They say home is where the heart is… but when you live alone, what makes a house a home? When I moved into this three-bedroom rental property eleven months ago, I filled it with furniture full of memories. My grandmother’s dining room table, bookshelves built by one grandfather, the desk on which my other grandfather wrote his sermons, a painting by my great-grandfather, the bedroom set I grew up with on Cross Road. In the fall, I decorated it. In the winter, I hosted parties in it. In the spring, I planted my garden in front of it.
But this summer, with my nieces’ first birthday fast approaching and their party to be hosted in my backyard, I realized I’ve made my house into a home for one. A week ago, the backyard was still full of logs and mulch remains from the hundred year old oak that fell on Valentine’s Day and contained not a single seat! I’d never spent much time out back, but surveying the land resulted in a project to do list of epic proportions. While the inside of the house and the garden are lovely (one friend says it looks like a dollhouse), there was much to be done to make it a home for the thirty some guests coming this Friday.
Wednesday, I found a patio table and chairs on sale at Lowe’s and spent several hours pressure washing six hand-me-down lawn chairs. Thursday, while I assembled the patio table and painstakingly painted the lawn chairs, my landlord and his wife brought over a tractor to haul off the last of the tree. Friday, I installed outdoor carpet atop the decaying cement back steps. Saturday, I began painting my front porch and weeding out the long-forgotten back garden bed until rain halted my plans. Sunday, I tackled the rest of the bed and the mulch that now carpets a quarter of the backyard. Yesterday, my friend Kyle surprised me by nearly finishing the porch painting project while I was gone. By one o’clock this morning, I had finished deep cleaning the house inside and out.
Aside from the major undertakings, there were a few inspired smaller details. I added a butterfly bird bath to the front garden. Auntie Cherry embroidered burlap with my last name and gifted me with it on a metal stand for the garden bed. My friend Angela bestowed me with potted blue hydrangeas that match my front door wreath; her creative contribution allows me to move them to wherever the porch gets rays of morning sun. With Kyle’s labor, they are also a beautiful compliment to the blue-grey deck paint. It never ceases to amaze me what a fresh coat of paint can do to bring neglected things to vibrancy, like the front porch and the lawn chairs out back.
Pulling into the driveway tonight, I was greeted by beauty that begged me to walk its grounds. My garden thrives, my front porch invites, my backyard welcomes, and my little white house pleases me. The visible improvements applaud my labor and encourage my sore muscles. Even my landlord approved, saying, “The love bungalow appreciates the beautification!” The love bungalow… an odd pairing to describe a dwelling that houses only one.
If only the search for someone to share my home with was as profitable as my efforts to improve it. After another unsuccessful date on Thursday night with my fourth potential suitor, I found myself recycling a text message used to amicably part ways with my first one. Over the past several days, I have received at least a dozen notifications from eHarmony that various men are interested in getting to know me. When I first started online dating and received one of those alerts, I dropped whatever I was doing to log in and check out the potential husbands at my disposal. But this week, I found myself dismissing the notifications and continuing on in my painting, weeding, and working.
Why? I can offer some guesses, but at best it’s a combination of the disappointment of the last four dates immediately following the excitement for what might be and the pressing party that demands the best of my attention and focus. My sister-in-law, niece, and nephew from South Carolina come tomorrow to stay with me through the milestone weekend, and my parents arrive in town on Thursday. Friday night will bring a host of friends and family together in this house to celebrate the growing lives that brought me here to Hampton in the first place. One can’t blame me for putting the unknown sea of online dating on hold for the known land of memories-in-the-making with those dearest to me.
This very moment, I’m enjoying the benefits of the beautification, and I’m struck that it’s not my own labor that brings me joy as I write. The embroidered piece from my aunt is in front of me, the hydrangeas from Angela are beside me, and the painted porch from Kyle is beneath me. When you live alone, what makes a house a home? It’s not the furniture or the garden or the fresh paint… it’s surrounding yourself with memories of the people that you love. I’m alone on the front porch of my “love bungalow”, but I don’t feel alone. My friends and family are represented in the furnishings and décor.
My garden thrives, my front porch invites, my backyard welcomes, and my house pleases me because it’s more than a dwelling. It’s home. It’s where my heart is. My grandparents, my parents, my siblings, my friends… they surround me from my first step onto this porch every time I come home. And on Friday, when those still living who are physically present get to share my home with me, we’ll make a multitude of new memories to keep me company every night that follows when I am again alone in essence but never really alone.
My mother gave me a journal covered with butterflies and flowers, and the quote on the cover reads, “Faith plants the seed. Love makes it grow.” I assumed she chose it because of the butterflies, as anyone close to me knows my affinity for butterflies. Butterflies and flowers will be the theme of the twins’ first birthday, and it’s well-chosen. Butterflies symbolize transformation. Flowers symbolize growth. Certainly, the girls now one year into life represent these two abstract concepts perfectly, and we’ll celebrate that in three day’s time.
But tonight, I’m celebrating the faith and the love. In faith, I have planted seeds. In my garden, yes, but more importantly, in family and friendship. And those nearest to me have planted seeds in my life. What has made this house grow into a home has been their love shown to me in gifts and gestures and time. The love bungalow is a symbol of my own transformation and growth. Those eHarmony suitors can wait a few days… because this home is where my heart is, and I’m far from alone. This week, I’ll reserve my excitement entirely for a tangible affair with loved ones where disappointment knows no place.
I bought a new welcome mat with one word surrounded by butterflies and flowers: “Home”. Yes, it is.