| Musings |

Home Is Where the Heart Is    

I’d never expected my parents to move out of our house — it hadn’t occurred to me that it was even an option to leave that house

I’ve passed by the house many times since we moved out of it 17 years ago, and each time I glance at what used to be my bedroom window, there’s a brief tug on my heart, asking me to remember. Sometimes I indulge the nostalgia and the little girl inside of me, thinking of Sunday afternoons in the front yard, riding our bikes along the uneven concrete path that wound around the front of the house. Sometimes I drive by without so much as a quick glance, in a rush to get to my destination, my mind filled with thoughts of supper and carpool and kids. But I always look, because there, in the redbrick house, with its cluttered carport and beautiful, strong magnolia tree, lie the memories of the first 18 years of my life.

I remember the day I found out we were moving. I was in the middle of my second year in Israel, on the cusp of adulthood and independence. My parents called to tell me that we would be moving out of the home I grew up in. I would be returning at the end of the year to a house I’d never seen.

I couldn’t believe it. I’d never expected my parents to move out of our house — it hadn’t occurred to me that it was even an option to leave that house. And yet, they were leaving, packing up my room and my siblings’ rooms, boxing up 21 years of collective memories.

I cried that day. The change was arriving hand in hand with my entrance into adulthood and the next stage of my life. All of the change was unwelcome. I wanted to hold on to the last remaining bits of childhood, and I wanted my room, our kitchen, the familiar smell, the safety of the only place I had ever called home.

A few months after the move, it was time to go home. My brother picked me up from the airport and drove until we reached an old, dilapidated house. “This is it,” he said solemnly, and I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t understand why my parents would choose such a small, ugly house to move to.

He laughed at my expression. “Just kidding,” he said, and pulled out of the driveway.

“Hey!” I scolded, but the relief I felt when we got to our real new home was worth it. The house was big, and it was beautiful; it was a two-minute walk from shul, and I had to admit that was an improvement from the 15- to 20-minute walk with winding hills I’d had to put up with throughout my childhood.

My mother had my new room painted the same soft pink as my old room, and it was set up almost exactly the same way. After unpacking, I settled in quicker than I thought I would. I began to love our new home in a special way, and to my complete surprise, I did not find myself missing our old one.

It’s a funny thing, the way physical surroundings are so profoundly influenced by who we are. In no time at all, our new home smelled like home, looked like home, felt like Home. I found myself remembering events that had taken place in the old house, and somehow, in my memory, they had transpired in our new house.

I never went back inside our old house down on 1380 Declair Drive. Though I got married, moved back to Atlanta, and passed it many times, I never had the courage to ask the new owner for a tour.

Until now. I contacted the elderly woman who had moved into our old house so that she could live next to her children, once our neighbors from next door. She was happy for me to come over, and to bring my husband, who’d never seen the inside of the house. I prepared myself for “our” house to look very different than it did 17 years ago.

The first thing I noticed was the kitchen floor. It was definitely the same floor from my childhood. I snapped a picture to share with my siblings, eager to meander down memory lane with them later that night. And oh, I’d forgotten about the brick fireplace! And the game closet — it was still a game closet, right? So many memories came flooding back as I walked through the rooms.

There was the dining room, the room where hundreds of Shabbos meals had taken place; deep connections had formed in that room, so much Torah shared and so many stories told. Grandparents and cousins and family visiting. Lively games played in the living room, plenty of sibling rivalry within those walls.

I thought back to the Friday nights when I would stand with my sisters and my mother in the kitchen, the coziness and warmth surrounding us. It was all so much smaller than I remembered — but so much bigger than I’d have predicted in what it meant to me.

As we walked through the house, I pointed out rooms and walls and light fixtures to my husband. I showed him my old room, told him of the time I had returned from sleepaway camp to find that my parents had surprised me with not just a new bedroom set, but my own room. My younger sister had moved out and would now be sharing with an older sister — all because they felt that I needed the privacy.

I showed my husband the door to the master bedroom, and the space between my room and my parents’. I had been sure it was a long hallway; it certainly felt that way in the dark and silence of the night, four- and five- and six-year-old me thinking my parents were far, far away. And yet, I told my husband, I realized now that their room was a mere step away from mine!

It was the bathroom that really took my breath away. There, in the small room with the familiar 1950s wallpaper meeting the pink tiles halfway up the wall, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror above the sink. I paused, and looked myself in the eyes.

What would five-year-old me have thought had she known I’d be back here, living a few streets away with my husband and family? What would ten-year-old, 15-year-old, 18-year-old me have expected to see in that mirror? Was I everything I would have hoped I’d be?

I felt emotional, in the bathroom of all places. It brought me back in a tangible way. I was a child again, remembering to turn off the fan when I left the bathroom, laughing when my father told me the smell of shampoo was so strong after my showers that he physically “bumped” into it when he passed the bathroom. (Luckily, I’ve since learned to conserve my shampoo.)

The house was different now, yes, but it remained ours, memories ingrained in every room, every closet, every wooden panel.

I sent my sisters the pictures that same night. They pleaded with me to stop, it was unbearably nostalgic; yet they chided me for not taking more.

Remember Mommy’s special drawer with the Sharpies and scissors that were supposed to be just hers? And we all took them out anyway, and never returned them? one sister texted.

Of course I remembered. And now, as a mother myself, I understood her frustration at not having even one drawer that remained untouched by her children.

Remember that dishwasher? Remember loading it? another sister wrote. And what about unloading it — yeah right! Poor Mommy, she continued. We rarely did our jobs.

We reminisced about the time my sister went on her first date with her husband, all of us peeking out the window as they walked off. We remembered the raised platform in the living room and our performances on that “stage.” The “tzaraas” of the peeling wall behind the couch, our mother reminding us that no lashon hara could be said in our home.

And there we all were, glued to the pictures I had taken, both eager and afraid to rewind time and tap into the years that had formed us, connected in different states and time zones by memories of home.

And through all of the memories, all of the ache in our hearts and the balm to our souls, I couldn’t help but recognize the strength that lies in a foundation, the impact that our childhood has in the trajectory of our lives. I noted the transient nature of time, yet the timelessness of memories.

It was late, time to delicately bid farewell to memory lane, to say goodnight to my sisters and turn off my phone. I got ready for bed, all the while sensing the peace that accompanies what’s familiar. I fell asleep to thoughts of wooden kitchen cabinets and pink tiles, and the empowering knowledge that each and every day, each and every moment, I am living and creating my family’s future memories — memories that will one day relentlessly tug at our hearts and bravely inspire our futures.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 870)

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