Home Sweet Home

When I was growing up, I lived in a 200-year-old house in the downtown area of a small rural town in northeastern Pennsylvania, and until recently, that two-story colonial on West Market Street is the only place I ever considered calling home.

My parents bought the house when I was just five years old, and when we moved in, they gave me the first pick of the bedrooms. Of course, with all the strategy of a nightmare-prone preschooler, I chose the room right across the hallway from them.

It had white walls and blue carpeting that years later we dressed up with floral wallpaper, beige Berber carpet, and a built-in window seat for the two north-facing windows. A wood-burning fireplace was left unused for obvious safety reasons, and the entrance to the attic was kept locked for fear of unleashing the monsters that I was sure lurked in the corners and crevices above.

From make-shifting a classroom out of a few crates, an open-top desk and a captured audience of stuffed animals, to figuring out how to kiss a boy by practicing on the life-size poster of Kirk Cameron that hung on my closet door, those four walls inhabited years of youthful dreaming, discovery, and imagination.

When I was a freshman in high school, my parents wanted to sell our house and move to a red brick farmhouse surrounded by a white-picket fence and twenty acres of countryside. The thought of someone else living in our house, cooking in our kitchen, and sleeping in my bedroom nearly killed me, but thankfully, through a set of circumstances I have since forgotten, my parents took the house off the market.

Five years later, though, the house was for sale again. But instead of moving to the country, my parents went their separate ways. And ever since their divorce, a part of me has been searching for someplace new to call home.

Over the course of our first few years of marriage, Scott and I have moved across three different time zones and lived under three different roofs; first, in a small, upstairs apartment in Georgia, then, in a quaint two-bedroom rental house in the boondocks of Missouri, and most recently, after falling madly in love with the Rocky mountains, in our first purchased house in the downtown area of Billings, Montana.

When we rolled into town almost three years ago, we immediately began looking for a place to unload our three dogs, cat, and a U-haul trailer full of our furniture, books, and various belongings. As we expected, not a single landlord was eager to rent to us with our drooling menagerie, so we decided to hook up with a realtor and search for a house that would meet our unique needs as a furry family.

Twenty-four hours after our arrival, we found a one hundred year-old arts-and-crafts style bungalow with a huge, fenced backyard. Within three weeks, we closed on the house and started the arduous task of remodeling.

We tore up the brown shag carpet and tore down the gold wallpaper. We installed a gas insert fireplace and refinished the hardwood floors. We primed and painted the walls and woodwork, hung custom-fitted window treatments, and planted a rose garden in the yard.

But despite all the backbreaking effort we have put into this house for the past two and a half years, nothing has made it feel more like home to me than the addition of our daughter, Rainey.

When she was just a few days old, we bathed her in the kitchen sink and laid her down in front of the fireplace to warm her soft, newborn skin. When she was a little older and her colic became an unwelcome guest in the house, we walked her around in circles – from the living room, through the spare bedroom, into the hallway and across the dining room – singing and cajoling her to sleep after what seemed like hours of crying.

These days, she likes to climb on top of the guitar in our bedroom and strum a little song for me, and she loves to brush her teeth in the bathtub with the help of bubblegum flavored toothpaste. When it’s nice outside, I sit with her on our front porch and lift my head skyward as she points to the airplanes flying overhead. And when I’m really lucky, I get to hold her in my arms and rock her to sleep in her nursery before locking myself in this closet I use for an office to write down these stories as fast as I can so as not to lose a minute of them.

Last week, while carrying her around on my back as I cleaned the house in preparation for selling it and moving to our fourth time zone, I realized that the thing that makes this house (and the house of my youth, for that matter) special in my eyes is not its historical charm, roomy square footage, or the fact that Ernest Hemmingway ate in its dining room 72 years ago.  It’s the family that was born here and lived inside its walls.

I won’t pretend that leaving this place isn’t going to be terribly sad. It’s hard saying good-bye to the friends and memories we’ve made here. And it’s especially difficult moving away from the home I have in my mom who lives just a few blocks away.

But what will carry me across the miles as we take off on our own modern-day Oregon Trail is knowing that my search for a place to call home has finally come to an end. Wherever Scott and Rainey are, then that’s where home sweet home is to me.

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