“If I could only go home again …” These are lyrics from "The House That Built Me," a hit for country singer Miranda Lambert. The singer tells a story of a young woman who longs to go back to the house where she grew up, if only for a moment.
That sets the stage for an experience I had recently. We were pulling patio furniture down from my mother-in-law’s barn loft when I heard it, lots of giggling laughter. I realized it was coming from the adjoining yard, which had once been ours.
The swing that my husband had hung years ago swayed back and forth as a little girl with a billowing white skirt tilted her head back, allowing her long dark hair to dangle. Her sister, a bit younger, was playing close by. Their laughter and chatter was continual and it shot my memory back to when my own two barefoot daughters wearing billowy skirts would scatter the sound of childhood through the windows.
Unexpected emotion bubbled up inside me — not from sorrow, but joy. There were mixed emotions when we sold our home of 30 years. A part of me grieved, and a part of me was ready to move on. The church next door bought it, excited to turn it into a place of ministry, complete with an apartment for missionaries on hiatus.
Ministry had long been taking place there with the high calling of raising a family. Though we knew of their plans, I hadn’t yet seen the results … until that moment. Suddenly, there was the realization of perpetual life moving on, and moving into a space we had staked as our own.
In reality it’s only brick and mortar and dirt and trees and lots and lots of memories. It’s the frame by which you view first anniversaries, first steps, first birthdays, losing front teeth, training wheels coming off the bike, a giant yellow bus that comes and snatches your baby away for the first time. It’s years of gardens, flowers and tea parties with stuffed animals.
It’s the dirt that never gets the chance to welcome grass underneath the swings, and water fights and fights between siblings. It's prom pictures next to the blooming lilac bush, toy tractors in the sandbox, toddler riding toys scattered about during naptime and the announcement of college acceptance letters, engagements, wedding dates, grandchildren on their way.
Four children had opened up presents on Christmas morning and searched for Easter eggs in the spring. Three new babies crossed the threshold of that back door, and one scrawny and scared little boy entered into his forever family. You don’t just pull up 30-year-old tent stakes without lingering awhile. On that sunny, warm day, those memories seemed like a melody wrapping around those grand old trees in the back yard.
We were invited in that day to see the renovation. The French doors we had always hoped to install leading out to the wraparound porch my husband had built were no longer a good thought … they had become a reality. The kitchen had been flipped, an apartment created on one end.
It was different but the same, but mostly it was still a house where love permeated throughout the brick and mortar. And the swing still hangs in the grand old tree, ever waiting for some little girl with a billowing skirt to come make it joyful again.
McClain writes from Greenwood.