“My heart’s like an open book
For the whole world to read
Sometimes nothing keeps me together at the seams
I’m on my way, I’m on my way
Home sweet home.”
~Carrie Underwood, “Home Sweet Home”
It’s been more than thirteen years since my Gram sold her house, but I still remember it like it was yesterday – the way we all helped box things up, the way I sat at the kitchen table with my European History binder and studied for an upcoming test instead of going home to do it, the way we took pictures in every room so we’d have tangible reminders in addition to the memories painted in our minds. Thirteen years and I still think about those days. I still think about that house, with its aqua and peach floral sofas, its warm and shaggy rugs, its piano in the living room and its sliding glass door straight to the backyard. I think about the afternoons with Granddaddy and how he taught me to play checkers, about the evenings with Gram and how she’d treat me to ice cream with pretzels when I slept over, about how I could spend hours organizing her sewing box and looking through old photo albums. I think about eating chicken soup in the kitchen, watching Home Alone in the family room, and having countless holiday meals in the dining room. Sometimes the memories feel like fairy dust and I wish for the ability to toss them into the air, to watch them light up the sky like tiny glittering stars. In a way, that’s what they are for me: stars to illuminate the way.
So maybe it’s a little strange that I haven’t driven past the house since it was sold. The new owners actually told our family to feel free to drop by anytime, even if we wanted to come in, but I could never bring myself to do it, knowing how different things would look. I wanted to keep that image in my head of how it was, of how, to me, it should always be. My mom and aunt have both driven by over the years, as did Gram. But I just … couldn’t. Until two weeks ago. My mom and I happened to be nearby, and though she offered to navigate around that beloved street, I told her to keep going. I averted my gaze when we went by – the facade is almost completely different now and I knew it would upset me – but just being there … maybe this sounds strange, but I swear, I could feel Gram’s warmth. It made me sad, because I miss her so, but it also filled me with love. Home is so much more than the walls of a house, but sometimes their foundations can also be our own.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. So much of the book I’m working on is centered around home – what it means to lose it, to find it, to create it. Like several of my other characters, Eden has traveled from one place to another in search of the life that will fill her up, that will make her soul sing. She wants so desperately to have somewhere she belongs, and as I go on that journey with her, as I watch her realize that home isn’t what makes her, but what she makes of it, I’m filled with appreciation for the experiences I’ve had. For having so many spots that are home to me. For being able to close my eyes and think of different houses, different towns, different states that warm my heart. I hope Eden can find that, too. I hope Serena, who has escaped the walls that trapped her, can find it. I hope Wilson and his sweet daughter Emmalynn can. I hope the whole cast of characters can. I want them to so very much.
Being a writer really has made my heart into an open book. It’s cathartic in a way I can’t ever explain, especially when I get to incorporate pieces of my own story into those of my characters. Eden’s grandmother Lillian may live in a cottage by the water instead of a ranch house on the outskirts of a city, but the times they shared there when Eden was growing up … they are my reminder of times I spent with Gram and Grandmom Dot. And so I’m grateful to this book, to these characters, just as I have been to previous ones, for stirring up the magic and memories that live inside. Because for me, writing isn’t just storytelling.
Writing is home, too.