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.