Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. — Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
My vision of home is a small, two-bedroom house that sits on Hwy 311 in Berkeley County, South Carolina. The two bedrooms and living room are floored with dark hardwood while gray carpet covers the dining room. Compact and with no need for hallways, it is neat and beautiful in my memory. My parents’ room is dominated by a king sized bed and heavy, old-style furnishings. The bedroom I share with my brother is much simpler. A broad desk separates two twin beds that can come together as bunk beds. A pale blue dresser stands next to a small closet whose door is a sheet. The bedrooms share a bathroom.
A pair of dogwood trees shade the front of the house. In the spring, one of them flowers pink while the other flowers white. Azalea bushes surround the home and a flower garden beside it erupts in a riot of color: four o’clocks, black eyed susans, zinnias, marigolds, and broad-leafed caster plants. Behind the house is another flower garden and my own attempt at my first garden. My mother’s garden is beautiful, with sprays of gladiolas. My garden is choked with weeds.
Fields stretch out on either side of the house. Neither are farmed, so the swamp is taking them back with weeds and saplings. An old barn stands in one, its face half-covered in a curtain of purple wisteria.
None of this exists anymore. Over a decade ago, my mother told me that she drove by the house on Hwy 311 and the owners at the time had torn up everything: the dogwoods, the gardens, the azaleas. In their place they put grass. A little house baking in the Southern sun. (I’ve always suspected Northerners who simply didn’t know better were responsible.)
I’ve never driven past that house and I don’t want to. The house as it was in my childhood still exists, as far as I am concerned, and I want to keep it that way. I still remember sitting in the open door of the barn, watching the evening sun wash the fields in gold.
My childhood was not idyllic. In my happy memories of that home, I’m alone. I’m alone while wandering the fields and woods. I’m alone while reading or exploring the barn or enjoying a piece of butterscotch candy in our bedroom. My happy moments came from absorbing the surrounding beauty while separated from the chaos and violence of my family. These formed my vision of home.
For the last couple of weeks, the Husband and I have been looking for a new house. We’re currently in a single-wide trailer that we outgrew a year ago. When we began the search, my mind flew to that vision of home and all the feelings it stirred up in me. My criteria were influenced by it: in the country, far from other neighbors, and in the no-nonsense Southern style that doesn’t waste space on hallways and unnecessary rooms.
But it didn’t take long before I realized I was just chasing a dream, that I was only hoping to relive those brief moments of beauty.
There’s nothing wrong with having an idyllic vision of home, especially if that comes from childhood. There’s nothing wrong with lovely memories. However, it’s important not to be trapped by those memories.
In our search, we came upon a house that was a far cry from the little two bedroom on Hwy 311. Three bedrooms. A bonus room. A “keeping room”. Spacious rooms. Oak trees lining the drive. Lots and lots of space. I fell in love.
It wasn’t long, though, until tension erupted between the Husband and me.
“It’s too much,” he said.
“It’s perfect,” I replied.
We went back and forth for a couple of days. We rarely fight and it was wearing. It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize my vision of home was influencing me.
I wanted the space and privacy, the isolation, that characterized that little house. I wanted to watch another field be washed in gold. I wanted to remake my vision of home within the confines of adulthood. But we can’t always do that. I conceded my husband’s point.
Sometimes, you have to let a vision remain a memory, let it be a moment of brightness, in the back of the mind in order to embrace the future. There’s a quote that stayed with me all during my writing of Willows of Fate:
We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. — Joseph Campbell
That never feels more true than now.
I love hearing from my readers. If you have a house-hunting or childhood experience to share, or just want to say hello, feel free to comment below!