Leaving Home

I hosted the first party in my Steubenville home on January 2, 2005. I’d only closed on the house a few hours before, but that didn’t stop me from calling up a half-dozen friends and inviting them to join me for dinner. We ordered Chinese, laid out a blanket on the floor of the empty living room, and ate off paper plates. It was a glorious evening.

I hosted my last party in my Steubenville home this past Friday night. There were too many of us to sit around the table, so we ate in the living room this time too. Only, there’s furniture there now. Life has gotten more comfortable over the past 12 years. The food has gotten better too. For the occasion (introducing my home’s soon-to-be-new-owners to some of my closest friends), I cooked one of my fanciest and easiest pasta dishes. Guests sipped martinis, and we all ate off my pretty English china. It also was a glorious evening, albeit with a touch of melancholy.

Looking Back

Twelve years ago, when we ate Chinese on the living room floor, there was the promise of more parties to come. On Friday, the promise was gone. In its place, however, was gratitude for parties past.

There was gratitude for Thursday Night Dinners—my once weekly dinner parties where children ran wild through the house and dozens of grown-ups found seats wherever there they could—sofas and chairs, basement floors, front porch railings, and garden beds.

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There was also gratitude for our annual “Friendsgiving Dinners,” where those of us who couldn’t travel home for Thanksgiving camped out at my house and feasted for days, discovering in the process that sometimes gravy really can be a beverage.

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And there was gratitude for the baby showers and wedding showers, for Easter brunches, summer crawfish boils, spontaneous Pope Parties (held on the two different occasions when we saw white smoke rise above the Vatican), romantic dinners with my husband, hundreds of casual supper parties, and 11 very special Christmas parties where my tree was decorated by the cutest guests any hostess could want

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Memories of those parties and the people I love fill every inch of this house. It’s a beautiful home, I know. But what makes it beautiful to me isn’t the woodwork I restored or the paint colors I put on the walls. It’s those memories.

It’s babies saying their first words over bowls of potato soup. It’s houseguests sitting around in their pajamas drinking coffee. It’s roommates perched on my kitchen steps, helping me solve the problems of the universe while I stirred risotto. It’s the millions of little moments that make up a life—all the laughing and singing and fighting and praying and kissing and cooking that somehow transform us bit by bit, day by day, into the people God made us to be.

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Home-Making

Those moments didn’t just transform me, though. Somehow, in some way, they’ve transformed this house. They’ve seeped into its walls and floorboards. They’ve the changed the very air. The love, the laughter, the prayers—it’s all here. It’s tangible. I feel it. Others feel it too. It’s one of the reasons this place never lacks for dinner guests. That and the risotto.

With the last party behind us now and packing at full throttle, my thoughts keep going back to that—to how we transform the things we love, how love remakes them in our image. And I find myself wondering how much of our lives linger on where they once were lived, even after we’ve left.

It’s a god-like ability we have—to make a home after our own our image. God did that for us on a macro-scale—creating a universe where every atom vibrates with his glory. We do it on a micro-scale—creating a place where the walls and floorboards speak of who we are and the life we live in that space.

Our homes don’t reflect us as perfectly as the universe reflects God, of course, but they still reflect us. They tell stories about us, their owners. Sometimes those stories are seen—children’s initials scratched in closet doors, family pictures hung on walls, floors dirtied, whether by toddlers or careless neglect. Other times, though, the stories are felt: that sense of happiness and peace (or unhappiness and foreboding) that can’t be seen or smelled, but is there just the same.

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How much of that lasts, though, when we go? Without God, the universe he made would cease to be. But this house has stood for 101 years—89 of those without me. It will hopefully go on standing for 100 more—all without me. And in those 100 years, someone might paint the woodwork. New colors will definitely go up on the plaster. The kitchen floors could likely be neglected. Part of my story, written into these walls, will be erased, replaced with a new story by those who come after me.

But what about the rest—what about the love and the prayers and the late-night conversations? What about the children who ran in circles, up one staircase and down another, laughing all the while? What about the tears, shed by my broken-hearted self over my kitchen sink? What about the days where I questioned God and the days where I praised God? And what about all the dinner parties, all the cooking, all the drinking? What about the wine–the cheap Australian stuff we drank in grad school and the good French stuff we drink now? What about the polenta and the curries and cheesecake? Does all that love I cooked up and poured out in my kitchen linger on in any way besides a stain to the left of the kitchen sink?

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Parting Prayers

I love this house like a person. It has been my comfort and constant companion through these past 12 years. It gave me a safe place to which I could retreat from the world and a beautiful place to which I could welcome the world. On both counts, it has served me well. I have been blessed beyond my wildest imaginings during my time here—blessed by the people who have passed through here, blessed by the stories that have unfolded here, blessed by the graces poured out here, and yes, blessed by the meals cooked here.

So, I can’t help but hope and pray that even after I’ve left, something of those blessings and graces will remain, making life just a little bit easier for those who come after me. I hope, that somehow, they can share in the love that was given and received so freely in this place during all my years here.

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Maybe that’s silly or sentimental of me. But I think it’s also human. We’re stewards—entrusted by God with the task of caring for our world and leaving it better off than we found it. For 12 years, this house has been the center of my world. And I’ve tried to be a good steward of it in every possible way. I’ve fixed the electrical and replaced the roof, so that’s something. But I hope the more important things I did help the new owners and future owners even more. I hope the blessings of friendship and hospitality linger. And I hope I find the same sort of blessings where we go next.

Regardless, we’ll do our best to invite those blessings in there, as well. If I’ve learned anything these past 12 years, it’s that a good risotto has a way of attracting them.

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5 thoughts on “Leaving Home

  1. Holly McIlwain says:

    YES! Emily-I felt the same way when I sold and moved from MY house when I married my husband. We went on to create OUR home together, but that first house–MY first house–had the same feel as yours–always full of delicious scents, tastes, and lovely people. Cheers on this new phase!

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  2. mawr90 says:

    So very beautiful, Emily! This is why when I am about to leave a home for the last time, turning over keys to the rightful owner/new occupant, I go into every room, reflect on all that happened there, and say a prayer of blessing/thanksgiving while making the sign of the cross with my thumb on the outside of each doorway. I, too, hope that the blessing(s) of that home might continue for others.

    It’s been a mightily healing practice that brings much-needed closure (I’m a sap, too!). I think I started it way back in grad school while still living in campus housing.

    Blessings to you in your new home!
    Deirdre in DC

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  3. AnneMarie says:

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection! We don’t have a house yet, but this post of yours is helping me to think about all of the beautiful memories my husband and I have made in our different apartments. Your post also makes me excited for the day when (hopefully) live in a house and really settle down our roots 🙂 The next people to be in your Steubenville house will be truly blessed!

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