The gravel road pounds at the underside of the car as it slowly weaves between trees in the shaded underbrush of the wooded area. The car rounds the last bend and the little white house is fully exposed, nestled in a field of tall grass and aging trees. A deep-set front porch wraps fully around the structure, with a screened in area to the left. The paved brick walk makes way to the black double front doors that push open into the living room. To the right, a set of stairs leads to three bedrooms, and to the left a kitchen.
Mid-summer light envelops every crevice of the house filling the small spaces and creating the feeling of a vast amount of space. The ceiling looms above, high with delicate molding running around the edges. Black accents catch the eye throughout the open area – the banister, doors and black window panes above the sink in the kitchen.
My parents, Nora and Mike, spent two years designing this space, meticulous to the T – with every piece of furniture dear to them having a carved-out nook somewhere within the house. The search for the “perfect property” started a few years before the architectural design. Returning to North Carolina was an obvious choice, my father was born and raised in Chapel Hill in 1955. He tells stories of running around the city with his older brother playing basket-ball and getting into trouble. For him the return to North Carolina is a way of coming home, back to the roots of the place that raised him – while leaving behind the place that raised my siblings and me.
A move is kind of like having a kid, my father writes in his blog, “500mileblog”, there’s a long run-up, a lot of expectation when you’re busy but nothing much really happens. In the event: one moment you don’t have a child, the next you do, and life is changed forever.
My parents created a home for the five of us in Summit, New Jersey. They moved from Manhattan in the Fall of 1989 after my older brother, Davis, was born. Purchasing a house that once served as a doctor’s office and adding their own touches. Dulled yellow walls, a new master bedroom, larger kitchen, a nursery. Over the next 11 years Davis was “gifted” with sibling after sibling. Until little Tucker arrived on February 25th, 2000, and our family of seven was complete.
Upon entering the house, we were always greeted by the smell of my mother’s meals. Whether it be her “mommy tenders” recipe or a classic spaghetti and clam sauce, every night all seven of us sat down together. On the walls of the upstairs hallway leading to each of the bedrooms were neatly hung pictures of my siblings and me throughout the years. Black-and-white portraits taken by my mother’s oldest childhood friend that displayed our growth. My childhood bedroom stood frozen in time with flower-printed-wall paper and a bunk bed. Designed to fit both of my sisters, it rarely strayed far from the original design.
Walking in on 8 Devon, we knew. Moss green woodwork, green shag carpet, a small dark avocado green kitchen, pink, grey and peach bathrooms, vacated doctor’s offices.
Today, our first family home, is being renovated by the new owners as my parents focus on living out a new dream. The little white house in the field is not quite done, it’s taking longer than anticipated to build from the ground up. It smells of fresh paint and hard wood, new and unusual smells for me. A home where the unfamiliar lurks around every corner. A welcome change for my parents but a sad loss for my siblings and me.
Some elements are the same, what once was our kitchen table is now in the dining room. The couch that was a dull brown is now a deep grey. The blue and red fish plates we ate off of every day sit nestled in draws still used for daily dishes. The painted picture of five bears that Davis picked out as a young child to hang on the kitchen wall, is now the first thing you see as you walk up the stairs to the second floor. Pieces of my family history linger throughout the house – dulling the feeling of unfamiliarity that hits me every time I walked into this new space.
You can measure it in years or in milestones, in children raised, promises kept or in dreams deferred. It stalks you like a shadow, pulls up a chair at the table next to you like Banquo’s ghost.
In the years leading up to the anticipated relocation of my family my parents started a blog to document the ongoing process and keep interested parties informed. It is called Five Hundred Miles Blog, because it is just about 500 miles from our home in New Jersey to the new house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They documented every day trips down to the building site and the emotions that came with a drastic life change. Family and friends all over took pride in being a small part of this long journey. Each post told part of our family history while tying a part of this new life to it.
Leaving a house where you’ve lived for 27 years and raised five children is an emotional experience for sure, but it has a physical element as well.
In June, my parents’ closest friends held a surprise going away party, and all my siblings came – from Colorado, Vermont and New York City. I was asked to give a speech and while writing it, the inevitable dawned on me. My parents had given me a unique gift a village of people from their many walks of life that was there when I started mine. From neighbors to old friends there was always someone there – the hardest piece of my childhood to let go. Within the group were multiple sets of second parents who kept us all sane within the big family. The people who raised me and spanned across homes and towns to create a village for the seven of us.
Within the little white house there is a mix of new and unfamiliar elements along with what has always been there. Entering the new house does not seem as strange as one might think. There are constant reminders of the life that we have lived. Home is a compilation of moments and memories that cannot fit into the confines of a single space. And five hundred miles is really not too far.