“I come from a lonely place, adjacent to a lesser traveled highway, where most folks would call the middle of nowhere. A weary, exhausted sign sits at the entrance announcing an important presence to the world—that of the town itself. The wood of the sign is so beaten and raw that the once bright coat of yellow paint has faded to an embarrassing shade of nonexistence. The wind has faded bold letters into the slats of the sign, and population numbers which have since dropped are no longer visible. There seems to be no pride in the sign any longer for none have bothered to replace it during my lifetime. Yet, it is the slogan “A school to crow about. A town to crow about” that has made the sign increasingly popular as target practice for rebellious teens, making late night rendezvous with egg cartons.”
I wrote this passage nearly a year ago, allowing the words about a special place in my heart to flow through me. In them, I found a way to return to the place that built me into the person I have become. Further more, through these words, I was able to harness my passion for writing in a way that was more real for me than it had ever been. I could talk about it—this place—my home.
My family would tell you that I have a very hard time with change. I enjoy certain characteristics about never doing anything the same way, but let’s be real. I hate change, especially when it occurs in a personal part of my life. When I was a child, I can remember bursting into tears when my parents were announcing they were selling our beloved, ancient mini-van. At the age of 12, my father and grandfather made the decision to stop working with cattle on our farm. And for some bizarre reason, these decisions (which realistically had very little negative impact on my life) crushed me. So, last summer when my parents announced they were building a new home in a different town, a huge (very stubborn) part of me had a hard time accepting their decision.
Inside my quiet town where people choose to live and die within the same zip code, there is the house that built me. This house stands at the edge of town, and has been through a few changes in the past ten years—new paint, larger porches, and flowerbeds that have been fully redone. If you were driving though this town with no stoplights, you could often catch us outside on the porch swing curled up with a thick book or enjoying dinner together when the weather was nice. Behind the house is an acre large backyard where we would play softball during the summer. (My sisters will tell you that I “attempted” to play softball.) My dad hung a swing from a tree branch close to the house that will sway lazily in the breeze. Our yellow lab, Molly, would bark needily from the pen when she could spot us. I had my first real kiss on the picnic bench that sits in front of the house. And before I could even fully read, I wrote my alphabet on the side of the house in ink and the letters stayed there for fifteen years, the backwards “E” engraved on the foundations that couldn’t be weathered by time.
If you walk up the front steps, you’ll see the door that I slammed so many mornings before walking across the street to school. I can still hear my mom shouting after me, “Don’t slam the door!” The force shakes the whole front of the house when you swing it that hard. The main floor is characterized by a beloved dining room table where I have held hands for grace, a piano where I have sang with my grandmother, and my parent’s bedroom where I had hard conversations about growing up. On the level above, my sisters and I shared a bedroom for the first half of my life. Maddy and I slept under the same quilt and in the same bed for a few years. Stars that glowed in the dark winked back at us from their spots on the ceiling as we smuggled books upstairs and squinted at them in the dark, trying to read just one more chapter without getting caught. Eventually, I moved into the little bedroom at the front of the upstairs. A place where I would read and write, laugh and cry. My shelter when high school became a tornado of uncertainty.
And then I left. As most children do. But I wasn’t going to come back, not for good, like some do in my hometown. A vision had grown in my mind that it was time to leave, and I was ready for my feet to take me to new places, new sights, and new people. But I missed the place where the stars shined at night brighter than any place I’ve ever seen. I missed the beautiful, comforting sight of a nearby town’s lights shining from forty miles away. And I certainly missed the people that would raise their hands up in greeting when you drive by, even if they didn’t recognize your car.
There is a place in my house where you can see the etching of time, marked out clearly and sharply by my parent’s hands. Starting from the bottom of a baseboard in our laundry room, you will see tiny, intricate marks of pencil. They tick up slowly with initials and dates marked up. At a point, the initials MM pass TM. KM surpasses all, but will never hit above 6 foot. CM wants to go beyond TM, but I don’t think she ever will. A few extra initials line the board that might have left lives, but are able to remain part of the house, too. The house built the girls. The house built me. You can see it there in my laundry room. And even though I’m grown up and the marks might have stopped, it created the foundation for who I am today.
I am beyond thankful for the house and the town that built me into the woman I am today. Without the experiences I had, my entire life would be incredibly different. I learned patience when working with others in my hometown. I learned to be compassionate to those who may not have enough. I learned to listen to those around me and fight for what I thought was right. Although it’s hard to think about returning home to a different place, I know that those marks will be part of my home forever and engraved in my soul.
4 thoughts on “The House that Built Me”
This is lovely, Taylor!
I applaud your capacity for expressing your emotions. I’ve gone through many of the same things. It was hard enough driving back and seeing someone else living in “my” house, but coming home for a funeral two years ago to see nothing left but a dirt lot tore at my heart, and seeing a new house where I’d once played this past fall was even more painful.
It is important to remember that it is the environment of a community that makes it home, not the bricks and boards. While a portion of me still longs to move “completely” home, I also realize that the crowable town has little left resembling the place I grew up, aside from a few (significantly aged) faces.
Next time PHS has a reunion, it’ll be #25 for me I’ve been home perhaps a few dozen times in that period, and maybe five times in the past decade. During the past decade I’ve been married, I’ve felt completely out-of-sync with where I lived, and could never quite understand why. My family was there, but it didn’t feel like I was home. When I finally escaped Florida and reestablished my roots within a 90 minute drive of where I spent my entire K-12 years, I realized that what was missing was the community. While it’s nice to see familiar faces (although everyone has gotten old while I, for one, have not aged a day in the past 25 years,) it is the nature of people in western Kansas that I missed.
Even though I’ve planted myself square in the middle of an area where “my” generation of Roosters routinely battled in basketball, football, and volleyball, the people are the same. Only the names and the faces are different. When the house that is home is no longer, you will find yourself welcome in a community much like your own, and will call IT… home.
Good Read, I enjoyed it.
Oh Taylor …. so well said! Thank you for sharing!