I’ve lived in this 1950’s Cape longer than I’ve lived in any other home. When we moved in, my older son was just starting preschool, and my younger son had just learned how to walk. Many things have changed since then: kitchen appliances, beds, sofas, curtains, and wall colors. Some things have been added (several bookcases, tables, chairs) and some things subtracted (high chair, crib, vcr). The bathroom has been redone and recently tiled. Garden beds were added along the front walkway, on the side of the house, and in the front corners inside the shrubs along the front of the yard. Some of the books on the shelves moved in with us, but many more have come along since. Life within these walls has changed this house, but so incrementally that it almost escapes notice. It’s only when I take the time to count the changes that the magnitude of it is revealed.
I think the same is true for my interior life. My prayer life is different than it was 18 years ago, but I can’t say that I made any huge or sudden changes. How I understand “love God, self, and neighbor” has undergone renovation as well, growing out of one awareness and into anther. Taken altogether, though, these accumulated adjustments have kept my inner life relevant to who I am rather than who I was.
The life my family and I have been given within these walls, and the interior growth living in this place has brought, hasn’t always been convenient and has never been perfect. But it has always been gracious and precious. Another house in another town might have brought as many blessings, but they would have been different ones. I wouldn’t trade the ones I have found in this home. What I have is enough, where I am is sufficient, and God has dwelt in this place. And I am thankful.
Attached to a barn, with beat-up linoleum in the kitchen and wide plank boards of uneven width and length on the second floor, was the loveliest home I could ever want. I didn’t own it – it was part of a larger estate, rented for less than a cramped apartment cost in that area. The owners offered us the carriage house not for the money, but to see a mother and father walk the grounds with their young son.
It was a quirky place, converted from the carriage house to an artist’s studio with a kitchen in the 1950’s. Seems the owner/artist’s wife had died and he didn’t want to live in the main house without her, so he added paintbrush shelves to the walls and new glass to the windows. He offered the place to other artists – Jackson Pollack took him up on the offer, leaving a few paint splatters that were buffed off the floors long before I walked them.
It seemed to me a house all about love and loss, a refuge for a man who lost his beloved wife and later for me and my husband to delight in our older son’s growing and to welcome our younger son into life. The carriage house offered a rich life that had nothing to do with money.
Some years ago, for reasons unknown to me, the carriage house was torn down. Only in pictures and memory does that lovely old home live on. In another couple of decades, I may be the only one who remembers with love its walls, stairs, windows, and doors. But like all things lost to the passage of time, its value is safe in the blessings of the lives made better by its existence.
It gladdens my heart to know this truth: nothing is lost that was loved. God holds all things and all people – sometimes in carriage house shaped hands.
It was a second floor apartment, circa 1950’s. The balcony was concrete with decorative cinderblock walls. A walk-through galley kitchen, a Pepto Bismal pink bathroom, large bedroom, and a living/dining space that made the best of its 650 square feet. It was the first home my husband and I shared. The first time we set foot in our new home, we found champagne on ice, a cooler full of smoked salmon and cheese, and a basket with crackers and chocolate mints. A vase of flowers sat on the cooler with a “Congratulations!” balloon attached – gifts of kindness from our friends, Tim and Joicy.
There were many meals together and many with friends in the four years we lived on Farber road. We had a cat to love and good neighbors below and on each side. It was where we welcomed our first son into the world.
A few years back, the seminary tore it down and replaced it with something more modern – WiFi enabled with energy star windows and a basement that doesn’t flood in the Spring. There are some nice extras in the new places, but that’s what they are: nice extras, not necessities.
Many people look back on their first apartments with sentimental fondness, but wouldn’t want to live in such a place again. I can’t say the same. If a time comes when I no longer need the extra square footage I have now, I’d be pleased to end up in a place like Apartment 7b. I’d have to lose some of the nice extras I’ve collected, but I doubt my life would be the poorer for it.
This is one in a series. Click “No Place Like Home(s)” above for more in the series.
