Home in a jar

March 7, 2020


Taken from the book: Exploding Hushpuppies More Stories from Home.

Home in a Jar. There's no place like home - Mary Esther, Fort Walton Beach FL, Santa Rosa Sound - Leslieannetarabella.com

I have a jar of white sand I scooped up from my parent’s house the last time I was there. Surrounded by citrus trees my dad planted, the house was only a short walk from the Santa Rosa Sound where you could look across the water and see the barrier island that protected them from the Gulf of Mexico and fierce tropical storms. 

Although I never lived in that house, my boys grew up playing on the small protected beach where magnolias and cabbage palms shaded their fair skin and the waves were gentle and free from stinging sea creatures. It was old Florida, out of sight of condos and amusement parks with a pier for fishing and tossing out crab traps. 

After my father passed away, my mother’s plan was to stay in the house for a few years, yet after only a few months, decided to move to a place near her favorite child (don’t show this to my brother). 

Thus, began the months of agony that many families know, sorting, packing, giving away, selling and emptying out box after box of memories. As Kindergarten teachers know, “I just might need this someday” was my mother’s professional oath she swore, with one hand on her heart and the other on a Dick and Jane reader.  We found wooden thread spools and buttons and keys used for math activities. There was the Holy Grail of Early Childhood Education — a bag of toilet paper rolls, the sign of an excellent teacher, and of course, lots of books and puppets.  After rescuing my own sweet dolls and school yearbooks, we gave the rest to appreciative new teachers and children. My prayer of thanks that got me through the move was, thank you Lord that she never wanted to collect Hummel figurines, which would have been the sure death of me.”   

Home in a Jar. There's no place like home - Mary Esther, Fort Walton Beach FL, Santa Rosa Sound - Leslieannetarabella.com

With or without an actual structure on the property, we can tell the story of how there used to be a house, a farm or a family that filled the air with laughter, tears and shrieks of joy. Little boys, babies and brides all walked beneath the trees and yet now, there’s an empty field, parking lot or new house — never as wonderful as the original. 

Eventually, our former houses look smaller  and the trees larger. A new family lives there, but we don’t want to bother strangers — but how can they be strangers if we dance across the same stage of memories? Are their children sliding down the same staircase? Do they see our rainbow on the wall on sunny afternoons? Are they growing tomatoes in the same sunny spot?

Home in a Jar. There's no place like home - Mary Esther, Fort Walton Beach FL, Santa Rosa Sound - Leslieannetarabella.com

It’s just a house, not our home, because home is where our heart is. Yet still, we will always close our eyes and picture Christmas trees, backyard picnics and friends swinging on the porch. Unable to pack these things in a box, we instead keep pressed satsuma blossoms in our Bible,  door keys on blue ribbons tucked in a drawer and jars of sand on our desk. These small hand held treasures make the heart held memories come alive, and for a moment, seem real again. 

This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.

  • I just love the way you write.

  • Marcia Enquist says:

    I sure enjoyed hearing and meeting you in Pensacola Saturday! Didn’t we have fun talking about Mrs. Adams!
    I have already forgotten the punch line for your o-so-clever definition of “tradition “! Can you repeat that for me? It was classic!

    • Thanks Marcia. It was great meeting you as well. I only read it somewhere and repeated it, but it is pretty good: Tradition is peer pressure from dead people! . . . but it’s a tradition! WE HAVE to do it the way granny did! Thanks for being there Saturday.

  • Meghan Grace says:

    When my parents moved from St. Paul, MN. to Kerrville, Tx., 32 years ago it was hard seeing my childhood memories being boxed up and given away. Now, my father has passed and we are preparing to have my mom move from their second home to ours. She knows that so many of her cherished treasures will have to be given up. I too have been downsizing my “stuff” as I am ready to have less clutter in my life. I pray that all the pretty things that she and I have collected with such joy will move on to make someone else’s life happy. Still it is hard.

    • Take lots of pictures. Sometimes we just want to see the things, not hold on to them. Blessings to you as you go through this difficult process.

  • Bittersweet memories…I know it was hard to pack up and close that chapter…I do remember going back to the house I spent my childhood in and it looked so different {small} and I half wished I had never gone back…I’m glad your mom is nearby now, so good for both of you 🙂

  • A jar of sand was a great idea. I know how hard it can be to pack up all that stuff. I too didn’t grow up exactly in the house Mother moved out to come here. They bought it while I was in college, but I had a room that was a come home from college room and Mother always referred to it as my room with my kids. They had so many memories too from that house and then there was the stuff. Lord, I can attest to thank goodness there weren’t collectibles but just lots of memories. IT took us a good while and I think she brought too much with here and we have since made trips to donate, but she is here near me so that I can keep an eye on her and not make so many trips. I was worn out from that. The move was so hard for her…giving up her friends, but they are all beginning to age and things were changing in that way. I hope your mom is adjusting and that you are as well.

    • Our house stories are similar. This house was also bought when I was in college and I had “my room” that I fled to when I wanted to be home. My mother’s move has thankfully been blessed and she’s made great new friends and found a wonderful church she loves. It’s been a great thing for all of us, but I know that is rare. All the best blessings to you and your mom!

  • Savan Wilson says:

    Really loved this one as I enjoyed meeting your sweet mother recently. the phrase ” if we dance across the same stage of memories” was so meaningful and I can image that wonderul place full of memories for your family. Well done!

    • Thanks Savan. My Mom enjoyed meeting you and everyone else at the party. She loves it here, but yes . . . those old memories will always be with us!

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