The Stuff We're Made Of
October 11, 2016
“Sara often thought afterward that the house was somehow exactly like Miss Minchin. It was respectable and well furnished, but everything in it was ugly; and the very armchairs seemed to have hard bones in them. In the hall everything was hard and polished—even the red cheeks of the moon face on the tall clock in the corner had a severe varnished look.”
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Do you look like your home? What does the stuff inside say about you?
I recently drove up to Colorado to help my in-laws prepare for a big estate sale. We spent all week sifting and sorting our way through each room, closet, and drawer as I called out: “KEEP-TRASH-SELL-OR-DONATE?”
The sale was a lead up to THE BIG MOVE. They have purchased a home near us in Texas and will be making the move once they sell their current home. So we were on a mission!
Now, call me crazy, I LOVE TO MOVE!!! I find the whole process cathartic, cleansing and I get giddy just thinking about the fresh palette that awaits me in that new home where I can’t paint on our personalities to make it our own.
Frances was also excited her first BIG move from England to America when she was just 16 years old.
They were excited for the move, and approached it with a
“delicious sense of adventure and wild, young, good spirits and fun.”
The One I Knew Best of All, Frances Hodgson Burnett
When she and her family arrived in New Market, Tennessee, it was at the end of the Civil War. They were dirt poor living in a small log cabin, surviving that first winter only because of the kindness of neighbors that Frances called “graduating angels”. It was only when Frances began to make a significant amount of money, that she chose to spend the majority of it on her homes and travel.
Now, Frances was not one to sit still. She moved many times over her lifetime, sometimes living places only a few short months to years. She owned and rented homes in Knoxville, Washington, New York, Paris, Bermuda and England, just to name a few. And I am sure each home reflected her personality and state of mind at that time.
The Boston Herald described a house in Washington on I Street that she owned for the early part of the 1880’s.
“Her home is tasteful and at once recognizable as the abode of culture–comfortable rather than luxurious. On the third floor is the “Den” fitted up in the answer to her own fancy with heavy hanging and dark, rich walls. In the center of the room stands a large table, upon which is a handsome antique covering. Here is ample evidence of work–piles of manuscripts, books, letters, etc…
In the Den are cozy easy chairs, each with character and history. An open fire, a rack ,and an old brass tea-kettle indicate agreeable possibilities. Everywhere there is something suggestive in the way of a relic or souvenir. It is a very personal place and each article has to it’s owners mind a pleasant association–paintings, drawings, bric-a-brac, flowers, and an old piano….A small circle frequently passes the evening with music and conversation here…”
I’m not sure there could have been a better description of Frances if they had tried. Frances knew her homes so intimately, that each became just another character she could tuck into her hat and weave into a story somewhere down the line. They all had unique personalities.
In another letter, Frances mentioned a home she rented in Berkeley Square from Lord Burghclere.
“I have never dreamed it could be possible to like another person’s house as I like this.
I can construct Lady Winifred and her husband from their books,
their pictures and their perfect taste.”
Our homes do say a lot about us, don’t they.
My in-laws homes have always been warm, inviting and full of people with a drink in one hand and something delicious in the other. Their dinner parties are famous for gathering people together…and it’s reflected in their home that centers around the big kitchen and long, well used dining table. Their home is filled with pictures of family galore…family by blood and the many they have taken under their wings and made to feel like family. They are “gatherers” and their home is a gathering place.
As I continued my mission in Colorado, calling out the questions again and again to my mother-in-law, “KEEP-TRASH-SELL-OR-DONATE?”, I began to notice what she was holding on to the most: People.
She didn’t care if something was pretty or how much she paid for it originally. It’s value seemed to lie in how it related to the people she loved. So as we went on, I began to instinctively know the answers to my questions, “”KEEP-TRASH-SELL-OR-DONATE?”.
KEEP if: people she loved gave it to her and it held a special memory. This could have been anything from something brand new from a special friend, to an old blanket her son carried everywhere and of course personal photos.
KEEP if: it can be used to GATHER people she loved together again. This included anything used to throw a BIG dinner party and holiday decorations.
My father-in-law followed a similar pattern. He held on to all things hunting, which connect him to his father and grandfather who have both passed, and connect him with his son and grandchildren today. His ‘stuff” too, is really about his people.
I drove back to Texas with one of the treasures I found in all of the sifting and sorting. My son is going to love me, I think, but my new passenger (minus the curious kitty) seems to be hogging the conversation the whole way home.
And now I am back in Texas, sitting in MY house, wondering what it says about me?
Does it reflect who I am, what my family stands for, what we love?
And why are my daughter’s shoes still in the middle of the living room?
And how did a green bean get under there?
My home is not a perfect home. It’s a home that is well lived in and a home well loved in. It’s warm, comfortable, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is centered around family, filled often with friends, and has big picture windows that let the outdoors in.
Yes, perhaps our house does reflect us well.
And just like our home, our family needs consistent upkeep, regular cleanings, and emergency repairs. And when our lives get too crazy, our house reflects that too, with sports equipment and socks dropped everywhere, dishes left in the sink, and a pile of laundry the size of Mount Rushmore.
But a home is not about all of that “stuff”, it’s about the people inside, not the paintings on the wall. And I love my people, because they alone are what makes this home.
Off to tackle Mount Rushmore and pick up that green bean,
FHB and Especially Me
P.S. I had this family picture above taken of us this Winter, doing what we love to do: Making breakfast for dinner with the eggs our hens laid, bacon from a wild boar we harvested, bread I fresh baked, and a bottle of our favorite Spanish wine Clio. This…is…home…to me.
LET’S CHAT ABOUT IT:
Do you look like your home?
What does the stuff inside say about you?