I spent so little time in the place of my birth that I had almost no chance of getting to know many of my predecessors. So, when a distant relative once produced a box of photographs, I remember peering at the slightly familiar faces.
We have this human custom... we expect people to smile and look at the camera. I don't know if my grandparents and their cousins were given flawed instructions, but their visages were stoic and unflinching.
One face in particular stood out. She was a beautiful woman with piercing eyes. The photo was colorless and so were her eyes. I asked my dad, "Who is she?"
"She's my favorite aunt." he replied.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"She was a bit eccentric... maybe a bit mean... but I thought she was great... and she always liked me." he responded.
My father is not one to elaborate. If you press him, though- he will. When I asked about her eccentricities, he explained that people had memories of her... and who she might have become had she not taken a tumble down the stairs as a child. The fall had changed her. If the temper weren't enough to chase the suitors, her other foibles would set her fate. My father's aunt would never marry. She had, what we now call, early-onset Alzheimer’s and she spent the bulk of her adulthood in a nursing home. When others would arrive she could hardly recognize them. But with my father she would beam.
And she would remember him.
I'm convinced there is a tender reservoir within our souls that collects these memories. Like a shoebox of photographs of long forgotten people, it can be brought out- if we so choose.
These emotions are stirred by the subtlest things... the smell of campfire... a cool evening breeze... the lilt of a song we haven't heard in a very long while... or hearing an old expression rescued from a bygone day. We have the capacity, as if from nowhere, to feel something powerful and familiar.
We have memory- and, even among those who are ravaged by a disease that robs them of that very capability... there are those lucid moments when long forgotten stories present themselves from the recesses to the forefront.
I realize that I've been rambling... but a insist, I have a purpose in bringing this up.
I became a real estate agent for a reason…. and it is this:
There is something hallowed about the word "home".
I'm not talking about the materials that create edifices in various sizes and shapes.
I'm referring to the place in which we create memories.
In my life, I have called more than three dozen places “home”. This is not uncommon for those from military families. We would pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. Sometimes it was an adventure and other times a hardship.
I created a secret tradition back then.
I'd always leave something behind.
In California it was my lucky feather that I tucked underneath a loose floorboard. In Tennessee- a valuable baseball card that I buried beneath the surface root of a large tree. In Texas there's a buried hardbound copy of "Hoop Crazy" - a book that I wanted to finish but felt a need to treasure up. The list is longer, but you get the picture.
With each intentionally discarded keepsake I left behind in my childhood, I had every intention of coming back some day to retrieve each one.
Much later I discovered that they held more significance by their remaining behind.
These days I spend a great deal of time looking at homes that have been lost to foreclosure.
I see the treasures left behind... many of them, I'm certain, unintended.
It saddens me to see the forgotten artwork in the closet... where a young one drew a stick figure girl and her pink dog. I see the garden in disarray- mostly a collection weeds. These are the lost treasures of a residence- once a home, but now a house.
Then I put it all in perspective.
We are all of pioneer stock...
…Descendants of persons who sacrificed.
Many of those who came before us brought with them a paltry sum with which to start anew. They scraped together what they could for passage to America.
My predecessors came from Sweden and the British Isles. They removed the rocks and trees from the cold Illinois soil to plant anything that could take root. Through the toil of their labor they built homes and raised families.
It is true, as well, of your forbears. Each of them found a new home in which success was never guaranteed… but they had optimism that their efforts would be rewarded.
A few thrived and a few had set-backs.
Those stoic faces- captured so long ago from camera lens to paper, only to be stowed away on a shelf, spring to my thoughts when I see the empty homes that once held memories.
Yet... I know this much: home is wherever we choose to make it.
It can be in the rental home that fits the current income... or in the apartment near the park. Along the path of my career, I've seen people move upward- into residences that give them more space. I've seen people move laterally... albeit from another part of the country- to a new environment. I've also seen those who are downsizing. For many of them, they see this change not as a setback... but as a positive challenge... a time to re-trench or to prove to themselves that they will make the best of the situation.
If I've learned anything through all my moving it is this: We can always start over.
Everywhere we go we can find opportunity- and people who will have an affirmative impact on our lives.
As an agent, I am privileged to see the strength and resolve of those who are equal to the challenge of a shifting economy… and it makes me proud to be associated with those whose spirits cannot be broken.
So- here's to the memories- from the distant reminiscences that are trapped in the recesses of our fading recollection... to the fresher ones which are at the kernel of creation.
We are, each day, building memories… and I feel it a pleasure to serve those who allow me to be a part of helping them find their new home.
Chuck Willman is a real estate agent who, for the past twenty seven years, has been proud to call Arizona home.
Image “Old Family Photos” by Jean Scheijen