It was the first thing I saw when I drove onto campus. Alexander Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary’s first building: four stories of beige and brown stone, mortar, with the old lecture and worship hall on its second floor, it was one of the three dorms for seminary students. I called it home for the better part of three years – rooms 205b and 203.
It wasn’t a place I chose for myself, and dorm living brought its share of frustrations – sharing a bathroom with twenty or so other women and the necessity of cafeteria food because I had no kitchen. I hadn’t planned on moving to New Jersey, so far from family and the New England coast that I called home. But I soon found my place among new people. I also discovered that New Jersey had a lot to offer.
Before returning to New England, New Jersey gave me many friends and several years of deeply satisfying study and work. I also met my husband there, and gave birth to both of my sons. Who would have guessed that a small room on the second floor of Alexander Hall could contain such marvels?
[Google Maps image]
It’s a block from the John Paul Jones house, half a mile from Prescott Park, and across the street from the old Whipple Elementary School. After a brief search and a good scrubbing, it was my first home that wasn’t my parents’ or a student apartment.
It took a bit of paint and some wallpaper, but it felt like home within weeks of moving in. My bedroom was three stories above street level; when fog rolled in, the ground disappeared in streetlamp haloes. The kitchen window was my doorway to the flat roof and thank-God-never-needed fire escape. I registered to vote and settled in. It was my refuge when work was difficult, and a place I shared with friends, family and roommates. Until I drove to graduate school in New Jersey, its four rooms-plus bath and large entry hall were where I laughed, cried, smiled, and mourned.
To this day, part of me considers Portsmouth, New Hampshire home. I learned to love coastal small city life because of its people and places. Had I not lived here in an old three story house, I doubt I’d be in this Southcoast Cape style home I’ve loved for the past sixteen years…
For four walls and a roof, thanks be to God.
For more on this series, click “No Place like home(s)” above.
[Map from hawaiicity.com]
We arrived before our Navy housing was ready, so my first months in Hawaii were spent off base, off Kam Highway. Everything about the house was wonderful to my four year old eyes – green grass, brilliant hibiscus, tiny lizards inside and out, and a banana tree complete with pink snails at its base. Mama-san lived across the way, Keiki and Puna across the street, and the Yokoyamas at the street’s dead end; all of them ate interesting food – candied hibiscus flowers, poi, and fish wrapped in leaves. Almost everyone had a clothesline, and I would run between the hanging clothes with the other kids who lived on the street.
I don’t remember a lot about the inside of the house – the kitchen counter where I’d make peanut butter cookies, the glass orbs and other objects hanging in a net on the wall, the fish tank with its light and cover. What stands out is how interconnected we were. Mr. Yokoyama was our local dentist, my sister went to school with the neighborhood kids, the fish in our glass tank were retired show champions that came from Cheryl’s father.
This was my first encounter with different cultures. The life patterns of each family were unique, but also a living out of religious and cultural norms quite different from my own. When everyone went home for dinner, the same food was not on everyone’s table. Even the time when dinner was served varied.
It’s a blessing that we had to live off base for a few months. My first experience of people who spoke different languages, honored God and neighbor in a different faith, and had skin of a different color than my own was a neighborly one. Is there any better way to be at home in this diverse world than to live as a neighbor with people from all over it?
Lone Star Avenue
My grandparents’ home was the place we called home between the relocations that came along every eighteen months. Sometimes we stayed for a few weeks, sometimes a few months. It was a beautiful in-town Victorian, complete with a walk-in closet full of old coats and a ladder up into the cupola. At one point, it had been a school. The black phone in the front hall was one of three numbers on a party line – ring one. There was an apple cookie jar in the kitchen and a garden gnome in the back yard. Behind the furnace was the door to the bomb shelter/storage for canned goods, a cold war legacy etched in stone and concrete. My grandfather’s workshop stood in the back – a miniature white clapboard house with electricity and a wood stove. More than any other place I lived, this was the home of my childhood.
