What is a Home?
Today is the day. This afternoon, my wife, three kids, and I, close on our first house. We are so excited, we are thankful for God’s provision and the generosity of so many friends, and we are also grateful to be beyond all the paperwork. Not that paperwork ever ceases in adult life, but we are praying it will be less. In the midst of the many phone calls, meetings, and paperwork signings, however, I was struck by an interesting thought. It came will we were filling out the paperwork for a specific kind of loan for first time homebuyers. Homebuyers was the word that stuck out to me. Can one truly buy a home? What is a home?
Home is About the Memories
I remember vividly the house that I lived in when I was very young. Walking up the sloping front lawn, one saw what appeared to be a well-kept, two-story house. However, the backyard was far below the level of the front yard, and a basement floor had been built into the slope of the front lawn. The basement, however, was not a dirty, cluttered place as most basements are. This basement was like another floor to the house; carpeted, clean, and decorated handsomely with pleasant furniture and a beautiful entertainment center. The back door to the basement was a convenient sliding glass door, easy to open for young children such as myself, and allowing a picturesque view of our backyard and the radiant rising sun. I remember leaving my bedroom early in the morning sometimes, walking down the many stairs to the basement, and peering through the early morning fog to watch the sun defeat the darkness in its daily battle.
After enjoying the view, I would pass the laundry room and climb the stairs that led to the dining room. The dining room was set well, for my mother always enjoyed entertaining company. I always marveled at the chairs that set around the polished, wood table. One time my brother had disappeared, and my mom and I spent two frantic hours looking for him. As she neared hysteria, she saw his small hand dangling over the edge of the chairs. He had climbed onto the cushioned seat and slept, the table covering his head to block the light, and the peaceful quiet left his dreams uninterrupted.
Next to the dining room was the kitchen. My mother spent countless hours in there, cooking for friends, family, and the dozen or so kids who came for day care each day. I would often join my mom in the kitchen, grabbing pots out of the low cupboards. I was not helping, however; rather, I would use the one plastic pot with an open side to wear on my head as a hockey mask. I would be fully dressed in my favorite hockey jersey and grasping my stick, and I would spend hours on my linoleum rink, skating in socks and shooting the tops of butter tubs as pucks.
Our living room was on the same floor, just on the other side of a wall in the dining room. If one were to walk through the front door and glance left, the comfortable couch and tree picture would stand directly in view. I remember a video our family made for my grandfather’s birthday. We all sat on the couch, with tree branches apparently sprouting from our heads, and sang Happy Birthday to our grandpa. It was during Christmas that we sat on the same couch and played a motorized fishing game with that same grandpa. He always took us fishing when we went to Michigan, so we would fish this way with him in Minnesota.
The front door itself, while plain, produced many memories as well. We had a dog named Tootsie when I was five. This dog was a little black mutt, but we loved her anyway. However, every time a parent came to pick up his or her child at the end of the day from my mom’s in-home day care, my mom would have to hold back the dog. We were not always successful in our endeavors, and I remember several occasions where I was forced to chase our dog around the cul-de-sac.
My favorite floor, however, was by far the upstairs. To the right was my father’s study. Well, that is, after my brother was old enough to leave his crib and share a room with me. Our room was on left side, caddy-corner the staircase. My brother and I had bunk beds, and as long as I can remember we placed them perpendicular to each other, leaving the lowest bed poking out in the shape of an “L.” Next door was our parents’ room. They had a very cluttered room, but we always found fun in playing on their waterbed. The bathroom was opposite the study, and was, as most bathrooms are, not particularly special. I do remember, however, the fun times that I had playing in the bath and looking out the window to our playground far below.
But of all the top floor, my strongest memories are of the linen closet. It seems strange that a small linen closet nestled in between a bathroom and a staircase can produce memories, but this one did. With twelve kids in day care, one of our favorite activities was hide and seek. There were many places to hide, but my favorite was the linen closet. I would climb on top of the heap of spare comforters, close the door, and then slide along the back wall behind them. I would pull a few over my head, covering my entire body, and wait. Often, no one would even check the closet. Sometimes, I would hear the door open and I would become silent and still as though frozen. Typically, it would end with the door closing, me still hidden, but now moving and convulsing uncontrollably with laughter.
While the house is now many miles away, perhaps with many new owners since we lived in it more than 30 years ago, I still remember the smallest details because of the great memories that are branded into my mind by stories.
Some time more than 30 years ago my parents bought that house, but they turned it into a home. As we make a major change today for our family, I know the truth that we are materially only buying a house, but we are committed to making this house a home, a place that our children will remember fondly in their memories years afterwards. A place of peace and joy and love, marked by friendship, fellowship, and family. Until today we didn’t own a house, but I think our family has always understood what it means to make a home. My prayer is that owning a house never interferes with establishing a home. May God answer that prayer for many, many years.
Much of the section that follows was previously published as “Monday Musings (July 3, 2017): Story, Memory, and Home.” I have added to it and minimally revised it for this present occasion.