By Reba Hull Campbell
Fifty years ago today, a young family moved into a house they had just built. Nothing spectacular about this. It’s an event as American as apple pie … a house in a nice quiet neighborhood with lots of kids. Friends and family members were already living nearby. It was close to schools, church, work and everything important to this family.
This house was special to me because it was my childhood home. It was standard 1970s ranch construction with a façade that exactly mirrored a home in historic Colonial Williamsburg that my mother loved. In today’s times, this milestone feels especially important because I am very acutely aware of the need for everything this house stood for – security, family, friends, comfort and familiarity.
Although I moved out for college eight years after we moved in, that house continues to live in my heart as my “childhood home.”
The word “home” can have so many different meanings at various times in your life. A childhood home evokes different feelings than your first young-married home. A retirement home is different from a vacation home. All bring about a variety of emotions, memories and feelings.
But one thing is for sure. A house isn’t necessarily a home. A real estate agent says he’s showing a “house” to a potential buyer, but that person will probably say he’s buying a “home.” The saying goes “home is where the heart is” not “house is where the heart is.”
A house becomes a home when its walls get covered with family photos, closets bulge with familiar items and stuff you can’t bear to part with, there are stacks of magazines around your favorite chair, and fuzz bunnies from the much loved dog thrive under the furniture. A real home has quirks and treasured spaces, favorite rooms lit for the morning sun and persnickety doorknobs that never work.
Relative to most people my age, I lived in only a few houses growing up. My parents built their first house when I was a toddler, and I lived there until second grade. We lived in a rental for a few months after returning from a 2-year stint in Virginia before my parents built this house I consider my childhood home. We moved there when I was in the fourth grade. Just about all the vivid memories I have of my growing up years are associated with that house.
The Williamsburg Christmas lights in the windows every year; first-day-of-school pictures in front of the fireplace; plays and beauty pageants in the downstairs playroom; prom date photos in the living room; the cool window seat in my bedroom where I wrote in my diary believing that spot gave me “inspiration;” the shelves that held my Mrs. Beasley and my Mme Alexander doll collection; photos with the cousins on the den sofa; the memories we made on the huge screened porch; the neat-as-pin attic that held boxes of photos, letters and grade school papers; milestone photos on the front porch. What I love and remember about that house could go on forever.
It’s funny to think that I lived there for only eight years before heading to college. That’s just a couple of blinks in my 59 years. When I moved to a dorm and then an apartment in college, my childhood home became more of a way-stop. Once I moved to DC and had my own apartments, more of my belongings went back with me every time I visited Columbia.
After I got married and my childhood room became the guest room, I started gradually thinking of my childhood home as my parents’ house. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but eventually it became a place to visit rather than a place where I lived. Although I will admit, until my parents moved six years ago, I still had a house key (which has now become a Christmas tree ornament). I’d come and go as I pleased and walked in without knocking. Even as an adult, I still knew where the forks went in the drawer, how to find a pair of scissors and where my mother hid her favorite nail file.
Six years ago, after 44 years in that house, my parents knew it was time to move. The yard and the house were more than they wanted to manage. The house sold quickly to the first family that looked at it. I know they would pick up the good karma of my family’s many happy times there. My childhood home became someone else’s home. But for some reason the date of April 8 as the day we moved in to that house has always stuck in my head.
I have stayed in touch with the family who bought the house. They let me know when mail still shows up for my parents. They’ve invited me in to see the renovation work they’ve done. They tell me about which of their children lives in my room. They’ve become part of the neighborhood fabric just as my family did. After the 2015 flood, they found several small mementos I’d left behind in that “secret window seat” space in my bedroom and returned these gems to me. They also discovered a piece of flooring where I’d carved my name when we first moved in. Today, 50 years after moving into that house, those are mementos I will treasure always.
Every house has its time to be a home. My home now is where I have lived with my husband and dogs for 25+ years. The sale of my childhood home didn’t mean the memories, photos, old friends and great neighbors went away. I’m lucky to have them tucked into a place in my heart that will always be with me.
But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to tucking some of those memories into several plastic bins containing old photos, letters, term papers, report cards and news articles that I couldn’t bear to pitch when the house sold. Maybe the gift of time from this virus crisis will allow me the luxury of culling through all of those old bins … or maybe not. Just knowing they are up in a closet of my house gives me great joy.
After more than 35 years working in communications, politics, management, fundraising and government relations, Reba is staying busy in her “retirement” teaching a class in the UofSC School of Journalism and Mass Communications and doing some freelance writing. Reba is passionate about travel, writing, learning to play the uke and keyboard, and staying connected with old friends. Reba can be reached at [email protected], @rebahcampbell on Instagram and Twitter