My first memories here are from my tenth year of life. It was the third and last childhood home I would claim. I felt grown up then. And strangely, though I’m now freshly 37, I feel less grown up than ever. The weight and responsibilities of life weight heavy and most days I am under-equipped for the tasks of this “grown up life” that belongs to me. There was a gray bunny with floppy ears that hopped around one summer evening while our parents read books to us on a blanket in the backyard. Perhaps we only did this one time, perhaps we did it a hundred times…regardless, it would be emblazoned in my memory to this very day as one of my favorite childhood memories.
There was the place at the top of the stairs where I chucked a tuna fish sandwich at my mother as a hormonally-overwhelmed preteen. This was shortly after I’d slapped the elementary school principal and been suspended from sixth grade. My fourth grade teacher, the first year we moved to 116th Place, was such a treasured woman I spent the weekend at her home once. Maybe you shudder when I write that. But it was another time. And it was the purest kind of grandmotherly love I received under her nose. Fifth grade net me a double win in the teacher department, a back to back blessing, another amazing older woman who told me I could do hard things and I believed her. But by sixth grade, the tuna fish year and the year Lance “pantsed” me (do kids even do that still?) in the kickball field (I never wore leggings again, only reliable pants that wouldn’t give), a different teacher fresh out of college was my all day companion. Something in my heart shifted that year under her harsh leadership. Sure, the hormones of a 12 year old girl played a part. But when I was cleaning recently and found apology letters written from that teacher, it reminded me that she certainly had played a part, and she knew she had. She crushed my desire to learn and the confidence that had grown so richly the year before. She made me feel like a problem and I absorbed her perception of my life in a huge way.
There was the unfinished basement where my parents allowed us incredible freedom. They provided us with wood scraps and sawhorses and an old door to use as our table. We spent hours upon hours on that concrete slab. Making things for all the neighbors, cutting wood up and painting it, gluing yarn to it….just generally being as creative as we wanted to be. We gathered neighborhood kids and practiced plays and performed them for our patient parents. In December we called it Santa’s workshop. But it my mind, it was still that even for the rest of the year. They let us demo the poorly placed wall with hammers and I remember my grandpa bashing the wall with some heavy tool and it felt so cool.
My room looked out to a cherry tree. Small at first but as the years passed it was magnificent. I would try to draw or paint it but never did any justice. And of course this was before smart phones and digital cameras, so I have probably not a single photo of it. Just my memory. Which is somehow, wonderfully, enough. My two sisters and I shared a bathroom and clothes (although often unwillingly) and were each just about as different as three girls could be.
Many times over the years there would be an unwed pregnant teen or young woman living downstairs. My parents put action to their faith and provided love and direction for girls in such difficult circumstances. One was 16. Tanya. She taught us to open our Christmas presents and then re wrap them so we wouldn’t get caught. It was not as fulfilling as I’d imagined. One we bonded so much with that we traveled late at night to the hospital to be there when her baby was born. I still remember sleeping on the floor of the hospital waiting room. She gave that baby up for adoption and it seemed to me like the bravest thing in all the world to do such a thing. One was named Jennifer and I would wake up early for school and write her a note on a post-it most mornings. She lined her walls with my notes and took them with her when she left. I see now that this was the breeding ground for many things, but especially my intrinsic, God-given gift of encouraging others and also a deeply held belief that life, all life, in every form even unborn, is precious beyond measure and is always worth standing up for.
As time went by the downstairs room underneath the kitchen, the room with its very own bathroom became my dwelling place. I would sneak out that ground floor window and simply sit in the dirt bed outside it, only to be able to honestly say I had snuck out of my house at night. I had a phone. One with a cord. That plugged into the wall. A boy dialed my home number and had to contend with my parents or sisters to talk to me. And talk he did. Sometimes until 3:00 AM on a school night. About nothing and about everything. He would keep calling. For the next four years. Until one spring evening he would walk up those front porch stairs and knock on the door to find my father in his pajamas already. He would muster up all his courage and ask for my hand in marriage. The answer was yes then and then yes a month later when he asked me and yes again a year later when we said our marriage vows in front of 436 people just five days after my twenty-first birthday. The answer is still yes today, every day.
Love is all tied up in that place. Almost three decades of love and memories. So its no wonder that this week when processing some tough issues related to one of our kids, I was sharing with someone about my parents selling their home, and all of the sudden I couldn’t even choke the words out. It had all been very matter-of-fact until then. But my mind had dared to remember. And the remembering took me somewhere I hadn’t planned and the emotions completely overwhelmed me. The house on 116th has been a place of life and nourishment for me for the majority of my 37 years. It holds a lifetime of memories. It is a place that has grown me, grounded me, given to me.
With each passing year as I continue into my own journey of motherhood and nurturing a family, I understand more the richness of what we were given. Faithful parents who devoted their lives to loving Jesus, each other, their daughters and countless others…which about sums up really all I hope we can offer our own six children. A sense of place grounds the heart in such an impenetrable way. As we cultivate our own family culture and build our own memories, that is at the top of the list of what I long to offer them. A haven from a crazy world full of hard things. A place of respite when life disappoints and crushes. A place where love lives and is a constant, unconditional gift given without expectations or strings attached.