I must have been around eleven years old when my Dad drove us out to the new property he and my mom had just purchased. I was going through a phase in which I determined to be disgusted by nature. Bugs, sticks, and vines were a recipe for disaster, but this trip to the property was worth it. Strategically placed on a cleared patch of land in the middle of the woods were wooden stakes driven into the ground with strings linking them together to form an uneven grid pattern that represented our future home. Like a settler in the old west pridefully showing his bride his plans for their log cabin, my Dad carefully followed the blueprint from our architect and measured out the main level floor plan of the house they had been dreaming about for years. It was my mom’s dream to live on a private piece of property with room for us to play and her to garden and private views from the back windows, and my Daddy gave her that dream. One of his favorite songs is “In My Dreams” from Josh Turner, and he loves to say “In my dreams, your dreams come true.” I felt safe knowing how much my Daddy must love my Mommy. He still does.
Over the next year or two, my parents self contracted the building of that house. They picked out every light fixture, baseboard, sink, and paint color. They dragged me and my sisters along to tile showrooms and wholesale warehouses as they curated every corner of the house to my mom’s specifications. For health reasons and job reasons, that was one of the toughest times I can remember, but we made it, and we moved into that little dream. By the time we moved in, I was in the throes of adolescence and the youngest days of childhood were behind me; however, I still feel like I grew up at that house in the woods. I made lasting memories with friends and formed new and stronger bonds with my sisters. I had some of my biggest fights with my parents and some of our best late night talks in which they imparted important wisdom that I would not appreciate until later. I had my first crush, my first boyfriend, my first heartbreak. I taught myself how to play the guitar and wrote some of my earliest songs. I spent hours journaling, reading, praying, and studying the Bible in my corduroy bedroom chair, and my relationship with God came alive in a new way. I tried my hand at interior decorating as I attempted to create a “New York Loft” style bedroom in hues of reds and browns with broadway show posters and accents of cheetah print on the sheets and the bathroom wallpaper border.
My parents built that home with the prayer that it would be a ministry. They are leaders in our church youth group, and there have been innumerable gatherings of students at that house for dinners, swimming parties, Bible studies, driveway pickup basketball games, and weekend retreats. It is a place where people felt safe; I saw my parents touch lives over and over. Teenagers came for my Dad’s homemade burgers, the pool, or their friends, and they left feeling loved and accepted.
The summer of 2010, my dad determined to finagle a way for my then-boyfriend Jeremy to live in Houston. Jeremy had already passed the initial Dad interview test (another story for another time), but over a year later, my Dad wanted to know him a little more closely. Jeremy and I interned at our church, and he lived a few minutes away with another family. Nearly every morning, Jeremy met Dad and a few other brave souls to do P90x workouts in our garage at 6am in the intense Houston summer heat. I would wake up at a slightly later hour and come to the kitchen to find them sweat-drenched and desperately downing ice water congregated around the island or swiveling on the barstools. Jeremy became part of our family that summer, and I fell in love with him with my parents’ home as the backdrop. Our love story was pieced together with chilled watermelon and Blue Bell mint chocolate chip ice cream outside on the porch, family water volleyball tournaments in the pool, game nights in the room above the garage, and goodnight kisses on the driveway.
In a similar way, that summer was a chance for all of us to get to know a freckled faced kid named Timothy Goodwin who had been friends with my younger sister, Sydney, for years. Tim and Jeremy instantly became buddies, and that summer Jeremy coached Tim on the ways of dating a Roberts girl. In my family, we were not allowed to date until our senior year in high school, and that summer was Tim’s chance to win Sydney’s heart. He told her how much he liked her on the wicker bench on the front porch while all of us sat inside and tried to discreetly peek out and spy on the conversation. A little over three years later, we all spied once again while he got down on one knee in that same spot on the front porch and put a ring on her finger.
I searched through my digital archives for photos of the house and regretted not taking more pictures of what now seem like important moments. But the memories we all hold onto are not captured in pictures. They are the things that made the house into a home.
I will remember the sound of a thunderstorm from the safety of the wide covered porches. The times I, my friends, and my sisters grazed garage doors and trees with our bumpers and side mirrors while backing out of the driveway in our early days of driving. The cozy dormer window in my bedroom where I penned frantic journal entries and songs in my teenage angst. Waking up to the whirr of the lawnmower on Saturday mornings. Afternoon adventures in the treehouse in the backyard. The time my sister asked for goats for her thirteenth birthday and we ended up with pygmy goats for pets.
My heart warms with memories of my dad coming up behind mom in the kitchen to kiss her cheek as she scrubbed plates. Long talks with my mom sitting in her favorite living room chair or on the end of my bed. Gilmore girls marathons with my sisters. Sleepovers with cousins and friends piled on air mattresses and in bedrooms. Musical theatre chords and melodies filling the house from around the piano in the living room. The time that I broke into uncontrollable sobs when my missing cat, Tabby, came home, and my parents delivered her to me while I was practicing guitar.
Holidays at home will always be special. The smells of roasted turkey, herb filled dressing, and my family’s traditional corn pudding wafting through the house as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents came through the front doors and the bells on my mom’s artificial evergreen wreaths clinked politely with each new guest.
Jeremy and I visited Texas last weekend, and we slept in that house in the woods the last night before my parents moved out and the movers came to pack up the memories. Dad and Jeremy loaded into the car for the airport in the morning, and I took one last walk inside and said, out loud, “Goodbye, house” with tears in my eyes.
It’s true that I am sentimental to a fault, but for anyone who has built memories in a special place, saying goodbye stings a little bit. My parents are thrilled about the new home they bought across the creek, and they are ready to have a smaller property with less maintenance. The timing is perfect, God is faithful, and the new family that is moving in will fill the house with their own joy and memories.
The moral of the story is that houses are made for memories. I want to remember that as I build memories of my own in our little brick ranch. Houses aren’t for keeping; it’s good to let go of material stuff. But, I’m thankful for the meaning of a house when a family makes it a home.
The details don’t really matter. I don’t love that house because it is beautiful (although, it is). It is not special because of the chandeliers or the paint colors or the furniture. It matters because of the people.