A Home is More Than a House

The past few years have been full of a lot of moves for my family, both immediate and extended. We moved from Athens to Chattanooga right after my middle sister moved with her new husband  to Denver; my youngest sister started a job in Spartanburg; my mom moved from her decades-long home in Augusta to rent our former house in Athens; and my dad moved to an apartment in Aiken to be closer to work. Most of those moves were temporary: rental homes in new cities, transient points in our lives. This summer we bought what we hope is a forever home (or at least until the kids are grown), and just this week my mother moved into a condo close by (can I get a “hallelujah”).

Once again we’ve been sorting and packing and donating and getting swept up in the nostalgia of old photo albums, trying to make empty beige rooms feel like home.

I didn’t really have a “childhood home.” We moved a number of times when I was in elementary school and I have warm memories set against the background of a number of houses, but the house we moved into when I was in middle school is as close to one as I had. Before we moved in, the house belonged to my grandmother, who bought it with my grandfather when my mom was only 18. So even when the house wasn’t ours it was part of our family: an oasis by the pool in the summer, a cozy place to spend the holidays, a treasure trove of sepia-toned photos and hidden figurines and unusual musical instruments.

Right before Christmas of 2012, shortly after my parents told my sisters and I of their plans to divorce, the house went under contract. Suddenly I saw parts of the house in stark relief; my initials in the cement of the driveway, my sisters’ scribbles in the backs of closets, the “hobbit hole” in the bathroom designed mostly as a hanging space for my mom’s stained glass. There was quilted fabric I picked for the curtains in my bedroom hanging in the window where my husband used to throw rocks to summon me downstairs for our early morning walks before school. The living room was the base camp for my high school “playdates.”

The house was full of little pieces of my history and my family. Losing the house seemed like a symbol for everything else I was losing, for the loss of the ability to define myself and my family and my home with ease and comfort and assurance.

But there is a house and there is a home.

There is what I knew and there is what I will always know. And I always know that I have a home in the love of my family. I have ease and comfort in the laughter I share with my sisters and my children. I have assurance in the support and confidence of my parents and my husband. The house may be a symbol, but it is a symbol of the time and investment we all made in creating memories that exist outside of walls and a ceiling.

Those pieces of history are mine to keep. And the future of our family is still ours to make.

I’m immensely grateful to have family in town with us again, but in some ways I am also appreciative of the time spent in transit and transition. Once again, like in 2012, I was reminded that home is about more than where I live or the things with which I surround myself. No one can take a home away from any of us as long as we remember to look for it inside ourselves and within each other.

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