Perhaps it was a mistake.
I’ve heard that once you leave home, you can never go back. I’m not always the best at following convention. My defiance has left me longing for the innocence of those who harbor a less willful nature.
What defines home to those of us who have lived in many buildings, and learned to navigate myriad rooms in the dark? We who recall the feel of each doorknob in our hand? Which home is the one in which you felt most settled, and that you look upon most fondly? Was it where you raised a family? Did you prefer a cozy newlywed home? The first set of keys you called your own, or the place in which you grew up? Does a specific tree or flower left behind remain emblazoned in your memory? Does the scent of lilac transport you to your favored place? The answers are as unique as each of us.
Homes are like people wearing shingles. They have personalities. Highs. Lows. Character. I have my favorite. I’m no longer in the place where a bit of my heart remains, where my children grew, and my mind’s eye can still wander the floorboards in the dark, successfully navigating each room without mishap. The place that felt home. I left it over a decade ago.
Today I returned.
I recognize that this is a luxury, the ability to transport myself to that place where I once felt settled. How many of our ancestors lived with nothing but memories of their most special homes, those places of comfort and of family, left long and far behind them?
Genealogists love photographs. Of people. Ancestral homes, many of which are history. Gone to the elements. Development. Ravaged by disasters great and small. Perhaps they are hiding in plain sight, and we have not yet uncovered their locations. Their satisfied inhabitants of old are long gone and unable to point us in the proper direction. That does not dissuade us from hunting for them.
You might find a grand mansion or the remnants of a cottage. An aging city apartment building. An anonymous two-flat. The buildings may be captured in aging photographs or spied upon via Google Earth. It would rare to know if a home was an ancestor’s favorite, or to understand why. We are left to wonder.
Do you trust the identification of the place that you most readily call home, even years past, to one who comes later?
Then tell it now. Preserve the memories and the reasons. Enlighten your audience, those present and future, about the place which you most readily call home. The home from which you forgot to pack your heart while wrapping dishes in outdated newspaper, so plates and glasses would arrive to a new house safely.
Today I returned to the place my heart calls home. It has a date with the demolition crew. I had to see its physical presence once more.
The place where I raised my children. A home where I felt at peace. Architectural tidbits, reminders of a time when builders had a better eye and original owners had a pocketbook for detail. Arched ceilings over bathtubs and doorways. French doors. Acres upon acres of nature. A basement floor drain that made the place smell like death warmed over if water wasn’t poured in periodically. Knowing which kitchen drawers to avoid opening at night, so as not to disturb the mice. Radiators draped with sleepy cats. The squawking parrot. A big black dog named Blue who left so many hairs in the floorboards they popped up out of them long after his demise. Riding my horse home to eat lunch. Extended family sharing meals, celebrating special occasions, laughing. Where a niece and nephews, now grown with families of their own, spent the night and watched B horror movies. They laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, but still found a thrill in sneaking through the night woods and fields afterward to brave it to the playground. The doe that nestled down alongside the fence for the night. A world of critters, great and small, wild and domesticated, that made their way through after being dumped or injured. Elderly strangers who stopped to say they lived there as newlyweds. It was a special place for them, as well.
I stood at my old office window today and looked in. That room where I did so much research and analysis. The space in which I completed my initial certification portfolio, pen caps in my ears to muffle the complaints of the parrot. The same pine cones were stenciled on the walls. In over a decade not one person had the ambition to paint.
It was worse as I made my way around. Empty. Abandoned. A soffit on the ground. The lovely pillared and arched doorway that I festooned with green garland each Christmas is now neighbors with a hole in the wall, an entry for wildlife. I worked my way to the back door, over tree limbs and green growth taking over a once-active portal. Peeked into the kitchen. My kitchen, that heart of the home, its ceiling on the floor. Paint peeled. A stranger’s calendar was permanently turned to August where I’d once hung a painting of a horse. The back of the house told the story of its demise. Two holes in the roof, one so large you could see out of the second story front window from the ground in the backyard. Water stood in the basement. I didn’t look. I took my son’s word. A person can only take so much defeat.
The bluebird house that my father built was lying on the ground, reduced to housing ants. It needs a new roof but is otherwise fine. The bluebirds that once used it have moved on. No bluebird returns to a nest box on the ground. They have more sense.
I should have taken a cue from the birds today. Just let that special place I once called home remain better in my mind and in my heart than it was in person.
Neglect turned a well-built house that weathered many decades into something uninhabitable. No others will be able to claim it as their most special place called home. None will wake to the sounds of coyotes rattling the windows, or fall asleep there listening to great horned owls. Those who appreciated the ferns that grew thickly in the front woods – like much of the woods, are gone.
My heart is heavy. The best consolation I can find is that when this house meets its demise, it will not be a home that can be saved. It slipped away from those who recognized it as home, and fell into the hands of those who saw it as an old building without purpose. I feel guilty for leaving it to them, but it was never mine to begin with. Not in that sort of way.
I took the bluebird house.
So, my most special house in the woods, in the fields, and in the vast beauty of my mind’s eye.
Miss you still.