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