Home is empty, but memories endure

Wanted: Fun family looking for a house with character and charm.

Requirements: Must be willing to overlook the banister that may be a little loose from being slid on one too many times; to love the crisp smell of autumn that comes from being surrounded by century-old oak trees; to embrace the rustic brick steps I slipped on every spring; to explore the nooks and crannies that only homes built a few centuries ago have; to plan for family meals and game nights around the kitchen table; to wish for decades of giggles and memories.Abbey's Vincennes home at fall. Photo by Abbey Doyle

In December of 1987, the Brown family — my family — answered that want ad. We saw the seemingly giant 1800s white brick, two-story house, an historical landmark on one of Vincennes’ main streets, and decided this will be home. I’m not sure if mom and dad realized we’d be settled there for as long as we were — my whole childhood really — after moving several times over the previous few years. When I think about growing up I don’t think of any “home” but that one. When I talk about going “home” that’s the place I picture.

It’s where just about everything happened.

Sleepovers in grade school, with all of my and my twin sister’s friends, complete with silly rounds of truth or dare, popcorn and drooling over New Kids on the Block posters. I can still picture us all laying on our stomachs, slipper-clad feet kicking in the air, in a giant circle on the living room floor giggling while playing the silly games my parents had planned for the party. First teeth were lost in that kitchen, first kisses in the backyard, adventures making mud pies in the yard and messes out of Barbie’s hair salon in the bathroom sink — a huge chunk of my life happened there. My first fender-bender even happened there, when I backed my mom’s car into my dad’s car. Maybe that’s a memory better forgotten. …

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The old, Colonial home created its own headaches every once in a while — no central air-conditioning made for some pretty hot summers — but it was so much fun making up stories about different parts of the home, which has been featured in a few pictorial histories of the state’s oldest town. We would scare friends with ghost stories of Civil War wives pacing on the home’s Widow’s Walk, waiting for their husbands to return from war, or of spirits left behind in the smokehouse in the backyard that was once part of the underground railroad.

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And we were always finding (and then later digging and burying our own) treasures in the yard. Old railroad ties could be the key to just about any mystery of imaginative 10-year-olds.

Another charm of the old house were the 12-foot ceilings that you’d think would certainly be tall enough for any Christmas tree we’d find at a local tree farm. But every year we’d manage to bring home another challenge. I remember one year my dad’s “creative” solution to keep the tree upright included tying it to the indoor shutters. That was also the year that the shutters were pulled from the wall.

But the view of that gloriously imperfect tree overflowing with handmade ornaments from decades of crafting and collecting was amazing. I get teary-eyed thinking of it. What waseven more amazing was the fun that we had around that tree. Board games, remote-controlled robots, movies and, of course, lots of laughter. Oh, and egg nog.

The kitchen, once a cabin and later a stagecoach stop, is long with plenty of room for a big table. It was home to some serious family talks. But what I remember more from that table was passing the peas and “fighting” over the last crescent roll (I know how many you had dad!)

And memories of my dad, who took his last breath in that house, are all over the place. It’s like I can still hear and smell him when I am there; I can still feel him there.

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This house has been a character in the story of my life, a huge part of who I am. I’ve lived EVERYWHERE — from Bangladesh to Louisiana and Alabama to Illinois — but that house was always home. I knew it was always there.

But now it’s not. Well the house is still there, but our home isn’t. Right now this amazing house is sitting empty, a shell, because it’s missing its heart. It was time for the Brown family to move on. As hard as it was for me to see my mom sell it, I know it is the right thing for all of us. And I’m blessed — and stoked — that my mom has moved here, a mere 20-minute drive from me and my boys.

So now it is time for that amazing house to become a home again, for another family to breathe life into it once again and allow it to fulfill the purpose it has served for more than 200 years. It’ll be tough to see someone else’s things sitting on the front porch when I drive by, but I’ll be happy that my old friend can once again be a home.

One thought on “Home is empty, but memories endure

  1. A beautiful and moving tribute to you and your family! When we left our other home( where Erin and her siblings were brought home from the hospital after their births ) to move to the home where we now live ,which Erin’s dad designed and built, he became very emotional about leaving that house. I remember telling him that a house is just a house it is the people and their love for one another that makes the home. That love is now in your heart and your memories where it will always cause your to to have happy thoughts. This is a beautiful piece, of which you should be very, very proud. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! See you soon! Merry

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