In May, I traveled from Montana to South Carolina, via United, and then to South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, via my mom’s station wagon. Those were not my original plans. But while I was in the South celebrating Brother Dear’s graduation from law school, Blackstone Farms, my childhood home, which had been offered for sale, went under contract. And so my parents finalized their plans to move to Montana, and closed on a new home near Whitefish.
Honeydew, being the keeper of my heart, knew without me even having to form the tear choked words that I needed to say goodbye to my home. And so he casually said to me, on the South Carolina beach just out of earshot of my nearest and dearest, let’s do your parents a favor, let’s cancel our plane tickets and go to Virginia and drive your mom’s car back to Montana so she won’t have to worry about moving it. And so we did.
Exiting the car at Blackstone Farms, the smells of the pasture and my mom’s peonies and the decaying pecans under the old tree and the house that was built in 1850 overwhelmed me. I longed to bottle the singular scent for nostalgic evenings in black Montana Novembers. Opening the front door for the last time, I toured the house as a potential buyer might, drifting from room to room, peering into each closet (oh, the Easter decorations closet! I wonder what became of our Easter baskets?), gazing out each window (remember when Brother Dear believed so earnestly he saw Rudolph fly over the pasture, and the three of us huddled in here, watching the red light trail across the December 24 sky?), and trailing my fingers over the banisters (I fell badly here when I was a baby. I chased Brother Dear and Howard up and down these stairs. I wound live pine garland around this balustrade. The wallpaper here used to be pineapples, the symbol of hospitality. I once thought I would float down this staircase as a bride). I sat briefly at the kitchen counter and mentally sorted through all the meals my mom had cooked for us on the old Jenn-Air. On the porches, I recalled kiddie pools and pumpkin carving sessions and steaks that dogs stole off the grill. In the yard, I saw that old swing set, long since taken down, where I fell from the rings and first experienced all the breath in my body being knocked from my lungs. Looking out towards the creek, I remembered hours spent digging in the mud with my brothers, cognizant of snakes and snapping turtles, but without fear. Under the blue spruce, I felt the sting of losing a dog that I loved dearly, sitting for hours into the darkness, calling for him to come back. At the stable, I thought I could still smell my first horse’s breath, sticky with alfalfa hay. In the cool garage, I felt the heat of the hot muffler on my inner wrist, as I hurriedly changed the oil in my first car under my dad’s watchful eye, ignoring his gentle instruction to wait until the car had cooled off. I still have the scar.
My brief farewell to the only home I’ve ever known was spent behind sunglasses, licking away tears. Not the tears that drown your heart and your ability to feel, but sweet tears that water the memories of a childhood that was a gift, and an adulthood that is able to recognize that.
Just six weeks later, we are redefining home here in Montana, as we adjust to the entire family being under one state’s flag again, with nearly all of our worldly belongings in one place. More readjustments should come later this week, when my parents’ moving truck is slated to arrive, a month after they packed up and left Virginia. The truck should be en route as we speak, and I have an odd mental image of the tractor trailer carrying the material detritus of my childhood. Is the table that I learned to properly set perched on top of the tractor that I once learned to drive, though I’ve forgotten how to start it? Is the picture of my darlin’ aunt Sissy holding me at my christening, which has sat on my dresser since I was born, wrapped in tissue next to the champagne flutes I sipped orange juice from on Christmas mornings? And are they tucked into the desk that I gripped for support when my parents told Brother Dear and I that the missing person in the fraternity house fire at Ole Miss was almost certainly Howard, that waiting for dental records confirmation was merely a formality, that each breath of our lives would be irrevocably altered from this wretched moment forward?
I will not, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, go home again. But I’m looking forward to meshing the old pieces of our life at Blackstone Farms with the new ones here at Hillhouse, and now, at my parents’ home just north of Whitefish. Home is where your mama is.
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