The Last Homely House

My travels have taken me to faraway lands where I have stayed in British castles and Spanish palaces, but I would like to share with you the place where I enjoyed the most peaceful night’s sleep.

The house is small and unadorned. It sits inconspicuously among many similarly shaped residences like one of many daisies in a pasture. The road sees little traffic and lies near the outer reaches of a no name Midwestern city. There are no crowds lined up and noisily jockeying for preferential treatment. There are no tour buses filling the street and blocking the view. Few people take notice of it and the front lawn remains untrampled. That is the first beauty.

Step inside and one is immediately greeted by cozy surroundings. No grandiose hallways. No awkwardly stylish furniture. Just plump and welcoming chairs and walls covered with memories. Everywhere you look there is something to behold, something treasured with love. The kitchen is tiny, cluttered with the makings of wholesome food, the bedrooms are close at hand so tired feet have not far to walk, and a single bathroom humbly serves the needs of all occupants. There is no coat closet for, truly, how many coats does one need? There is no study for all such work can be done in the solitude of the bedroom or the community of the living room. A narrow staircase makes use of attic space, and another leads down to a cave-like basement. There is no need for high-tech intercoms, everyone is always close at hand. That is the second beauty.

The house is situated on a rich piece of land that is deceptively small in the front and opens up in the back to support much that is green and alive! A small driveway and matching garage provide just enough room for tinkering with car engines on a muggy summer afternoon. The sky stretches over the house and the passing clouds alternately bathe it in shadow and light. That is the third beauty.

The gruff old man and his gregarious wife are what make the house a home. Able to make anything with his calloused grease-stained hands, the quiet man speaks volumes with his eyes peering at you from atop thick-rimmed glasses that have slipped down his nose. The wife busies herself with creating good food, warm quilts, and stories that make her whole body laugh. That is the fourth beauty.

I must now confess that as a young child of privilege, I recognized none of these beauties, though I had several opportunities to do so. Instead, I dreamt the American dream of a monstrous house: able to eat an entire paycheck with a single gas bill, offering long impersonal hallways, and laughing boastfully at the neighborhood.

And yet, there is one night in that homely house that made a lasting impression. It was one of those warm Midwestern nights, especially dark because a summer thunderstorm had crept overhead. The gregarious wife had set up a cot by the front window, which she left open so the warm breeze could blow in. The bulk of the storm had passed and after a few last flashes and distant rumblings it began to softly rain. The light sound of the rain on the leaves outside, the gentle breeze, and the warm homemade blanket created a magical effect that I shall never forget.

And so, on nights when I lie awake troubled by anxiety or fear, I simply remember the last homely house* and that one stormy night.

Dedicated to Uncle Doug and Auntie Muriel.

*Another name for the paradise of Rivendell in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

© 2003 Jon Andreas. All rights reserved. Written January 2003