It’s Just a House
When I was seventeen, I moved for the first time ever. I’d lived in the same crowded little house for fourteen years. I packed up all my toys and gave them away. I cleaned out my drawers, packed some clothes, and left for Michigan State University. I was too excited to notice that I would miss that little house. Two years ago last month I moved my parents out of that same house, where they’d lived since 1946. I packed up their house. My dad, who was blind and beginning to show signs of hallucinations, and my mother, confused in a fog of dementia, were angry. My mother puzzled about where she would live, how she could live anywhere else, and who would look after her house. I closed the door, and said, “It’s just a house, Mom. You and Dad are more important. It’s just a house.”
But, I understood her emotion. Even though I’d left with clarity, I had left twelve homes I loved. Every house had special memories: Seven births. Job changes. New friends, Church, new hobbies. Schools and athletic teams. Neighborhood events. New places to see. Every house meant growth, the size of our family, our spiritual growth, and general knowledge. In every house our marital love grew.
The lake house wasn’t our primary home, it was a little get-away, four hours away in middle Georgia. We still live in our lovely mountain house in North Carolina. It’s also on the market, however. For the first time, we haven’t outgrown our house. It’s outgrown our needs. We are down to two people and a dog who don’t need much space. I love this house. But, it’s just a house, after all.
While I’ve been traipsing across the Southeast selling my books, I visited many lovely towns that I admired; towns with sidewalks and places to walk to on those sidewalks. Church, libraries, book store, a harbor, and maybe a neighbor’s porch or a bakery, just a quick walk from home. So while I’m planning to eventually live small, I think I’d like to live in a town with a sidewalk. I need a place to sleep, eat, and write, with Dave and Buddy to walk beside me on a sidewalk. The rest is just a house.
When I proof a chapter I’ve written that is set in a home, I usually discover something about the house that is somehow familiar, maybe the style or the color, or the smell, or how it all works. The scene brings the reader home with the character, where the house defines him. And then I know, it was more than just a house.