One of my earliest memories of Lone Star Avenue stands out because I was so very sick. Feverish and unable to keep any food down, my mother and grandmother made a bed for me in the den where they could keep an eye on me day and night – and I could see and hear them. The family doctor made a house call. I remember the coolness of clean sheets and pillowcases, hearing my mother and her mother talk while making dinner, and my grandfather reading stories to me. Awake, half asleep, or deep in slumber, there was always someone who would hear me if I called.
Lone Star Avenue was where I learned that the walls of home won’t keep out all illness or protect me from every harm. It’s also where I learned that love sometimes expresses itself best in fresh linens, storytelling, and a hand to hold when I need it most.
Perhaps that is why Jesus washed and dried the feet of his disciples, spoke in parables, and touched the sick with his own two hands.
I remember my second home in disjointed details – a nubby orange couch, the backyard swing set, a white driveway to the road, and fire ant mounds. There was a drainage ditch to jump in the front yard. Across the road was the forbidden field of tall grass (snakes and other poisonous critters). The fog truck would chug through the neighborhood every so often, releasing insecticide mist that left a metallic taste if inhaled. I don’t remember the storm, but I have a vivid image of trash cans floating on floodwaters.
I remember a neighbor or two, just in flashes – running around in the front yard, playing on the swings, and kicking a red ball. I can see my mother drinking coffee as we ate breakfast, my sister playing with me in the driveway, and my father airplane swinging me until I was dizzy. I remember saying prayers at night.
This was home to my toddler and small child self. We moved before I turned four, but I visited it one more time a couple of years later. A hurricane had hit the Gulf in ’68 or ’69, leaving its claw marks in the back yard. It was the last time I set foot there.
I can’t tell you name of my street or how many other houses were on it. I don’t remember the kitchen or where the bedrooms were located. Such things weren’t important enough to make an impression. It is a child’s world – the smell of grass, the heat of the sun, and a few daily activities are all that remain. It was a place I felt safe and loved, and a time shared with parents and my older sister.
As a place for first steps, words, and memories, it was more than enough.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child…I Cor. 13:11 NRSV
I don’t have any memory of it, I don’t have a picture of it, and I can’t tell you what street it’s on. I wasn’t there for very long in this Charleston, South Carolina dwelling. All I know about my first home: I was welcomed, cared for, and loved by everyone who lived there. That’s quite enough.
This is the first in a series about home. Click No Place Like Home(s) above to learn more…
Last night, Halloween dinner was at my house. Phyllo puffs, a cheese board, bread and dipping oil as we gathered, then a choice of soups and salad. We finished with an apple pecan pie and coffee. The food was wonderful, but it was the company that made the evening – eight amazing people who grace my table and my life. There were stories of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads and Amazing Grace sung together in three different countries during the same vacation and the Blues Brothers buying chairs on the way to Martha’s Vineyard. The latest family news and losing electricity in the last storm were tossed back and forth, along with what’s happening in the oyster beds and maternity wards. All too soon, coats and purses were gathered up and everyone headed out the door, the evening a memory.
My husband and I know these eight friends through two churches. Four were on my husband’s church board, three added their voices and instruments to church choirs, two were on search committees that called my husband as a pastor. Two gave us their beach house when we first moved to town, two others hosted Easter Egg Hunts when all our children were young. Three came to the book club I led a few years back, and two included us in the Chinese naming ceremony for their grandchild. I’ve spend countless hours walking streets and trails with two of them. I’ve spend birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, funerals, baptisms, and graduations with every one of them. In more ways than I can comprehend, they have brought joy into my life.
Sixteen years ago, I hadn’t met any of them. I’d have missed them entirely if the Spirit had taken us somewhere other than Wareham. For a bit of cooking and cleaning on my part, some cooking and driving on theirs, the ten of us gathered together. I’d have to be blind not to see in their faces the love of God.
Wherever two or more gather together, I will be.