In three months’ time, I will be leaving Tennessee and moving to Georgia so my husband, Mr. Beasley, can take a prestigious teaching job at a local university. Though the relocation is best for our family, I’ve nonetheless tumbled into mourning about leaving my historic Victorian home behind like a summer lover.
Mr. Beasley and I purchased the neglected property when it was a burned-out shell. Over time, we renovated, restored, and resuscitated the old girl to her former 1890s splendor. Away went the bags of rubbish buried in the backyard. In came the claw-foot tubs and milk-glass schoolhouse lights.
The project was a family passion and preoccupation for more than three years, and as we begin to say good-bye, I find myself gazing longingly at the soft pink heirloom roses I trained to clamber over the front porch, or wistfully running my fingertips over the slate tile we installed after digging it from the yard.
I circle the rooms of our soon-to-be-forsaken home in a ghostlike fog, flooded with reminiscences of all the neighborhood potlucks and birthday parties, a witness to years of our family history, with the scuff marks, wall dings, and chipped paint to prove it.
House love isn’t about the house, of course. It’s about the memories made there, and the physical evidence of the quixotic chaos of life. The scratches the door suffered when the dog was a puppy. The worn knobs on the most-used kitchen drawers. The nick in the baseboard where your daughter stubbed her toe when she was overly excited about her part in the school play. Every room tells a story, and when you sit quietly inside them, you can still make out the wails of your newborn baby, or the manic laughter of your daughters up way past bedtime, or the song that was playing when you danced with your husband in the kitchen, just because.
Sensing my sadness about leaving Tennessee, Mr. Beasley suggested we visit our Georgia house in progress (another mistreated Victorian we are rebuilding from the studs up) and ink messages on the exposed wood before the framing got covered with drywall.
Like most kids, my daughters were thrilled at the opportunity to write on the “walls.” Dixie penned inspirational phrases about girl power, keeping positive, and “staying true to yourself” above her windows and doorjambs. Matilda scribbled private notes in tiny corners, then proclaimed (in much larger letters) her affection for Led Zeppelin over the space for her desk. My husband copied a Kay Ryan poem where our bed will eventually sit, while I penned “You are beautiful!” under the girls’ bathroom mirror in thick, black Sharpie.
As I watched the whole family pour their hearts into the bones of our new home, I found myself crying. Not for the loss of the house we once had, but for the hope we all shared for the future.
A week later, the framing would be covered and no one would know the words were there except us. We had sealed a message into a bottle that had already found its way home.