Growing up, I lived in a whole lot of different houses, but I never really lived in a home.
There was one place, however, that always felt like home. No matter how unstable my life was, I always felt like I was going home when I went to stay with my Mamaw and Papaw Wilkey. Their home was the place where I always experienced kindness and unconditional love, and their modeling of those things influenced my life in ways I'm still figuring out. It was their love and their creating and maintaining a sense of home for me that, at least in part, helped me to push through the more unpleasant parts of my impoverished upbringing.
One week ago, Betsy and I walked into a local attorney's office at 9:00 am, and when we walked out a half hour later, we were the proud owners of the only house that was ever home to me. My aunt purchased my dad's share of the house after my grandmother's death, and the timing was perfect for us to purchase the house and property from her. In a few short weeks, we will bring our own child home to be raised in the same house that sustained me all those years.
While we are still working on moving in, I look around and see not just the symbols of the life Betsy and I have built together in almost four years of marriage, but also the artifacts of generations of love that came before us here. On the beautiful granite fireplace mantle sits the handmade Communion set from our wedding. Out in one of the outbuildings, there's still an old dog collar with my name and this address stamped on a patina'd brass plate, but the two dogs who reside here now don't hunt like the foxhounds of my youth.
I'm not sure what my Papaw would think of the boxer/redbone mix snoring on the couch beside me, and I'm quite certain that a few hours ago, I sipped the first beer to ever be consumed in this house. While I have come to live my life in a way that's much different than my grandparents - he was a mechanic and small business owner, and I'm a college professor and administrator, he was a Southern Baptist teetotaler and I'm a Lutheran - I realize that so many of the values I hold dear came directly from the days of my childhood spent inside the walls of this house and outside in the pastures and woods of this property.
As I look at the world around me, the world into which Betsy and I are about to bring a child of our own, I see so much that is amiss and out of sync. I see hatred and pettiness, racism, classism, sexism and misogyny, and so many other signs that things are not as they should be. But I also see love and kindness, and I recognize that love and kindness because it was shown to me inside these four walls.
When I think of all the things that are wrong in the world around me, I wonder how I have come to recognize those things, particularly the injustices, as wrong. The answer lies at least partially in the things I learned in this house. I learned that some people don't look like me, but I'm to love them anyway. I learned that some people have more than others, and that those who have more have a moral obligation to help those who have less. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that no matter how ashamed I felt of who I was, where I lived, and the kind of clothes I wore, and now matter how much kids at school mocked me for living in a trailer, I was still worthy of love.
When I was a kid, after a week of hell, when life was uncertain and scary at home, when I was sad and stressed from being made fun of for my cheap clothes and school supplies, or when I knew we were about to have to move to yet another run-down rented trailer, I could come here to Mamaw's house for the weekend and all was right in the world if even for a short time. I have come to know that it wasn't the niceness of the house or the better food that made the difference. It was the love that is so prevalent in this place as to be embedded in the very fiber of this house and this land. It's a love so powerful that you can still feel it reverberating here if you are still enough to notice.
Though my life looks a lot different than my grandparents' lives did, if we are able to raise our little one with the same values they instilled in me, we will send our child out into the world to change it for the better. I can't help but think that, by raising our kid here in this place, Mamaw and Papaw will be a part of Baby Aspinwilkey's life. I found my way back home again, and because of that, my child will be able to know this place as home, too.