This Christmas, we traveled a little….over the hills and
through the woods to family’s house we went
to see loving faces we adore.
Despite the snow, we made it to our destination on time…and even early. Since we were running ahead of schedule (about a half hour), we decided to take a quick drive past my childhood home. This was a step of courage for me, as I have not been anywhere near this cherished home since my mom and dad sold it and moved into a retirement community almost 17 years ago. They both passed away a few years later.
Ours was a modest, yet beautiful home. My father, who was a man of many talents, took impeccable care of it and his love for his family shined through the work of his hands. His loving care of our home gave us a sense of security and peace. My mom’s exquisite taste made it a place of beauty and comfort.
History was made on that land. It had originally belonged to my grandma and grandpa. My grandfather actually built this home as well as the house next door where my aunt and uncle lived. Eventually, this home became ours after my grandma died.
When my parents were aging, they decided it was time to let go and move on…a difficult decision, but necessary. I’ve often wished that one of us could have lived there and kept it in the family. After they left, I didn’t have the courage to go back there. I just couldn’t face the tears I knew it would inevitably bring. Tears not just for a house that was no longer ours, but tears for the end of an era.
As we approached our street, I was bracing myself for disappointment because I’d been told in a letter from our long time neighbor, Mrs. M that the house had not been cared for properly by the new owner. Mrs. M said that if my parents were still alive to see it, she was sure it would break their hearts. I was preparing my heart for a pounding.
The neighborhood does look a little different, yet remnants of familiarity are still there. We drove slowly past the house, turned around at the corner and drove back by. Mrs. M was right. It looked somewhat neglected. I felt a sudden jab in my stomach. My eyes glazed over with tears - I kept blinking them back, trying not to cry.
As I stared at the house, trying to return its facade to the one in my mind, I began to recall the many Christmases we enjoyed in that home…the laughter that filled the air; the food we prepared; the cookies mom and I made together in that kitchen; the meals enjoyed in that dining room; the Christmas lights dad placed on the lines of the roof and on the lantern post along the front walk. I thought of the summers we swam in the pool and the wonderful vegetables picked fresh daily from my dad’s garden. I lingered on the memory of picking cherries from the tree outside the back door back when grandma lived there and the scones she would prepare with supper when we would visit her every Sunday afternoon. I realized that my favorite dog is still buried in that back yard, and then….I cried. I couldn’t stop tears from streaming down my cheeks as I reflected on the beautiful life we had there. Tears over sweet memories and tears over loss. Nevertheless, tears of gratitude that my life in that place was extremely blessed…blessed beyond measure!
As we rolled slowly past the house one last time, I saw a little white haired lady walking very slowly from Mrs. M’s mailbox and back toward her house. This little white haired lady “was” Mrs. M. The same Mrs. M who I remembered to once have a shiny head of black hair. We pulled into her driveway and I called to her. As she turned to see that it was us, her face, that same sweet face I remembered, lit up with the most comforting smile. I jumped out to embrace her in a holiday hug and we spent a few minutes quickly catching up before we had to hug one last time. As we drove off, I watched her waive goodbye and in her sweet voice say “I love you”…”I love you too Mrs. M!” I called back. And oh, how I miss you! Oh, how I miss that house…the people…my life there…my family….An ERA!
As we continued forward, I realized that there was a special blessing in this visit to my childhood home. Seeing Mrs. M!
It was as if God placed her there in that driveway at that exact moment for a purpose. Seeing her made the visit more pleasurable; less painful for me…a reminder that my life there is not entirely gone. Seeing her familiar face and hearing her “I love you” gave me a sense of comfort. A precious Christmas gift!
We turned the corner to continue our journey to my brother’s house. As usual, we would be reminiscing this evening and enjoying the familiar cookies and traditions we’ve kept throughout the years while making our own new memories…memories which will be added to those already stored within our hearts. I anticipated their smiles and hugs, with tears of gratitude now dabbed dry and replaced with a smile as I thanked God for “the house that built me”.