Thursday, August 27, 2009

Heart and Soul

I was thinking about the house, the one I grew up in, and the fact that soon it will no longer be "mine" in any sense. Many times I have gone over there when my dad was away for the summer, just to look around. There are a lot of memories in the house I would recall as I haunted the rooms. Some were mere shadows, others were as clear as a photograph.

Memories of Christmas and birthdays were clear and crisp and good. Mom liked to see our faces as we opened presents and soaked in the appreciation we showed her. Vacations were also a joy. We usually went to historical places like Boston or places of natural beauty like Niagara Falls. There was no knowledge or wonder in theme parks. We also spent time in Wisconsin many summers to visit with my dad's family. Leaving my home back then, just for a few weeks made me sad as I imagined the house empty, its large glass paned eyes watching us drive away. I would lie in the back seat, hiding my tears from my sister. I didn't want her to know that I cried for the lonely house. It seemed such a silly thing to do, but I could not help myself. The empty house looked melancholy.

See, I felt that the house had a presence, a soul. It was more than wood and glass and limestone. We even believed it to be haunted. Or maybe it was a playful little sprite who shone lights in the darkened attic, or made sounds of footsteps walking up and down the wooden stairs. Most likely it was just the fact the house was built in 1900, and its old bones were creaking, though the lights I could never explain. I have come to realize that the presence in the house wasn't ghosts, or sprites, or the soul of the house itself. It was the family who resided in it. It was us. The fact was made painfully clear, the first Christmas spent without my mom. The house echoed, even though it held our remaining family. My sister and I had left years earlier, but always returned for the Holidays and other family events. When we came back, it was if the house kept a place for us, and we slipped right in, like slipping on a well-worn kid glove. Our absence was temporary, and somehow the house knew that. Death, though, left not only an absence, but a deafening silence, never to be quieted, never to be appeased.

My dad is finally moving from the home I've known all my life, from it's converted coal room in the basement where his wine bubbled away, to the cluttered attic two stories above. As I walk around his new house, the house right next door to mine, I unlock the back door and walk into the kitchen where boxes of his kitchen supplies are stacked on the counters, one thought wafts through my mind.

"Welcome home".

For a house is just four walls, a floor and a roof. A home is much more.

Someday, the house I have known for over forty years will be sold and the new inhabitants, perhaps a family, will fill its rooms with bits and pieces of their lives. Maybe the ghost or the house sprite will entertain them with flashing lights in the attic and tease them with footfalls on the staircase. I am sure I will drive by and look to see how the old place is holding up. Will I feel a tug, a pang in my heart, a rash desire to run up on the porch and ring the doorbell, ask if I can have a glass of lemonade? Or will I just drive on by?

I will go to the place here my adult life resides. I will kiss my husband on the cheek, walk next door and have a beer with my dad, and go on the computer and find a silly cat picture to forward to my sister. I'll call my one daughter in Nebraska, and joke with my younger daughter who is still in school. I will hug my dogs and ruffle the bed-head fur of the cat. I will look fondly at the photo of my mom, the one I took one summer in the gazebo and realize that my mom is still here. For me, I have discovered, home is the people who inhabit your heart, not the structure that keeps the outside at bay.


  1. This is a great one. I'm also having to adjust to not having the house to come back to.

    For that matter, I have reoccuring dreams about Grandma's house. In that dream, no matter who is living in the house now, my key still works and the family welcomes me in. Weird, huh?