Friday, June 18, 2010

"The House That Built Me"

Do we not all have places of the heart? Homes, or vacation spots, a special tree outside our house, a lake, river, quiet place - the place we used to go, or sometimes still do, for recharging, healing, relief, release. For many, it's a home. For others, it's a place in nature. Wherever or whatever it is, the smells are stronger there, the air clearer, the ground softer, it is a magical, spiritual retreat.

"I know they say you can't go home again
I just had to come back one last time."

For me, there are two places that hold those powerful, primal, body memories. I've been blessed to be able to visit them again. Both of those places come to mind when I hear this song, The House That Built Me, sung by Miranda Lambert, and written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin. I cried the first time I heard the song, gut-wrenching, from the heart, weeping. As I continued to hear it on the radio and learn the words, I started to sing along - but choked literally as I started to cry again. The song is as powerful as the places that all of us look for home.

One of my two favorite home places is the house my dad and his mother grew up in, in Brazil, Indiana. There is magic there - history that flows through my veins and is in my bones as surely as the genetic history my grandmother and dad passed on to me.

It broke my heart when my grandparents made the decision to sell the old homestead. I wish that I could have found a way to buy it myself, to keep it in our family. It just wasn't practical, or really even possible. The good thing is, that I've been there often enough that it lives in my memory. If I close my eyes, I can still almost smell the smells, feel the air, sense the thunderstorms coming in the distance, see the sunrise, hear the echoes of the stories told to me about the house, its history, who lived there, where they came from, what they did, what my dad did there...

"Ma'am, I know you don't know me from Adam
But these hand prints on the front steps are mine."

Dad and his brothers helped Grandpa dig the basement in that old house. I don't know if there are hand prints there anywhere; no one ever pointed them out, if there are. I haven't had the chance to spend as much time at my mom's parents' home, but I remember whenever we visited, that I had the same call home.

"Up those stairs in that little back bedroom
Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar"

The other place that really resonates with me is our old home in Colorado, where I did learn to play guitar, and piano, as well. A white ranch house perched on top of a hill, about 30 miles south of Denver, in a subdivision called Whispering Pines in Franktown. The town had fewer than 1,000 residents in 2002, and I know it had grown tremendously after we left in the mid-70's. Four acres of brush, trees, room to run and play, garden, pony, horse, dogs and cats, it was a child's paradise, especially a child that loved to be in the country as much as I did. I gave my parents fits often by taking off early in the morning, before anyone was up, to ride my pony on the dirt roads of our "neighborhood." I don't think I've known such freedom and love of life at home as I did in Franktown.

As I left childhood, I coincidentally left that treasured place at the same time. Years later, I remember driving out there with friends and my brother, Tim, to take a look at the old place. It was much the same, and yet different. I seem to remember the new owners being gracious enough to let us take a look inside.

"If I could just come in, I swear I'll leave
Won't take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me."

There are broken places that form inside of us later, that sometimes we think can be healed by reuniting with those special places. And I think some of them do heal by those pilgrimages. I remember feeling like I came home that visit; and again in 1990 when I drove by again (not bothering the owners this time). There is a healing and re-energy that comes, and even though we don't want to leave, somehow it's okay to do so.

"I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it's like I'm someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself"

I think we can find, rediscover, ourselves. It helps sometimes to being able to touch and feel those sacred places, to help us along that journey, but it's not always necessary. They are like shortcuts, a cosmic secret passageway to our authentic selves.

Today I can look back in my mind, breathe, remember the smell and feel of those places, and remember all the good that was present there, and in me. Home is a metaphor for what we're seeking - it's the home inside of us that these places help us find our way back to. A secret passageway to the spiritual house that built us - and is still within us. May we all find it easier to come back home, without the need for that physical crutch. But bless the crutches that help us find our way again, until we can do it on our own.


  1. Laura, this is truly lovely! You write so accurately about those longings we all have for reunification with sacred places. And I have to tell you that the timing is amazing: Just today when Neal and I were walking through a field I stopped suddenly and exclaimed, "That smell! It's a tree that grew along the river where I used to swim at my grandmother's house!" Neal and I then talked about the swimming holes of our youth; I've never liked pool swimming because I was so spoiled to the green waters of that Oregon river of long ago, and the equally beautiful Eel River which was my swimming hole when I attended Camp Seabow as a girl. All those memories -- and my reconnection with those sacred places -- came rushing back today, and all because I smelled that long-ago familiar fragrance (which, it turns out, is an alder tree).

    In your last paragraph you reference the smell of your childhood places -- does anything in particular bring you back "home" instantly, as did the alder tree today?

    Anyway, thank you for your profound thoughts. You're right: We CAN go home again, once we recognize that all of those memories are right there within us, and always accessible. Maybe this is what Glinda really meant when she told Dorothy she'd had the power to go home all along. Some people never have that realization until it's too late -- they need to read what you've written here.

    ♥ ♥

  2. Thank you, Ann! <3 How wonderful that you were able to experience that flashback when you smelled the alder tree. I love those moments when we can be transported. It's especially sweet when we have the opportunity to share those memories in the instant with someone that we love, and I'm sure both you and Neal had a wonderful mutual reconnection with your sacred places.

    There are two primary smells that bring me back to Colorado. Pine trees, especially that intense smell of pine sap, as my brother and I spent a lot of time together climbing tall, tall pines, and sitting in the branches as close to the top as we could get, listening to the wind, feeling the tree sway, and watching the world below. The other smell is a warm pony, and if you've ridden and hugged a warm neck after a ride, you will recognize that smell. I spent a lot of time with Queen (she is the pony in the picture posted with my first blog entry).

    I love what you wrote about Glinda and Dorothy. The power to find our way Home is always within us.

    <3 <3