Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother, a woman beloved by an extended family and a member of the Greatest Generation. Funerals, if held at all, are difficult nowadays, and this one was no exception. With my face mask and spaced seating in the back of the partially filled chapel, I interacted with no one, shared no connection to the deceased with anyone. That isolation, however, gave me time to ponder the slide show on the back wall of the chapel where the woman’s 92 years of life appeared in patchwork images.
Like most offspring from the WWII generation, my friend spent his entire childhood at one residence, and the slide show featured that home prominently with family gatherings, Christmases, birthdays, and staged pictures out in the yard. I grieved for the end of that woman’s presence in that lovely house, the empty porch and yard and rose bed that would no longer receive her loving care. The house almost seemed a member of the family; it housed infinitely more than furniture and appliances.
Days later I still thought about that home and the people who filled it. The sense of place and setting in literature brought all sorts of quotes to mind. In her short story “Face,” Alice Munro’s main character says of his childhood home: “Something had happened here. In your life there are a few places, or maybe only one place, where something has happened. And then there are the other places, which are just other places.” A lifetime of things happening makes turning loose of homeplaces so hard for some of us.
I have written about that pain in my own life. Whether my case is abnormal or common to others who grew roots into the soil of their childhood, I do not know, but that homeplace remains with me as a person, a presence at times. Even now in advanced years, when I dream, the setting is often where I grew up. I may have a vivid dream about my colleagues or other people with no connection to my childhood, but in my dream, we will be sitting around my mama’s kitchen table or walking down to the creek where I played, my past and present linked to that place.
A house sits still and lonely on our road now that its occupants are deceased, the remaining widower having left this world right before Christmas. A friend and I talked about how hard it would be for the children of that couple to go into the home to take down the things the parents arranged and cared for, each item with a story to tell. Things happened there, lives shaped.
Years ago, we sold our first home here in Dudley Shoals, a double-wide mobile home where our daughter Emily grew to the age of 5 years. We emptied it out, and a big diesel truck pulled it away. For a long time after we moved into our new home, Emily kept talking about wanting to go see “my house.” She had lost her place. All her memories were in the setting of that home, and she grieved it.
I believe God put the longing for a permanent place in our hearts. We try to hold on to these earthly structures, yards and gardens, but they are temporary even if we manage to keep them for a whole lifetime. We leave them eventually even if they have not become lost to us. In John 14:2 where Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you,” he means a permanent place in heaven. As much as I loved Grandpa’s cherry tree at the creek and the giant oak at the spring and the porch steps where I sat listening when frogs peeped in March, my eternal home will be a greater homeplace of love.
I hope my friend finds a way to handle his mother’s estate and manage the lifetime of memories associated with it. He has hope of an eternal home. That is a comfort we all can use in all our temporary home places.