“Home”. It can be a loaded word for military families. We search for them in unknown places, move into them sight unseen, fret about fitting our things into them, unpack and decorate in record time, fill them with our people and our memories, and then say goodbye to them over and over again.
I am pondering the idea of “home” as I am deep in the throes of purging, donating, selling, measuring, and doing all the things we do when we are weeks away from the movers coming. It is a time of coming face to face with all of my earthly belongings. It is a time of making hard decisions about baby clothes, rocking horses, all of the curtains, the frames that I haven’t had wall space for in the past six houses, the boxes I swore I would deal with three moves ago, and all of the things that in any other life I would be able to shove into an attic and forget for 20 years. It is a vulnerable time and one that I find brings about a sense of reflection on my many iterations of “home”.
Our first home. Runnymede Court. It was too big for just the two of us, but we didn’t care. We filled it with friends, laughter, too much wine, bad karaoke, and three dogs. It was in these four walls that we learned to be husband and wife. We had the kind of passionate fights only newlyweds are capable of, we leaned into each other and began to learn compromise. It was here we learned the pain of saying goodbye for not one, but three deployments. It was Hurricane Katrina and watching as he walked away two hours after the phone call. It was the “Surge” during Operation Iraqi Freedom that lasted 16 months. It was yet another deployment 11 months after he got back and five days after we brought home our first child. I learned what loneliness was as I rocked our baby girl in that sweet room we painted pink just for her. I learned what fear was as I looked out of the glass front door when the bell would ring, sure that this time it was the notification. I learned to feel the sweeping relief that comes when the plane finally lands, the exhale of homecoming as I welcomed him back each of those times. I planted hydrangeas in the front yard and a maple tree in the back. When I locked the door on Runnymede Court for the last time, as we followed the moving truck west, I knew I would never stand in the doorframe of that pink room again.
On to 4th Artillery Road. Military housing. We saw the value of the tight knit community that comes with on post living. I learned just how much a doorbell could ring. We learned how to walk through the aftermath of war. We learned each other again. This house saw us through hardship in our marriage, chasms that at times felt too daunting to cross. This house saw husband and wife fighting their way back to each other. We saw our firstborn walk, talk, go to preschool, become a big sister, have her first friends. It was here I learned how big love can be, and we became a family of four. For our sweet second baby we couldn’t paint the walls, but we did hang the pink curtains that would never fit another window. This time I planted hibiscus in pots so I could bring them with me when we left.
Next was Westmont Drive. The beautiful craftsman cottage with the eucalyptus tree and swimming pool. This home was a dream. My very first gas stove and landscaped yard. I planted nothing. This home held a mama’s tears as I prepared my first baby girl for kindergarten. It saw a husband work so much he may as well have been deployed as we struggled to stay connected. This is the home where I would bathe the babies after dinner, buckle them into their car seats, and drive them to daddy’s work so he could read them stories in the parking lot. We would NOT live like he was deployed. I learned that babies don’t keep as we got a toddler bed, then a big girl bed. We walked out of that shiny black front door in Elsa dresses and had dinner parties that stretched way into the night. The conversations in this home were deep. I learned the joy that comes when children are the center of a home. It was in this bathroom that I sat in shock with the positive pregnancy test two weeks after selling the crib. I learned to love even bigger as we brought home our son to that room we painted blue. I learned that goodbye doesn’t get any easier as I watched my husband stand over the new crib, saying goodbye, as he prepared for yet another deployment. I learned exhaustion. I learned my limits. This home held family and friends as they held me through the fourth deployment. I learned to let go, to pray, and to trust. I witnessed the inexpressible joy of two little girls seeing their daddy again as we welcomed him home. For the first time, I learned the sorrow of leaving roots that had begun to deepen.
Our next home was on Earhart Street. The home we could never quite settle into. In this home we learned the relief that comes from living driving distance from family. Grandparents came for weekends, for dinners, for Tea with Grandma, and football games. Here I was able to lean on my own people, get sick and have help, leave the grandbabies and go away for weekends with a husband who was finally home. We hosted Christmas and extended family came. We set up folding tables for people who shared our name, our history. I planted a butterfly garden. We packed up this home a mere 11 months after hanging the last picture on the wall, and I never got the see the butterflies come.
North we went to Tomahawk Drive. The home that still has my heart within its walls. THIS home. On post and far far away from anyone or anything we knew. This home saw me send my second baby to kindergarten and my last baby to preschool. This home is hard to capture in words. It held the presence of God in its walls as we said goodbye to our old man lab. I rocked that third baby in the last nursery I would ever have. I put orchids on the windowsill because it was always cold outside. This home exploded with joy; little girl sleepovers, friendships that went deeper than I could have ever thought possible, threadbare floors from praying knees, piano lessons, and a playroom that could finally fit the train set. I learned that iron truly does sharpen iron. This home welcomed women who were sending their husbands to war for the first time, and I tried to walk them through the pain of saying goodbye to theirs while I tried to figure out how to say goodbye to mine. Dreams were born and realized in this home. I found myself even as I kissed him goodbye for the fifth deployment. This home bore witness to the innocence of children who couldn’t understand where daddy went, why he had to leave. It held all of our tears as we waited in longing, holding our breath. I perfected the art of soothing nightmares, assuaging fears of death, kissing away so many tears. I saw just how many babies can fit in a king size bed. We all exhaled together as he marched off that airplane and back into our arms. A month later I stood in the doorway of that empty nursery and I never quite figured out how to say goodbye. I had to just walk away.
This time we headed south to East Bradshaw Court. The home that would become a sanctuary. Under the roof of this ranch house I learned that “blooming where you’re planted” can be harder than it sounds. I felt homesick for the first time. I found myself in a town I could not love, a community I could not build. I learned that you can be lonely even when he’s not deployed. This home saw the aftermath of too much war, too much separation. It was witness to all of the ways we tried to find each other again. These walls held apathy, anger, a love so deep nothing could break it. It saw a husband and wife cling to God in the hopes that He could heal what had been broken, that He could bridge the chasms that felt impassable. And He did. That red front door opened often to women seeking the Lord, we prayed hard, we leaned into our Creator, we did life together in a way not uncommon in these homes, in these communities. I created space on a back porch that was just mine amidst a million potted plants; a sanctuary that held Sad Saturdays and Lonely Sundays, lattes and glasses of wine, friends and neighbors. It is in this home I sit as I write this, my living room strewn with pictures as I organize for yet another move. In a few short weeks I will watch the packers pack away all of my earthly belongings and set my GPS north to our next home.
On Craig Road sits a beautiful house that I have only seen in pictures, the memories of its previous family still fresh in its walls. This house waits to welcome my family. It will see me send my first born to middle school and my youngest to kindergarten. There will be tears, there will be joy, there will be us. And that is enough to make it our home.