You leave home, you move on, you do the best you can, but I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am – I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing – Out here it’s like I am someone else, I thought maybe I could find myself – If I could just walk around, I swear I’ll leave, I won’t take nothing but a memory from the house, the house that built me. – Miranda Lambert, “The House that Built Me”
I heard that song for the first time as irony would have it two days after visiting my childhood foundation – the property of my grandparents and my great-grandparents – side by side of each other on a corner in a little town called Pacific, Mo. I harbor no secret that as a kid I did not have the typical, healthy, caringly, stable childhood home. Rocky at times, violent, I spent most of my days worried, lost, and sad.
But on that property, I felt untouchable. Safe. Secure. Sheltered with warmth, love, and laughter. My grand and great grandparents had their houses right next door to each other, and we would walk between them, through the woods, passing a pond, skipping stones, barefoot and embarking in nature. I would sit for hours attentively listening to each of them tell stories of the past … and what they wanted for the future. My great grandma never spoke an ill word of anyone. My grandma encouraged me to pursue my education. My great grandfather would eat cheetos and drink beer and tell me tales of when he was a little boy. And my grandpa would always point out the different aspects of nature as we four-wheeled down to the train tracks and watched what a train wheel could do to a piece of Lincoln copper. I remember the porch where I would read … a living room where I learned to quilt … a basement where I played hide and seek … an attic filled with treasures … family dinners, holidays, joy, laughter … tears of growing … hugs when they were needed the most … the smell of a home cooked meal … my grandma’s perfume as it lingered on me after a hug bye … It was a place that completed me. I can still feel and smell each memory … memories that stay with us, long after we forget …
I visited this solitude of my youth a few weeks back, as a way to pass time before a baby shower was to begin down at the local church; I pulled into a driveway that was half gone. The property was sold the year I was pregnant with my son. I never said the traditional goodbye. It was my first time back since that final Christmas in 2003 … and now I stood there, almost six years later – visualizing what their houses may look like if they were still standing.
You see the developer who bought out the property ended up doing nothing with the land, let the houses be vandalized and condemned, and eventually torn down and leveled. My rationale for going back was in hopes to summon energy for this journey I seem to ceaselessly be on: this journey of healing. Of fixing the brokenness. Of finding myself. The consequence for standing there was a feeling of loss as what once was, no longer existed in tangible form.... where I would pick flowers from grandpa’s garden, was now a breeding ground of bushes and trees … the pond where I would watch frogs on Lilly pads, now couldn’t be seen from the formation of nature’s surroundings. Each building was gone … yet … I still could tell where each stood, where each foundation was laid.
Foundation. Once made, it can be shaken, it can crack, it can even fall apart – but the evidence of its existence remains. Leading me to the foundation of this column: In this life I don’t know the answers. As I travel, I am lost, searching to find my way, my place, still healing from the past in order to move forward. At times I go back, to face demons of the precedent, healing, progressing, continuing to press onward, determined to find myself. Although years have passed since I traveled to my salvation of childhood, I swear my car could have driven on autopilot as the drive was so innate.
For that place, those people, those collections of warmth … helped build me. Each taught me that through God all is possible. Through learning we grow. Through education we develop. Through family we endure. Through love we conquer. Through heartache we learn. Through pain, eventually we will heal. Through expectations we can be let down, but through belief we can achieve. I needed to go back to be reminded of all that I took with me, in mental snapshots, in collections of remembrance, in collaboration of memories. For from the house that built me I have begun to build my own foundation, my own place in the world – although a few cracks, its there, nonetheless, it’s just a work in progress. Standing in what once was showed me the value insurmountable in price. Using the pieces of my old, intertwined with the knowledge of today, fueled by the potential for tomorrow, I am building a place in this world that will never be torn down, or sold, or overgrown by vines and weeds. For me, the house that built me will forever stand … and forever will I be skipping rocks, walking barefoot through the woods, feeling the serenity as I catch fireflies at night and hear my Grandma call me to the house, the house that built me …