Homebuilding.

This post is part of a series that explores that simple, complicated idea of “home” as I try to reconcile my now-empty nest and conflicting feelings about my hometown.

In the 23 years since I came “home” to Memphis (not intending to stay more than six months), I’ve thought a great deal about the psychological and physical notions of home, both for me personally and more broadly in the world. Occasionally I have tiny hints of clarity.

But clarity is hard to hold onto in life’s bumper-car surprises, especially in Memphis, in 2022.

And so, I keep writing.


When I was pregnant with my second child and we were looking for a bigger house to accommodate our growing family, I found exactly what I wanted: A tidy brick 3/2 with an attic playroom and a fenced-in yard. It was the right price, and it needed nothing. There wasn’t a single part of it, down to the kitchen appliances, that required replacement, demolition or remodel. We could move in, I argued, and just be a family.

Instead, we bought an old, broken house that other people feared, for reasons ranging from practical to superstitious, sprinkled with a dose of judgment.

The dark, scary house on the hill.

The house with an overgrown yard and horrible kitchen.

The house that smelled of cat piss and nicotine.

The haunted house of haunted characters: attack dogs; an imperious mother; a philandering father; termites; a fire; a suicide; out-and-proud lesbians, who weren’t in sync with norms of their time; an artist’s acid-trip mural paintings in the basement.

The house with good bones but a bad jinx, old money gone sour and sprinkled with scandal.

We bought a house that needed rebirth and a bit of redemption. In it we invested our hearts and planted our fledgling family, a new generation born of our own past experiences, hopes and disappointments alike.

Slowly, sometimes painfully, over many years that old house became our family home, a stable (if not always conventional) place in which we lit birthday candles and buried dogs, survived potty training, helped study for learner’s permits, and sent children off to college.

In this house my husband and I became parents, trying to carry forward only what bore repeating from our own upbringings and to replace the rest with something better.

In this big, rambling house, we celebrated Valentine’s Day and Christmas, Easter and any number of birthdays, fostered a concept of “family” beyond bloodline connections.

We gathered around a table for holidays and during power outages, raised children in a co-op of neighbors, tried to mute the vigilante voice of NextDoor.

Here we worked and cleaned and reckoned and fought and grew up.

We fell in and out of love in this house, back and forth more than once, the way I believe all couples do, if they are honest about it.

Now that both children are in college, starting to find their own way forward, “home” is the place they’ll come for holidays. It’s where they’ll see the people who’ve known them, who know them, for better and worse. It’s a link to their past and a foundation for their future.

And I wonder:

What will home mean now, and in the years ahead, for my children?

Is it a place of comfort or obligation? An address or a relationship?

When they come “home” for Christmas, what solace will they seek that they can’t yet articulate, and what will they carry forward, on their own?

3 thoughts on “Homebuilding.

  1. If this answers your question, I still want to go home to Lynchburg. My son wants to come home more than he lets on, though not quite as much to the condo as he did to the house on Carr, which was the only place he had ever lived. My daughter has never left. She doesn’t even want to go east of St. Mary’s for too long! Everyone has a different definition and experience of home. I expect your children will cherish their memories of home.

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  2. “home” is a word I grapple with everyday lately. We have been in Texas again (from where we started 36 years ago) for almost 13 years this time. This is where my husband is from but I am from KY. For years I didn’t call KY home, it was where I was from. Now it is my “other” home. After losing my dad in May, I have been feeling like I need to move back there. However, TX has now become my home and my people here are ALSO my family. How do I leave that? MY entire family (with exception to one brother and uncle in GA) are all in KY, including our one and only child. If Home is where the heart is, then mine is split… and broken sometimes. So many questions…

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