“If I could walk around, I swear I’ll leave; won’t take nothin’ but a memory from the house that built me.”
— Douglas Thomas Stevenson
We stood in our lower front yard, an area more field than yard, actually. We were looking for the next shot and trying to capture that best pose. Our daughter, so young and blonde and pretty, stood in a white sundress, her handsome fiance standing a few feet away.
She turned for just a moment to look up the hill toward the house, and instinctively, I snapped the shot. Just a light test. Nothing special. Never meant to be seen. Then again, sometimes the outtakes are what really bring photos — and relationships — into focus.
Over two decades ago, I stood in that same spot, with a watchful eye ensuring our toddler didn’t tumble headlong into the creek, wondering if our soon-to-be-born second baby was a boy or a girl. I vividly remember that moment in time. Mr. Wonderful had called me down to the creek to see something. I don’t recall what, but I imagine it involved more work to be done.
As our son clambered between us, I glanced up at the house on the hill. It needed more work than I even understood (then or now). It was endless and yet, endearing. I had a strong feeling, at that moment, of contentment. I felt it in my heart. I vividly remember searing that moment into my consciousness. This was our forever home.
In a blink, it was 22 years later. I held the camera aloft and I realized that the baby (spoiler alert: it was a girl) now stood on roughly the same spot having her engagement photos taken. I realized that all this was happening in view of the house that helped build and shelter our family all these years.
We bought a “fixer-upper” in 1996 and had a five-year plan to “fix it up!” That was 25 years ago, and we may be just about, almost (maybe halfway?) done. My grandmother tried to warn me. At that time she assured me she had moved into her home in 1953 and was still waiting for that magical moment of completion.
With the naivete of youth, I knew better, of course. I would be Better Homes and Gardens perfect in just a few years. To be fair we were in House Beautiful within a few years. To be honest it was a humorous essay, however.
As time went on, the little attacks of charm that come with home ownership would prove to be my bread and butter in the publishing world. I would later write of family, parenting and errant goats. The house, however, started it all. It turns out that if you undertake a large and very old home renovation with nothing but a shoestring budget and seriously misplaced enthusiasm, people eat that up.
We brought two babies home to this house. As babies are prone to doing, they grew up. They grew up with front stairs and back stairs, a third floor packed with toys and craft supplies, a springhouse, pasture, woods ripe for exploration, a massive warehouse of a barn, acreage, a creek, numerous pets and a very large rock that is semi-famous.
There are more photos of our children playing on the sheltering expanse of the front porch than I can possibly count. Rain or shine, they hung out there. Even nearing adulthood, “Hey mom, let’s watch it rain” could always catch my attention — and later, my breath.
We once mused, in passing, on moving. GirlWonder was 4. She was sitting in the backseat of our minivan and overheard us. She simply clutched her stuffed animal tighter and said, calmly, but with a firmness that belied her years, “I will miss you.” The message was clear. We might move, but she was not leaving her most magical house. Spoiler alert: we stayed.
Later, friends would fill our home during sleepovers, sledding parties and long afternoons swimming, playing and sometimes just sitting on the “big rock” making plans. One memorable prom night, over a dozen couples, spread out across the front for an epic photograph in their formal attire.
Over the years we have had so many wonderful messages from these “kids” — now grown. “Oh, the memories here!” “Thanks to that barn of yours for allowing me to meet my husband!” “This home gave me so many memories growing up as well! So beautiful,” and “My second home.”
I cherish every one. Some folks are movers and change houses from time to time. They move out and up, and that is cool, too. We, however, are rooted in forever homes kind of folk.
From an early age, GirlWonder declared it a “magical house.” She is 22 and still proclaims this to be true. I do not doubt her. I feel it too.
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