Thursday, March 8, 2012

Imperfect Pictures

(A guest post by Rebecca Larson for this thirteenth day of Lent)

Home is a subject that has often been on my mind these past few months; something I've struggled with, something I've longed for. Your call for a definition of "home" has had me searching my mind for just the right words, and rifling through photo albums for the perfect pictures.

But I can't seem to find them. So I must go with what is imperfect.

There are only two houses on this earth that have fulfilled the concept of "home" to me: the house I grew up in from birth to almost twelve years old, and the house Dan and I lived in in New Mexico until we moved to Colorado.

The house on Blueridge always seemed the perfect little family home. My parents bought it in 1984, not too long before I came along. To a small child, the backyard of that pie-shaped cul-de-sac lot seemed to stretch for miles: a large grassy space, half a dozen fruit trees, tall, majestic ponderosa pines, hovering bushes that made the perfect hiding places for hide-and-go seek and for building forts. It was the kind of backyard that a child's imagination could create a thousand scenes in, and my brothers and I reveled in it through those early years, playing wonderful games and having many of our raucous sibling fights. The house itself perhaps wasn't perfect. It was a simple, cheaply built tract home from the late sixties. When I was little, the fridge was still chocolate brown, and the shag carpets were varying colors of gold, green, and brown. The home had been poorly insulated when it was built, and despite my parents’ best efforts, it was still quite cold in winter. Because of this, my parents bought a wood-burning stove to insert into the old open fireplace and used it frequently all winter long to augment the heat in the house. There was something comforting about that stove. After everyone else had gone to bed, I remember sneaking out of bed to sit in the rocking chair and stare at the embers as they died down. I wish I knew what I thought about at those times, but some memories fade, whether we like it or not.

The spring before I turned twelve, my parents decided to buy a new, larger house that would better accommodate our family of five as we all grew. I was very excited about this, but there was still something bittersweet about leaving that old home. I was Wendy growing up and leaving the nursery. Yet, somehow I foolishly thought that what had been could be re-created. The new house had not one, but three woodstoves in it, but as it turned out, the better insulation meant that they weren’t really necessary, and my mom’s allergies to wood smoke had worsened terribly, so we only used them once or twice before they were forgotten. I missed the fires. That house was always a nice place to live, but when I dream of home as a child, I dream of the little house on Blueridge. I still dream of it quite often.

While Dan and I were searching for a place to live when we got married, Dan stumbled across the house on Silver one day while out walking near the university. We went to see the place and found a house that was grimy, lacking central heat or cooling, riddled with roaches, and had a backyard that was all one overgrown jungle-like mess of sumac. But we took it. I suppose we didn’t mean to live there long when we first moved in, but somehow it just happened, and we found ourselves getting to know the house. Like “The Little House” of Virginia Lee Burton’s children’s book, this house had it’s own stories to tell. It had a life, a history that we could only learn by digging out the weeds, following the lines in the walls, and listening to the creaking of the plaster in the night. We began to get to know a little Victorian cottage that had been poorly remodeled here and there beyond recognition, we found a lovely backyard layout, and the names “Claire” and “Colleen” written in the cement in a childish scrawl, each accompanied by a little handprint. We discovered a little basement room painted all in red with a deteriorating “stage” on one side and a flag painted on the other with a white star surrounded by machine guns and two white stripes on a red field. Who bathed in that claw foot tub, where are those girls now, what exactly went on it that basement, and what did the yard look like when the backyard walk was laid on 1-4-‘49—the date we found elsewhere on the pavement. We couldn’t help but wonder.

Slowly, we fell in love with that house. We began our story there, created and brought our first child home there. And there we sat in the winter cold of that poorly insulated, poorly heated house in front of fires of our own making in its brick fireplace, staying up late in the night to stare into its warm, glowing light and reflect on the life we’d been given, the blessings we had, and the challenges we faced ahead. Our friends and family gathered around those fires as well, sharing their own trials and joys, embracing life with us. We transformed the backyard into our own private Eden, watching it all torn away when the home’s ownership changed, and feeling the stab as keenly as if something dear had been ripped away from us.

This past June, we moved to Colorado, where Dan began his PhD in August. We said goodbye to the little house on Silver with that same bittersweet feeling, and found ourselves instead in quiet suburbia, in a house built in the eighties with plenty of quirks, but very little personality and no fireplace at all. I can’t say yet whether I will be able to look back one day and call this a true home. We are far away from friends and family, and making meaningful connections in a new location has been far harder than I imagined it would be. Sometimes I find myself wishing that we could afford to buy our own little house and share in its memories while building our own, but I know on reflection that this would only be a bandage, rather than a solution, for a home is so much more than the house that forms its structure.

A home is a place where love resides, where people are nurtured, where family and friends gather, where memories are discovered and memories built. But home stretches beyond simply the place; home is loving your husband, caring for your child, welcoming in friends, new and old, hoping for the future, while remembering the past. Creating, sharing, growing, loving, learning, cooking, cleaning, reading, knitting, singing, fellowshipping, praying, and listening all happen in a home.

I miss home.

Rebecca leads a double life: In one, she lives with her daughter Elinor and her husband Dan, who she follows to the ends of the earth as he pursues his English PhD (and later a teaching job). In the other, she works full time as a labor and delivery nurse. It's a beautiful life, but she often wishes it could be a simpler, slower one.

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