When a House Isn’t Just a House

They say that home is where the heart is.

Home isn’t a house, or a building, or a city, or a physical destination. It isn’t made of brick or wood and it doesn’t have a poured concrete foundation or an asphalt drive. Home is a state of being. It is made of compassion and molded with comfort and supported by a foundation of love.

But what if they are wrong?

The thing I remember most from that day was the ticking clock in the kitchen.

That wall mounted clock that has sat suspended over the door frame for countless years, it ticks. That clock that unfailingly heralded the end of tea time, the end of another “just one hour” visit, the start of supper, it ticks. That very clock that has presided over every family holiday, it ticks.

I was startled, as I stood hunched in the kitchen struggling to compose myself. I thought I was alone with my grief. Alone with my fear. Alone with my regrets of not enough tea times or “just one hour” visits or suppers. I thought I was alone. And then I heard that telltale mechanical tick, followed by another, followed by another, sounding in rhythmic progression.

Since when does that clock tick? Since always, I suppose. Since it was hung to replace a slightly older model, which replaced an older still model, all the way back to the middle of the century when the house first became a member of my family.

I had never heard the ticking though, in this house of movement and commotion. I had never heard the ticking because I had never felt alone as the kitchen buzzed with joy and swam with the sweltering heat of a pumping oven, pouring love and delicious smells throughout. I had never heard the ticking because I had never heard the silence.

And suddenly, in the moment I first felt the gnawing solitude of coming death, there was the clock, steadfastly ticking out the beating heart of the house around me. It brought me to the present, returning me from my struggles. As I stood in that kitchen I realized I was not alone. I could never truly be alone in this house we call our home. I could never truly be alone because I had my house for company.

In the moments before the ticking startled me back to awareness, I had been daydreaming, or perhaps more aptly, daymaring. Because that is what it felt like, a nightmare playing itself out on a crisp Saturday morning. The world around me was off frolicking through fallen fall foliage in flannel and fleece while I faced a clenching sadness made no easier by its inevitability.

At 98 years old and still sharp, every passing moment is a gift on the short road towards the next junction. But as it became abundantly clear that this road was growing shorter still, I retreated to the kitchen for a moment to compose myself. A moment to dab my eyes and steel my quivering chin. To unclench my throat and sniffle my sniffles away. A moment to be alone. But I realized with the ticking that I would never be alone.

And so with clear eyes I surveyed my surroundings.

Coffee mugs piled around the sink, chipped with love and stained with years of impromptu tea parties. There was no pretension in these cups, just the warmth and generosity of a kind soul breaking bread with every visitor.

The ceiling sagged and the paint chipped and the curtains drooped proudly, like an older woman accepting her wrinkles and flaunting her flaws. The house wore its aging well with enviable grace and beauty.

The absurdly tiny cutting board sat contentedly next to the cast iron pan, ready to weather yet another family holiday. I absentmindedly ran my fingers over the surface of the board, soft like velvet from years of daily use.

I turned to the refrigerator, which quietly hummed a pulsing lull in time with the beating clock. And here I found the brain center of the house where memories are kept and stored and shared. Pictures covering postcards overlapping poems and school projects. Show me a fridge this covered, this memorialized, this loved, and I will show you a house that is a home.

And in this room, which has always brought nourishment and warmth and comfort, I found my soul restored.

So what if they are wrong? What if home truly can be a house. This house that has been so thoroughly lived in for so many decades, it has become a member of the family. It watched over births and deaths, report cards and birthdays, weddings and divorces. Children gave way to grand children and great grandchildren.

It is a house with its own scabbed knees and cosmetic scars and deep lasting wounds, shared with every inhabitant. It was there for the joys and it was there for the losses. It has been a comfort and a shelter to lay one’s weary mind for the wandering family that calls it home.

This house was in fact made of compassion and molded with comfort and supported by a foundation of love, despite its bricks and wood and concrete. Its couch envelopes you in a warm embrace. Its dining room fills you with the tinkling ghosts of dinner parties past. Its dust mites dance through streaming sunbeams. And its every blemish tells a story.

And so dear house, whose ticking heart I finally heard in a moment of painful stillness, let me say I will love you always.



One thought on “When a House Isn’t Just a House

  1. Beautifully written. Agreed – a house can be a home. Gina shared your post with us, what a great tribute to Kitty.
    Best, Suzanne


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