It was in the middle of the course “Finding Your Style” that one of Rita’s questions arrested me. “Think back to your childhood home. What items or things did you love about that home?” I paused the video and sat in that question. Immediately a home came to mind but it wasn’t one of my childhood homes. I grew up in a pastor’s home during a time where it was normal for pastors to change churches often for absurd reasons like, “You’ve been here long enough,” “I’m offended,” “There’s a bigger church that wants you.” Reasons that had nothing to do with asking God what He was asking, so needless to say for years we moved a lot! I lived in ten different homes until I moved to Nashville after college and many of those were parsonages. Meaning, they were home’s the church provided for the pastor and not one my parents picked out or owned.
The first move I ever remember was when my dad was leaving a church in the Church of God denomination that he had pastored for six years in Greenwood, Indiana, to begin an interdenominational church in neighboring Indianapolis. He will tell you to this day that was a move he never should have made. That aside, I did not realize until we began packing up the house that my bedroom suite didn’t actually belong to me. It was the classic little girl white provincial furniture with the matching nightstands and dresser. I was devastated. For the entire time we had lived there I didn’t know that the furniture wasn’t ours.
“We’re not taking our furniture?” I asked, my little head trying to wrap around such news.
“No baby, this belongs to the church.”
“My bed belongs to the church?” Kids are so literal.
“Yes. They bought all the furniture and let us use it while we were here. But we will get you some more furniture.”
Even thinking about it now my eyes flood. It was heartbreaking enough to leave that church, but to leave my home and my furniture was a lot for my eight-year-old heart. We bought this small little ranch home until we finally found the land and home where we would settle the new church. All I remember is somehow, white provincial furniture showed up in my bedroom.
So, when Rita posed the question, my mind didn’t go to any of my childhood homes. It went immediately to one singular home that my first husband and I shared. We, too, moved a ridiculous amount. In thirteen years of marriage, we lived in five homes and three apartments. But even greater than that, because of his love for and work in interior design, our furniture revolved as much as our front door. Just when I’d get comfortable in a chair, I’d come home and it would be gone. About the time I fell in love with a sofa it would be recovered or would look better in a client’s house. There were pretty much only a few staples that I could be remotely certain they wouldn’t vanish, one being our bed. Why? Because of course he gave me a piece of furniture as a wedding gift and oh how I treasured that bed.
However, there is this thing about a woman’s heart. It is created to nest and designed in a way that it treasures security and safety. Moving a lot and playing musical coffee tables doesn’t do much for her heart. So, on top of our marital challenges, not feeling settled did a number on my heart as well. But there was one time…
In all those homes and apartments there was one that I loved. It would be the only one that would ever be completely finished. It wasn’t missing a dining room table the entire time we lived there like our home in Westhaven. It wasn’t missing curtains like most of the others, nor did it have an empty bedroom. No, this one was completely and totally finished. Every drapery, every rug, every piece of furniture. It was home.
However, it didn’t start off as a home I loved. It started off in a fit of crying and pleading with him not to move me there. Our first home was a three-story townhouse in an area of Nashville called Green Hills. He had made it lovely, but it was never finished. A friend helped us financially to be able to put the money down for the mortgage, and my husband felt he had found a place inexpensive enough that could help us pay back what we had borrowed, as well as have enough for a down payment. It was a great plan. But it was an utterly dismal house.
When we pulled up and I saw the outside my insides screamed RUN! At some point in its life, I’m sure the exterior paint color had been a sunshine yellow but it had diminished to a Grey Poupon. The aqua shutters looked like muddy ocean water and overgrown plants had almost taken over. Then there was the battered carport and a non-existent backyard.
It was in a very established neighborhood with wonderful families and great resale value, but the outside had already shut me down. The inside would seal me off. The foyer parquet floor welcomed us with a Brady Bunch vibe as it gave way to the yellow shag carpet in the dining room and the family room, and then flowed underneath the breakfast table. The other half of the kitchen floor was a linoleum in a shade that was too ugly to have a name.
Not one, hear me now, not one appliance in the kitchen matched. The refrigerator was white. The stove was green. The hood was yellow. The dishwasher was black. The countertops were a brown laminate with red duct tape around the entire perimeter. But wait, then there was the master bath. The master bath held the washer and dryer in the middle of the room. Right smack dab in the middle of the room. We then walked into the master bedroom that had been converted into the present owner’s painting studio. It had large fluorescent lighting on the ceiling with turquoise indoor-outdoor carpet on the floors and stark white walls, while both extra bedrooms had at least three layers of old Ralph Lauren floral wallpaper. Though that has totally come back in style it was not a hit at that moment.
I sat in a chair in the family room and cried. I mean tears shooting across the room cried. “Please! Please don’t move me in here.”
He knelt down in front of the chair. “I promise you it will be beautiful.”
“There is no way you can make this beautiful. Look at it!” I splayed my hands wide in case he was missing the 1970’s nightmare.
“I know it looks really bad. But there isn’t anything that can’t be changed and fixed and it will help us get out of debt and we can get in here with our own money.”
I buried my face in my hands and cried harder. Who doesn’t want to be out of debt? It was one of my greatest desires.
“Can you just trust me?” He asked. “Didn’t I make the townhouse look good?”
What was finished looked beautiful.
“I promise I can make this look beautiful and that you’ll love it.”
At some point sitting in that chair, I surrendered.
We worked tirelessly. We painted every wall. Painted every kitchen cabinet. Stripped every piece of wallpaper. Pulled up every bit of carpet. And when it was done even our mistakes turned out well. It would be the wall-to-wall seagrass that I would want to duplicate for years to come. It was the detailed Brunschwig and Fils patterned wallpaper with blue and white porcelain china on a yellow damask background that I’d swoon over. It would be the white claw foot bathtub in the master that I would spend the next twenty years wanting again. We moved the washer and dryer to the upstairs hall. We mirrored the entire back wall in the family room making the cozy family room look larger. We painted the outside a Nantucket grey with white shutters and changed the door out to a white painted pane glass. We even put up a white mailbox and redid all the landscaping. It was Hallmark worthy. He had totally kept his promise.
But it was also the sofa and the two side chairs. The mossy gray velvet sofa that your body simply sunk into and the two encasing club chairs with the floral Chintz (that I actually picked out) that my mind has never forgotten. As I have been away now from that house for over two decades, those items in that house have not been away from me. So, when she posed that question my heart remembered Cottonwood. It was those items that had shown me how you can take something so broken, so misplaced and displaced, and turn it into something warm and homey and life-giving. The years in that house held much internal pain. Our marriage suffered much trauma there. I even have a picture of me sitting in that exact family room on that exact sofa with a forty-year-old smile at the ripe old age of twenty-seven. It is a hard picture to look at. But that home held me. So much in that home held my heart through the brokenness and pain. In a way, differently than any other home I ever had.
Who knew, one little question could reveal so much…