Averyell A. Kessler
I live in a house that is older than I am. It is not on the historic register and does not include a barn for the horse and buggy. Water comes from a faucet not a pump out back. George Washington did not sleep here, and my house is not surrounded by a portico with ionic columns. It’s a colonial styled place with the proverbial white picket fence and a family of cardinals nesting in the crepe myrtles behind the patio. Hoot owls too. Three ancient magnolia trees bloom in my yard, and a wandering yellow cat occupies the bench on my porch, but I don’t mind. This is my house and my home. Not the same thing. A house may be purchased. Home is not for sale.
A week after my birth, my parents carried me out of the Jackson Infirmary anchoring the corner of Amite and President and took me to a small white cottage on a gentle hill in Belhaven. They settled me into a tiny bedroom, next to the only bathroom and overlooking my father’s small patch of floribunda roses. This was Laurel Street. I was home. My crib must have been an unusual site because my mother, a true mama lion, placed each of its four legs inside of a rubber boot in case lighting crashed through the windows during a thunderstorm. I spent my ponytail years on Laurel, mastering the art of hopscotch and jump rope, picking dandelion puffs, and turning somersaults. As an only child, I acquired a menagerie of stuffed animals and piled them all onto my bed every night. Summer camp was out of the question, because I didn’t want to leave home. This was my place, my domain, the small patch of ground where I belonged. My house, my home
When I was thirteen, we moved to a new house on a thirty-acre plot of land fronting on County Line Road. Some people called it Avery Gardens; we called it the country. Our closest neighbors had four feet, switching tails, and lowed persistently when the sun came up. My stuffed animals were replaced by racoons, brown rabbits, possums and busy woodpeckers. We had a pond where people fished with cane poles, bobbers, and red worms while dozing in the afternoon sun. It was the perfect location for prickly teenage difficulties, endless phone conversations, (blue princess phone), acquiring a boyfriend, and composing term papers on a green Underwood typewriter as big as a sea turtle. The nights were deep, dark, and silent. There were no streetlights, so we relied on the moon or giant ray-o-vac flashlights to find our way outside in the dark. My house, my home.
As I maneuvered into adulthood, I lived in college dorm rooms and a sorority house, as well as a series of apartments, each a transitory shelter, with white sheetrock walls and a caveat against hanging concert posters or op art prints framed in plastic. Each had a hollow, cardboard-like door that couldn’t withstand the slightest push and closed without a thunk. Somehow, they all smelled the same, temporary and hung over from the last occupant. They were not home.
My old house is certainly home now, but not because that designation has been hammered onto the walls, carved out in garden soil, or painted on the ceiling in bold letters. Home is a creation of the heart. For me, it is southern, and always will be. In Mississippi, for sure. And in a place where I know the name of my favorite checker at the grocery store, the book she is currently reading, and where her daughter attends college. She knows my name too, and where my grandchildren live. Home is my quiet island of serenity in a crazy world, my reading place, my praying place, my writing place. Home is also my grandmother’s piano where young, sticky fingers learned to plunk out a basic tune while chewing bubble gum in time with the music. It is the lingering aroma of last night’s onion soup, as well as the lavender taking root in my backyard before it presents a shower of purple blossoms. Home is the soft patter of rain falling in the middle of the night when the doors are locked, and I am safe inside.
Home is a collection of memories good and bad, of the beginning of life as well as it’s end, of each step taken and every bell rung. The nicks on my floors are the product of a child’s first scuffling steps followed by the steady pounding of his sixth-grade soccer cleats. The photo faces that surround me are my folks and not the results of a decorator’s skill. I know who bought the stove top coffee pot in the kitchen, how it came to me and why there’s a dent in its spout. There’s an echo of laughter in these walls, of giggling children and barking dogs, as well as shrieks of joy Christmas morning. I also hear the soft whisper of disappointment, of worried conversations, and the muffled sound of tears because that’s part of life.
Over the years, my definition of home has changed a bit. Part of it will be this house, and the memories I’ve made here, but also those houses of my early years. I’m now convinced that home is a movable feast. (my apologies, Mr. Hemmingway). Because it is a creation of the heart, the heart will always speak no matter what the future brings. Faces fade, but memories do not. Home will stay in my heart, no matter where I go. Even when I make new memories or step into a new house. I’ll just close my eyes and it’s there. My house, my home.