the gracious and welcoming home it is today.

We have so many memories stored here. I can’t look around without being reminded of one family member or another, of friends and relationships, some of them gone now, but all alive in some fashion in this house and on its grounds. My parents both live nearby, no longer married to one another and each long since in new relationships of their own, but always here with me in the shared history of this house. Trees my mother planted as saplings have flourished and now shade the house and barn. I can’t go into my bathroom, refurbished but still sporting the same pink tile she chose so long ago, without feeling her. I don’t like pink, never have (probably in rebellion of my mother who has always adored the color), but it’s taken on a certain nostalgic loveliness to my eye these days.

My dad is everywhere here. He is part of the foundation of this house, and his love for this place resides in every block and brick and stick of wood that form it. And as I putter in the little garden house I love so very dearly or the beautiful kitchen that was added just a decade or so ago, my step-mom Sue is on my mind, for these are the things that were added here from her design. I look out the windows, and there are my sisters, along with mine and their children at play. To so many of us in this family, this has become “The House”-“are you going to The House this weekend”, or “I’ll see you out at The House”- it somehow became part of our vernacular, passed on from my sisters and I to our children. So that is what I will always call it, simply “The House”. Most of our children are grown now, and several have children of their own. My wish is that it becomes “The House” to another generation.

Most of the tumult of moving in is past now, though we have a ways to go before we are settled. Furniture is still sparse in some rooms as we search for the right things to fill them, and I still haven’t hung the curtain rod leaning against the great room wall. I keep rearranging my studio/workroom. It still doesn't quite work for me. I keep plugging away out in the garden area. There's so very much to be done. But it feels so very much like home. The upstairs bedrooms that were once my sisters’ and mine, are now occupied by my two youngest children, and it seems fitting somehow.


The House in early 2013

Thanksgiving was perhaps the start of a new tradition with my two older daughters, son-in-law and his mom, and four beautiful granddaughters spending the day with us. And on Christmas Eve there was once more family gathered round to celebrate.

I look forward to the holidays and celebrations still to come, to loved ones stopping by to visit and share the warmth and welcome of our home. The House will be filled with family again.

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