A House Is Not a Home

In February of 1976, after several years of living in the Carolinas and a memorable year or so in the midwest (a foreign country to my Southern sensibilities), my family finally moved permanently to Florida. We left our house in Westerville, OH and drove through a sleet storm until we crossed the bridge across the Ohio River into Covington, KY. The sun broke through the clouds for just a moment, and Daddy quipped, “It’s an omen. We’re never going back.”

He was right. We never did. I remember marveling how we’d traded Ohio’s sub-freezing temperatures for sunshine and shorts in a matter of days. Our new house was a tropical paradise: palm trees along the sidewalk, orange trees loaded with fruit, and a swimming pool in the back yard. In the decades after, I claimed my own room after sharing my whole life with my sister, got my heart broken, lived through my parents’ divorce and subsequent remarriages, went off to college, started my first job, sewed my wedding dress. We spent summers in the pool and a memorable winter crowded in the den in front of the fireplace because the furnace had conked out and there wasn’t quite money enough to replace the system. Trees grew and died. The oranges didn’t survive the brutal winter of ’87 and were replaced by a spreading camphor and a glorious watermelon pink crêpe myrtle. That house saw us through hurricanes and heartbreaks, weddings and graduations and deployments. When Frack was due to arrive and the little duplex Mr. Man, Frick, and I became too little for all of us, we ended up buying a house down the street from my childhood home. My kids grew up being able to walk down the street to Grammy’s for breakfast bacon and long afternoons in the pool.

And then, not long ago, my mother decided it was time. One person doesn’t really need four bedrooms all to herself. And so we cleaned and donated, cried and moved and stored and cried some more, and she turned over the keys to a nice gentleman who decided to upgrade and flip it.1231

It’s weird to watch your childhood home metamorphose. Of course the kitchen and bathroom cabinets were going to come out. Of course the floors were being spruced up. Of course it needed a fresh coat of paint. I handled that well. When they committed crêpe murder on the tree out front–that was tougher. I felt outrage. Then I had to stop and think. As the Luther Vandross song reminds us,

A chair is still a chair
Even when there’s no one sittin’ there
But a chair is not a house
And a house is not a home
When there’s no one there to hold you tight

And that’s what I had to remember. The home we carried with us. The house is just a shell. It’s waiting for a new family and new memories. I hope theirs are as wonderful as mine.

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