A House Becomes Home



Twelve years ago, my husband and I went in search of a new place in which to sink our roots. Fate and circumstance drew us to New Hampshire, to a “for sale” sign on a quiet hilltop. I fell in love at first sight with its open fields, tumbling stone walls, and the intimate, ever-changing view of a wooded valley and two gentle mountains that I envisioned as the backdrop to all our days to come.

Certain we could fix up the sagging, uninsulated cottage, I began to build my case. My considerably less-enchanted husband surveyed the mildewed, bat-infested structure and wondered if I’d lost my mind. “You’ve ruined our life,” my eleven-year-old son said. Within days of signing the papers, I was afraid he might be right.

In short order, we moved into that cottage and moved out again. My husband had called this one: there was nothing there to save. We settled in with my parents, who lived nearby, hired an architect, tore the old place down, engaged a builder and slowly erected a new house. By the time we finally carried our own furniture across the threshold, three years had gone by.

“Home” during those challenging years wasn’t an address; it was wherever we were together. Our family’s nomadic journey taught me that only a small part of home has to do with the house itself. Home is really about how we choose, over time, to imbue a place with meaning.

Home isn’t a six-burner Viking range. Home is the apple pie you bake for a grown son’s homecoming, and the juice that runs over onto the oven floor, filling the kitchen with the scent of burnt cinnamon for weeks after he’s left again.

Home isn’t the wide-plank pine floors you agonize over in a showroom. It’s the tracery of marks left by the dog’s toenails; the golden color the wood has turned with time; the dark, ineradicable ring by the fireplace where the Christmas tree stand leaked, unbeknownst to anyone.

Home is knowing better than to plant basil before June, and then harvesting the fragrant, leafy stalks some hot August afternoon and making a dozen jars of pesto to stash in the freezer. Home is about staking the peonies in May and stacking firewood in November. It’s about inviting friends for dinner on the spur of the moment and using the good silver, just because. Home is the pink geranium on the windowsill, oranges in a bowl. Home is your long-gone grandmother’s crocheted afghan on the back of the sofa, a friend’s painting on the mantle, your favorite novels on the coffee table, reading glasses in every room.

Home is knowing that the haven we all seek is already at hand. It’s the argument averted with a hug. It’s a joyful reunion and the sweet pain of parting; the promise of acceptance and the solace of forgiveness; a whoop of laughter and a quiet place for private tears. It is the sweet, familiar sound of a loved one’s voice rising and falling in another room.

Home is holding hands and saying grace when every chair at the table is filled. It’s getting used to a new chapter, one in which the children you’ve raised take their leave and create new homes of their own. Home is about adapting to life’s inevitable challenges and losses. Home is about learning to dwell in the present moment—in faith, in gratitude, and with awareness of what lasts and of all that is precious and fleeting.

A house is built. But a home is created, the small details of ordinary life accruing, moment by moment, day by day, and year by year into the stories, myths and memories that make us who we are. In the end, home isn’t as much about where we live as it is about how we live.


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