Making a Home
By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.
We have lived in our home for 11 years. It’s nothing glamorous, but it has served us very well. Four of us moved in and three more have joined us since.
With each new arrival, rooms and furniture have been shuffled and rearranged to make space for everyone. There have been other changes here and there — an added 1,000 feet to accommodate our growing brood, a wood-burning fireplace insert to take the edge off winter’s chill, a kitchen refresh, a renovated bathroom. Trees have been felled, raised beds constructed and piles of wood stacked.
Recently, the family who had lived in this home for many years approached us about visiting the house. The parents and their six adult children were making a pilgrimage of sorts from around the world to be together for a few days. Could they come see the house? Of course.
As the date of their arrival drew near, I noted the runny noses of a few of my children. They were just colds but in the age of COVID, I could hear the nervousness in the eldest daughter’s voice as we confirmed the visit details. She told me they would cautiously enter the home one by one, peek around, and then make a swift departure. It sounded fine with me; whatever they wanted to do, I was happy to accommodate.
The day finally came, and they arrived with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But suddenly, as they stood in the doorway, the script we had planned was tossed out the window. All eight (with one grandson in tow) were in the house and wandering about from place to place — each on their own journey of memories. Their faces were serious as they reconciled the rooms they had inhabited so many years ago with the new rooms we now inhabit, followed by surprise, joy and delight. There were questions about what had happened to this wall or the odd vent that had been a great place to hide tiny treasures. “The garage still smells exactly the same!” one sibling announced to another. Their visit lasted probably not much more than a half hour, but it was clear this visit would stay with them for decades to come.
Surprisingly, I received thank you cards from all of them, which were sweet and poignant. Each letter, in its unique way, expressed how much the visit meant to the family members.
One paragraph from a son in the military who was living abroad was particularly touching. He had undoubtedly moved frequently, so the notion of a family home was clearly alive in his memory and came through loud and clear. He wrote: “What time wouldn’t permit that day to share was the flood of beautiful memories that flashed back — dinners spent together under the warm glow of candlelight that my mother insisted upon each Sunday meal. Most memories were tied to seasons. After blizzards, tall well-formed snowmen sat upon our front lawn and snow forts stood as citadels protecting us from a barrage of snowballs. The thrill of watching the daffodils press up like a miracle each spring next to the driveway. The endless games of touch football in the backyard with brothers in the fall and raking a seemingly unlimited supply of leaves each Saturday from October to November. Summer’s memories of catching fireflies and the scent of honeysuckle. I could fill pages but these are my precious moments all linked back to our home.”
As I read these lines, my eyes wet with tears, I marveled at how similar our lives were, although 20 years different in time: the endless leaves, the daffodils that greeted us as we first arrived at our new home that spring so long ago and have ever since, the snow forts and the cozy dinners together as a family. Memories, I realized, aren’t just a part of bricks and mortar, but are shaped by weather, the renderings of the earth, the lay of the land and meals shared. Our houses are part of a much bigger picture, animated by love, sacrifice, ritual and seasons that make up what it truly means to be home.
Carrie Gress is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center and a scholar at the Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America (CUA). She has a doctorate in philosophy from CUA and is the editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.
This article was first published in The Epoch Times and ran in the June issue of Catholic San Francisco.