Monday, September 17, 2007

Home Sweet Home

This afternoon I had coffee with my brother at his house. We sat on his back screened-in porch that looks out over the back yard. A yard lush with rose bushes, lilac bushes, assorted shrubs and a huge maple tree that canopies the yard. It's the maple tree that always takes me back in time. I think back to when the house belonged to my parents, and my brothers and I grew up there. I picture in my mind all the birthdays, baby and bridal showers, Fourth of July barbeques and graduation parties that were held in that yard, the lawnchairs circled beneath the maple tree, tables lined up laden with food. When my dad decided to move three years ago, having lived there alone for several years following my mother's death, I was saddened that strangers would move in, and all the memories would be washed away like sand castles melting on a beach. I was overjoyed when my brother and his wife decided to buy the place. Now, once again, the house is filled with the noise and goings-on of a family with three boys. A week ago I had the pure joy of spending an entire day in the house with my nephew who is now three. It occured to me, as I fixed his lunch, sat in the rocker in his little room that is decorated with cuddly baseball bears, and chased him down the hallway to the kitchen, that when my family moved to the house, my youngest brother was just Tommy's age. I thought of my mother doing these things with him during the day, while the three of us older kids attended the elementary school, just a block down the street. As I baked cookies with Tommy so we would have a surprise for his big brothers when they got home from work and school, I thought of my mother and how she made that house a home. I remember an aunt who visited us one time. She came in the front door, and looking around she sighed, "Oh, Caroline, your house just hugs me. It's so warm." My mother took pride in keeping the brick, Cape Cod style home neat as a pin, and more important, comfortable and liveable. The hardwood floors and braided rugs seemed old-fashioned compared to the fashionable wall-to-wall carpeting in my friends' homes. (Yet my friends flocked to my house and loved my upstairs bedroom with the sloped ceilings and old-fashioned four poster bed that was my grandmother's.) Every room in the house contained bookcases; built-in bookcases that flanked the fireplace in the living room, and smaller bookcases tucked into the dormers in the bedrooms upstairs. Most of these were my dad's handiwork. His craftsmanship was seen throughout the house, in the woodwork that finished each room and the pieces of furniture that he crafted in his workroom in the basement. To this day, the smell of sawdust and varnish makes me think of my dad at work on some piece of furniture that would delight my mother. The heart of the home was my mother's blue and white kitchen. Blue-checked wallpaper was on the wall behind the cupboards, while blue-and-white delft plates and tiles added cheer to the larger, painted white walls. My mother's home sewn curtains decorated the windows, and on the handle of the oven there always hung a pretty new dishtowel themed for the current holiday or season. The round table was more than adequate for a family of six, and it was where we gathered around when it was time for "tea" -- a ritual that took place every afternoon. Or morning. Or evening. Or whenever anyone was inclined to sit and chat at the kitchen table. The spoonholder and sugar bowel sat in the middle, at the ready for the kettle to whistle. As much as my mother knew how to make the house feel like a home, her gift was making anyone who entered feel like they were at home. There was nothing that couldn't be made better over a cup of tea and a piece of coffee cake. She and our next door neighbor were the best of friends, and many afternoons we would come home from school to find Mom and "Aunt Barb" discussing world events over a cup of tea. The kitchen was also the place that Mom did her ironing. Stacks of freshly ironed clothes would be piled on the table, and Mom would have a portable television set up so she could watch the Weekly Afternoon Movie with host Starr Yelland "Dialing for Dollars" during the intermission. She wasn't one to watch the soaps, but she loved the "old movies". And I loved coming home to a warm kitchen with the smell of freshly ironed clothes, and the tea kettle at the ready. I think about my mom a lot these days and hope that I'm creating the kind of home that my kids will remember fondly. I guess as a child growing up, I didn't give the details much thought. I just knew that home was a place that was safe and warm and that I was loved. And there was always time and a place at the table for a cup of tea.

14 comments:

kim said...

What a beautiful post, Karen. Your mother sounds like she was a lovely woman. How lucky that the house has stayed in the family as you have such sweet memories. Your post caused my mind to wander down memory lane to my mom and our house while I was growing up.
*smiles*

Lynne said...

Great post Karen. So many nice memories. It's nice that your brother bought the house so that it stays in the family.

Xandra said...

It's funny how the simple things are what draw us in and remain in our memories. Your post made me feel as though I was right there at the table, drinking tea and rehashing the day's events...you obviously inherited your mother's gift for making people feel at home and comfortable.

We bought the house I grew up in from my parents largely for the nostalgia factor. Like you, I couldn't bear the thought of strangers living in "my" house. I often think of how my parents did the same things that Trevor and I do with our children now, and it brings a sense of comfort and unity to me.

You are blessed to have those memories of your mom and family on which to reflect and build your own life.

Jen said...

I think your mom would be ver proud of this post. She succeeded in taking care of you and making you the way you are today. She sounds like an amazing women and to still be able to walk through her house is awesome. You are very lucky. My mom's mother died very young and none of the grandchildren new her.....so when momma takes me down to where she grew upon the banks of the Ohio river there is nothing there...it is all torn down. Treasure it. Hold onto your memories tight.

kris said...

Oh, this was very nice. Your descriptions of your house and your mother made me feel like I was sitting in her kitchen, sharing a cup of tea while she finished that last piece of ironing. Aren't memories the best thing ever - they keep loved ones so close.

My grandma was a tea drinker and lived just around the corner from us (or thru the orchard if the snow wasn't deep!). I used to drop in on her and share a cup of tea after school. She used to iron in the kitchen too, and I remember it being very soothing to chat while she ironed. Thanks for nudging me down memory lane this morning too!

annie said...

Sounds a lot like my childhood home. Lots of love! It's wonderful your brother has the home now and not strangers. I will do that should the opportunity present itself...
Loved reading about your mother.

Becky said...

That is a beautiful piece of writing Karen. I feel like I have had a stay at that kitchen table. I can hear the laughter and the running feet of children. I love that your childhood home can give me a hug simply by your lovely memories put to words.

Thanks so much for this post. It was simply wonderful.

Bill said...

Karen, thanks for a soul-satisfying post. Your mom and mine sound very similar. My mom kept the house as neat as a pin, but it was homey and welcoming, not elegant or stuffy. My mom didn't like soaps, either! She loved game shows, but the only time she'd watch them was when she could do something else - like ironing. I loved to watch "The Newlywed Game" and "The Price is Right" with her when I was home sick from school. My mom is gone now, too, but I'm glad we both have wonderful memories to keep them alive in our hearts.

gail@more than a song said...

Lovely post Karen, it made me teary, and got me thinking about my mom. I love that your aunt said the house hugged her, what a great gift your mom gave y'all. And how wonderful that you still have family living there!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Karen. A lovely tribute to your mom, she was truly a special person missed by many.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Karen, that you would even wonder tells me that you have your mother's heart.

Stacy at Exceedingly Mundane said...

Oh Karen, what an incredible post! I think this is my favorite of yours, by far, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. What wonderful memories and how beautifully you have expressed them. I wish I had memories like this of my own, but I really enjoyed "sharing" yours with you, through this blog. Thank you :)

Judy said...

Don't you just get the feeling that your mom is getting the table set for when you all 'get home?'

I love that thought.

Truly a beautiful post, Karen.

Anonymous said...

beautifully written... brought back childhood memories. Karen you should be an author. I've bookmarked your blog..Annette from nova scotia canada