A Place To Come Home To

Read this reflective narrative about making a house a home.

Growing up, Shemaiah longed for stability. She spent her childhood moving from rental to rental and never had the opportunity to feel settled in one place. When she got married and bought her first home, she learned what it meant to make a house a home. Here’s her story of being the first to buy a home.

As a child growing up in Southern California, I moved nearly every year — not to another state or even another county, but always within the same three inner cities close to Los Angeles. My parents were still in their teens when they married, and I was born soon after. They never went to college, worked blue-collar jobs. Money was always tight. So we rented.

Due to money and their rocky marriage, every 12-18 months my two sisters and I packed all our things into produce boxes from the grocery store and moved to another house. My mother was adamant that we would not live in apartments. She didn’t want to share walls and wanted us to have a yard to play in. With our constrained income, this requirement limited us. None of the houses we lived in were nice. Many had bugs of some sort. Most were surrounded by crime. All of us squished into two bedrooms, and once my sisters and I lived in the laundry room of a one-bedroom bungalow. 

To help with the transition, each time my sisters and I moved into a new house, we found one lovely thing about the space. Perhaps a window by the front door, so you could see who was knocking. Or mirrors that lined a hallway. Or, my favorite, a closet with a slatted door, so the light crept in, making it the perfect secret place to read.

And yet, when we try to sort through our childhood stories, a lot of it is murky. When was that? Which house was it? We never felt grounded. We lacked security and felt unmoored by our constant moving.

I remember the secret twinge in my heart when a friend said they were born in the house they lived in or couldn’t remember living in another house but the one they were in. They often found this fact boring, thinking it reflected a dull life. I envied that sort of stability.

When I left my family to live on my own and eventually to attend college, the cycle continued with my now-divorced mother and younger sisters. They moved from rental to rental. When financial or emotional trials surfaced for me, there was no home to go to. No place to regroup and find my grounding again. 

When my husband and I had been married for five years, we bought a house. It’s small and old — and it’s mine. During our first week in the house, we celebrated our fifth anniversary with pizza on the floor of the dining room. 

We’ve now added furniture, a new roof, and two children. I discovered the luxury of painting the walls any color I’d like and hanging artwork — an indulgence I never had before over concern of getting the security deposit back.

By staying in one location for more than 18 months, I was able to add cozy details, like photos and pillows and plants. Along with the memories I was creating with my family, this building, this house, has become a home.

My sons have never known anything but this place. They know right where we place the tree each Christmas. Or the kitchen door frame that has marked their height over the years. Or where they once, as preschoolers, buried a dead bee in an Altoid tin under the weeping willow in our yard. (Who knows why, don’t ask.)

My children have the childhood I could not even imagine but always wanted. This is the only house they have ever known.  The stability of being in one place for so long has given me the ability to make this place a home.

I know that we might not live here forever. Work or life or time might take us to another city, state, or country, but I know — as do my children — that wherever we go there is space for them. If they come to a crossroads in life, they know they can return, regroup, and find their ground. They know they have a home.

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