From the age of 5 until I graduated high school, I lived in the same house. A farmhouse with a wrap around porch and a big garden in the back yard. It wasn’t a fancy home, but it was where my parents raised myself and my fourteen siblings. My father built our home and as the adage goes, a builders house is never finished, so there were always little projects that never seemed to be finished. Despite that, our home was truly lived in. We’d watch spring storms roll in from the porch. The basement cold cellar would be filled with canned goods from the garden each summer. And in the winter, a wood stove kept us warm. Over the years, the house saw many children grow up and eventually, leave the nest. Each of us leaving our own marks on the walls and floors.
My mother is one of the most patient people I know, and her willingness to forgo having a perfect house in order to have a liveable home was not lost on me. But despite the imperfections, our home was full of love and we welcomed anyone into our chaos, including boyfriends who became husbands, faraway friends, and many foster children over the years.
I have always had a travelers heart. I have visited over 20 countries, and even made 4 of them home for a period of time. Each new location meant a different house or apartment, and a different method of making that dwelling feel like home. While my parents still live in that same farmhouse, I have moved 14 times as an adult. Each location has it’s own set of memories. A century home with creaky floors and a leaky basement. A shoebox loft overlooking a busy street. Pre-war soldiers barracks converted to drafty apartments. A basement studio. And many others; some owned, some rented. I never really grew emotionally attached to these homes. I enjoyed them, I decorated them, I entertained in them. But when it was time to move, I packed boxes, looked around with a nostalgic smile, and closed the door.
Two years ago, On a whim, I visited an open house. It was a snowy day, shortly after Christmas. I was renting at the time, and not really looking to buy. But on that cold, winter’s day, it just felt right to stop at the open house sign and take a look. I didn’t end up buying that house. However, a week later I found myself writing an offer on one a few doors down. It was unexpected. Impulsive. But it felt right. It was the first time I’d ever had real feelings for a house.
To be clear, the house as it stood was not anything special. It was only a year old, but it had been treated poorly. There was no landscaping, the flooring was destroyed, and the walls covered in scuffs and crayon. I really bought the house for the light. As you came up the stairs to the second floor kitchen and family room, a bank of windows streamed pure sunlight into the rooms. In the afternoon and evening, the kitchen glowed like it was made of gold. Every single time I climbed those stairs as I arrived home, I caught my breath as the light welcomed me. Even on a rainy day, it was the most amazing homecoming.
Over the next two years, I slowly turned the gardens to waves of perennial color. Magnolia trees and tulips fought for attention in the spring, while black-eyed Susan nodded in the summer sun. And in the back yard, a vegetable garden yielded tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce - an homage to the farm I grew up on.
It was the first house that I ever got to really personalize. The floors, the paint color, the furnishings, the drapes - all choices I carefully made. Nothing lavish or expensive, but wholly and completely my choosing. Warm wooden floors, moody gray paint, and daring red curtains played backdrop for art I’d collected around the world. A wall of books, a giant antique desk, a wool rug - all small things that made this house truly home.
I was surprised how hard I fell for a house. I am embarrassed to say, I would talk to it like it was a person. "Good morning, house. How are you today? I’ll be back later. Have a great week, I am off on another business trip. I’ll be back soon.” And in time, we settled into a routine that was comforting and familiar. I started to think I had found “the one.” Maybe the moving was finally over for awhile.
Life has a way of surprising us. Sometimes it’s a delightful surprise filled with laughter. Sometimes it’s a gut wrenching surprise that leaves you broken and gasping for air. And suddenly, on a glorious summer afternoon, I found myself watching a local Realtor install a for sale sign in the front lawn of my beloved home.
I’ll never forget that afternoon. The light was perfect as the sun set. The garden was just about at it’s finest. The hammock in the backyard swung slowly in the breeze. And I looked around at my home and I knew that just like that, it was over for us.
It took me about 30 minutes to mentally move into that house, and now, six months later, I haven’t fully mentally moved out. Sometimes, in the middle of a hard day at work, I think about going home for dinner, and in my head, I am sitting at my old table in my old house. And then, I remember. And I feel it again - that feeling of loss.
Ironically, throughout all of these years and all of these moves, I have worked in the Real Estate industry. Since starting as a front desk administrator in a small office many years ago, I now spend my days creating and delivering educational programs to thousands of Realtors for one of the world’s largest Real Estate brands. And while I spend my days teaching agents to understand that a home sale or purchase is an emotional experience, I never really believed it myself. Until now.
On that summer’s evening, just before putting the sign in the lawn, something happened that I will never forget. My Realtor turned to me, seeing the tears in my eyes, and he said, “there will be other houses, and other homes. Lots of them.” In that moment, it might have felt strange or even cold to hear that. But it was the best thing he could have said. Because I do hope that it’s true. I hope that I have many more houses and many more homes. I hope they are spread across the world and they continue to be different and unique and special in their own way. And may they all have dreamy afternoons where the sun streams in, turning the rooms to gold.