Old Houses and Heartful Homage: Mama Taught To Seek More Than Just Shelter – by Jesse Wolf Hardin


Mama Taught To Seek More Than Just Shelter

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

I often think about my precious mother, years after her passing, and especially the attitudes and behaviors that most characterized her… things like her great joy in the process of creating as well as her seeming inability to linger and savor what she had created or accomplished, the unfortunate penchant to endlessly migrate but also the meaningful ways she felt about the various places where she stayed.

She had barely moved into what was to be her last house when her uterine cancer reappeared, and yet she never regretted using up the last of her meager assets to make the requisite down payment… not even for a second!  She rationalized the move as a way of situating her  closer to a hospital and advanced medical care, but more than anything else she wanted a larger space for all her pretty collectibles and artsy second hand furniture.  Neither convenience nor size were factors.  As with each of her many previous transitions, she had been looking “not for a house” but for “a home.”

There’s no doubt that even a brand new doublewide mobile can be such a home, as soon as it’s furnished with one’s treasured belongings, and decorated with the personal touches that mark it as our own.  And a structure becomes enriched whenever it’s filled with laughter and gratitude, and its energies deepened once blessed by the holy-water of its residents’ tears.  But Mom had always preferred either unique handmade houses or else the really old ones, thick with memories, marked by attention and love.  Such as converted barns and Victorian bungalows.  Spanish ranch houses and adobe casitas.  Gingerbread cottages for enchanted grandmothers, with trellising gardens and glad teasing flowers.

And it’s much the same with all vintage houses.  Whether a hundred year old East Coast structure with its basement and attic or a moss covered Oregon fishing shanty – we usually experience a “take off your hat and lower your voice” kind of reverence when we first enter.  Once inside we can feel the accumulative emotions and moods of the previous generations of residents, sense their own devotions to place in the handiwork in each board and brick.  Weathered oak floors polished by the shuffle of sock-clad feet, tongue-and-groove boards reflecting the busy shifting images of families growing, dying, and giving birth.  The fence rails absorb the sweat of little hands reaching up, as well as crippled hands struggling for a helpful grip.  They soak up and then radiate with the intentions and dreams, loss and gain, love and anger, desire and satisfaction of those who have called it their home before.  You can take out all the heavy wooden furniture and the dark floral drapes, the faded woolen rug and the leaded glass light fixtures hanging from the center of the ceiling, and bring in bright acrylic pile or modern art with aluminum frames – and still an old house will resound with the echoes of its history.  Repaint the walls as you like, but something of the past will continue to show through.

The last house that Mama bought was a New Mexico adobe that had been more than a shelter for the preceding generations, and it proved to mean far more to her as well.  Like every other building she had ever lived in, it quickly became her refuge and her castle, her consolation and her reward.  Her playground and her kingdom, her service and her glory.  Like all truly good things, it made her not only more happy but more grateful.

Perhaps this could be the real definition of the word “homage”:  honoring the source of all blessings, through the reverence and care of one’s own home.

(For a personal exploration of related issues, consider enrolling in the Anima “Sense of Place and The Search For Home” correspondence course: www.animacenter.org)

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