Whenever our family relocated during Dad’s military service, it was difficult saying goodbye to our friends, neighbors and acquaintances as we prepared to depart. With each move, we made promises that we’d be back to visit, enthusiastically planning future get-togethers that somehow never materialized. One important friend that I’ve included in all of our moves and has been integral in our family’s history is each of our family homes. Is it weird to consider structures made of wood, stone, cement, brick and mortar part of a family?
I still remember the night before we moved to Utah from Virginia, I had a pretty tight-knit group of friends and hated the thought of possibly never seeing them again. I mean I had just finished my sophomore year in high school and was eager to begin my junior year. I walked through each room in the house and sat out in our small backyard for awhile, trying to tie the events of years gone by into the fabric of my memory. I lay awake on the top bunk in the bedroom I shared with my brother, looking out through the window screen onto the lawn area that joined all of the base housing duplexes together, thinking of all the good times we had playing and socializing with each other, and then the hot tears started to flow. We were about to leave the familiarity and safety of our home to travel over 2,000 miles into the largely unknown, vast expanse of the wild wild West.
Upon arriving in Utah the summer of 1974, we lived with my grandparents in River Heights while my dad sought employment as a BSA Scout executive. I’m not sure who prayed harder for us to find just the right home, my folks or my grandparents who graciously hosted us that summer, which undoubtedly tested their patience to the very limits and ultimately saved their garden and yard from certain disaster.
When we first went through the home where we’d eventually spend the next several decades, we knew it was the house for us. There was no lawn and the weeds were as tall as we were. There were no trees or fencing to enclose the yard, much to the delight of our adventuresome wandering family beagle. We spent much of that first year in our new home chasing the dog through the neighborhood and hauling her home, ears flapping and tail wagging, so when we finally built the cedar slat fence (still there) we cheered the thought of not having to find the dog every day.
Our basement was totally unfinished, so we slowly started the process of creating bedrooms, a bathroom, storage room and family room for our large crew. We stapled big sheets of cardboard to the 2 x 4 studs in order to make our bedroom more enclosed and “ours.” My brother Kevin and I started casually doodling (painting) Disney characters on our makeshift walls and eventually had a mural covering our room. I wish we would have saved those paintings since it’s a memory all of us have of our beginnings there.
We especially loved our fireplace. Dad would get up early in the winter and build a nice fire that our aging beagle genuinely loved as she’d hop up on the hearth and let the heat from the fire warm her sore joints. Eventually, with the help of Ken Baker’s tractor and Dick Cleland’s carpenter skills, the basement and the yard began to take shape. We planted some trees. The blue spruce by the driveway has grown from a minuscule conifer to a majestic monarch, home to countless birds, squirrels and even deer that come to feast on the food pushed off the bird feeders by over-anxious diners.
One of the highlights of completing the basement was when Dad told us we could choose the carpet for our rooms. Cool beans! Those carpets are still there and remind us of our time spent at home. Of course it was a risk for our parents to suggest such a thing — kinda like having OCD and letting a two-year-old pick out your makeup.
As our home expanded so did the many relationships and connections with our family and friends. If the “walls could talk, what a tale they’d have to tell.” So it was with our home. Up until my mom passed away a few summers ago, I don’t think there has ever been a time when there haven’t been multiple people at home. Kids coming home for short stays, a dozen or so foreign exchange students living with us, friends of friends who needed a place to stay, relatives visiting, they all had a place in our home and our hearts.
The many shared meals, family reunions, Christmas Eve gatherings, missionary farewells and homecomings, cookouts, Scout activities and of course the hard times where we all pulled together in the face of tragedies still resonate with each of us.
This Sunday evening as Dad prepares to move, all of us are going to gather one last time in the backyard to sit and eat ice cream, visit, reminisce. And as the furniture slowly disappears and the house empties out, we’ll each have our own moment to walk through the house and think back to the echoes of delight, joy and excitement as we made a house our home.
Chad Hawkes is a fifth grade teacher at North Park Elementary School. He can be reached by email at email@example.com