A house doesn’t make a home

Published 10:38 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

Mother says they are tearing down my grandparents’ house. Piece by piece it is slipping away. The years of its existence are vanishing board by board, taking with them the physical presence of a part of my childhood.

For some time, the old house in Luverne had a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. As no buyers appeared, it sat on the corner empty, decaying, slowly falling apart. Mother told me a while back that someone stripped the living room of its beautiful hardwood floors and that the foundation needed a major overhaul.

On one of my visits to the town, I heard they would give the house to anyone willing to move it. I hoped someone might take the owners up on that offer. It apparently didn’t happen. So they are dismantling the place where I spent so many happy hours, and only a vacant lot will remain.

When I heard the news, I felt a sting of sadness, a sense of loss. I remembered so many things, wonderful memories of being in that house with my grandparents. There were the magic early mornings when I sat on my grandfather’s lap at the kitchen window. He sipped his coffee and we watched the world wake up around us.

I spent hours with my grandmother in her garden picking strawberries and butter beans. And even more time in the kitchen watching her cook and learning her secrets for making tea cakes and dumplings.

I close my eyes and see Daddy Roy leaning on his stool in front of the old space heater in the same room where he slipped from this life when I was a teenager. And I see Mama Helms standing at the kitchen sink finishing up the dishes while I dry the plates and stack them on the counter.

After my grandmother’s funeral several years ago, we walked through the house, unoccupied the last years of her life but still containing most of the furniture and many of her personal items, some of them sitting in the spot where her hand last placed them.

The thought of it being torn down made me long to walk through that house again. I wanted to see the dining room where the family gathered for holiday meals, to hear the creak of the old screen door that welcomed us when we stepped into the back room.

Of course, I understand that houses reach a point of no return, a condition beyond salvation. They are like all material things, transient, impermanent and destined to disappear. As I thought about this, I realized what I will miss is not rooms and windows, but the idea of the house being there.

The thing I treasure most is not something concrete. It doesn’t even require that the house itself exist. It doesn’t need a corner lot or beautiful hardwood floors or even a creaky back door.

All I need to revisit my grandparents’ home is to remember the love that lived inside it. That is what I felt those mornings on my grandfather’s lap. It was what surrounded me as I baked cookies with my grandmother.

It is not possible to destroy the energy and the spirit alive in that house. It is a thing that won’t decay or fall into ruin. It lives within me, within my mother and her siblings who grew up there, inside my sisters and brothers, and all the cousins who felt Mama Helms and Daddy Roy’s love when they came into their home.

And when we recall that love, when we bring it into our awareness, the heart doesn’t care if what triggers the feeling is a house that is gone. It experiences again in this moment the joy, the sweet spirit of love that lives on long after walls fall and foundations crumble.