Marriage Letters: On Home

Next month, Amber’s first book, Wild in the Hollow, hits the shelves. It explores a sort of coming of age, a discovery of what it means to be home. In celebration of her book, we’re writing Marriage Letters this week, exploring the concept of Home. After you’ve read our letters (read Amber’s letter here), wander over to Amber’s place and check out Wild in the Hollow.

*****

Dear Amber,

We’ve treated home like a pair of jeans. Tried them on. Owned them for a time. Stained them, then taken them to the thrift store. Bought a new pair.

Truth is, if we’re known for anything in Fayetteville, it’s for moving. Let’s recap.

1. The Oklahoma Apartment

We started in Oklahoma, newlyweds in an apartment smaller than a single-wide. The walls were thick, the floors thin, and the smells of our downstairs neighbors’ musty towels and Chinese takeout wafted up and permeated our space.

There was a tree outside our apartment, and it’s upper branches spread onto our balcony. A student from our church climbed its boughs one night, lowered himself onto the balcony and tap-tap-tapped on the sliding door while we were making out on the living room couch.

That was embarrassing.

2. The Love Shack

We moved to the tiny house in the Ozarks, the one behind my grandparents’ house. White, nearly dilapidated, we called it the Love Shack. Every summer sweltered in that house, what with only one window air conditioner unit to cool the whole shebang. We wore a whole lot of nothing in those summer months. In the winter, it was all flannel and covers and “sweet Moses I can’t seem to shake this chill.” There was a field of horses, a spring’s worth of surprise lilies, and tuna fish sandwiches and Dr. Peppers with Grandma.

We brought a child home. His name was Isaac. He made us laugh.

3. The Grouse House

After graduate school, we bought our first place. The corner lot in a neighborhood on Grouse street. Children rode bicycles till dusk. We grew tomatoes and peppers in barrels. We brought another child home, Jude. He’d be our prophet-poet-artist in resident.

Just when we’d settled into the new normal–toddler and infant and a little dog that leached all manner of rotten smells–we watched a terrible movie and drank a cheap bottle of wine. We conceived a third child in that house. The Grouse house was full of love.

4.  The Upwardly Mobile Joint

We moved across town, upsized to middle-class dream home with crape myrtles and a sprinkler system. It was a two story joint and the back porch overlooked our neighbors tropical paradise. He was a Tyson man, a life-long accountant of chickens, and he’d recreated a Bahamian island in his backyard. There were tiny banana trees and flowers from Hawaii. We spent evenings in the backyard admiring his landscaping.

On the fourth of July, the neighborhood men went in and bought fireworks together. The neighborhood sounded like a war zone, like too many humans were trying to rip another hole in the sky. We watched as a sulphur smoke descended on our neighbor’s paradise.

5. The Rock House

We moved back to my grandma’s land, but this time we moved into the big house, the Rock House. Grandpa had passed, slipped away in a hospice bed in the living room. An angel had visited him there. Seven feet and clothed in purple, he told grandpa he’d be back in an hour to escort the old man home. He kept his word.

The memories were too much for Grandma and she moved to an apartment in my parents’ hometown. We took ownership of the surprise lilies and the fish pond. We ate tuna sandwiches from time to time. It was all about nostalgia.

6. The Arkansas Apartments

We left the Rock House and moved into an apartment. We’d been bit by the bug of communal living, and insanity set in. Close friends–missionaries from Southeast Asia–had moved into the complex, and we followed to forge a new kind of community. The quarters were too close again, but the community loved well. We brought another child home, Titus. He was sick and required more space than either the little apartment or community afforded.

7. The Rock House (Part Deux) 

Back to the Rock House we went. (Does the reliving of all these moves make you tired? It does me.) We made it two years in that place. But sooner rather than later, the old family house became too much to handle. Titus grew sicker by the day and demanded all our attention. We learned a little known fact from that old place: honeysuckle and morning glory can eat a house in approximately three months and seven days if you don’t tend to it. We were too busy tending to sick child and the house grew into one gigantic ornamental shrub.

A buyer came knocking even though our house wasn’t on the market. We sold.

8. The Rent House

While we waited to close on the Rock House, we had two separate homes under contract. The first was structurally unsound. The second leaked worse than the Titanic. Neither passed inspection, so after a selling the Rock House (and after a 4 week housesitting stint), we settled in a rent house in the heart of town in an effort to avoid homelessness. It was a cozy place, the place where I dried out. We sat under the arms of a massive American sycamore tree and learned the peace of poetry, records, and dreaming of a place to call our own.

9. The Tiny House

We visited Tuscany during the summer of 2014. We saw farmers tend their olive grows and sheep. We caught a vision for something small, something organic. We came home and you looked at listings. You found a tiny house on an acre. There was a small orchard, a garden. There was a compost pile under the pecan trees. “This is the one,” you emailed me, and we jumped.

We’ve been here almost one year. It feels as homey as anyplace.

What is Home?

Some folks associate home with a particular geography, a landscape. They think of the old Baptist Church on the corner, or the coffeeshop down the block. They think of a particular town or region. They see mountains, maybe deserts, maybe a river valley running over.

Some folks associate home with a people.  They remember how grandpa used to sit on the same porch carving peach pits in the pastel evening, or how Ms. Werner brought homemade krawt down the apartment stairs. They think of genealogies or new friends. They like their colorful city mixing bowls, or their stayed and stolid country folk.

Some folks associate home with fauna. The peonies pushing pink in spring. The summer stargazers. The rusted leaves of autumn maples. Portland cherry blossoms. Florida palms.

Geography, people, and fauna–these are accouterments of home, but when your home-place is in constant flux, you come to find that home transcends any of these things. Geography changes. People pass. The leaves turn. So what is home?

We’ve made home nine times, and each feels as settled as the last, at least for a while. Each place feels like home. Why? Home,  I think, is where you are; it’s where we are together. And antsy as I may grow from time to time, as itchy as my feet might become, I’m home so long as we’re together.

I’d like to think we’ll be here twenty years. That we’d finally pay a place off and have a dream to leave to our children. I know us better than that. I’m sure we’ll put this dive on the market at some point, pounce on a piece of property deeper in the country. Whatever. It’s not so much about the physical place as it is about being with you.

So let’s move to Tennessee, Texas, or Tuscany. Let’s try on Portland, or another house in Fayetteville. Country living, city living–let’s try on just about anywhere (except Pine Bluff), and know that it’s home if we’re together.

The trick to finding home? Knowing the one who makes it what it is.

 

Thanks for being my home-girl,

Seth

 

*Don’t forget to read Amber’s Marriage Letter HERE.

 

***TINY LETTER***

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  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Lovely….all the moves and the memories. Little did we know all the turmoil you two dealt with caring for Titus (and well, other things.) Living in community can be a challenge in the best of times.
    My two cents? Home is where your windowsill keepsakes are http://threewaylight.blogspot.com/2015/03/where-is-home.html
    And I think you should move to Portland. Tonia lives there 🙂

    • sethhaines

      Amber would agree with you. And yes, PDX is on a very very short list.

  • pastordt

    California is nice. 🙂 At least parts of it. Lovely letter, Seth. Thank you.

    • sethhaines

      Thank you, DT. And also? I love me some San Fran.

  • Pingback: Redefining Home, Part 2: Home Is Where Your People Are()