The Allure of Home

by Audrey Hingley, Contributing Writer

Audrey Hingley

“There’s an aspect to materialism that has to do with possession for its own sake, as if the goods we own are a measure of who we are. But there’s another aspect that has to do with attachment to objects themselves long after they have ceased to serve their original purpose in our lives ...”

             Richard Bode, First You Have To Row A Little Boat

I drove past the house, barely believing my own eyes: The house still stood, but it was a smoldering, charred hulk, its insides awash in ashes and burned debris. By the time I drove the few miles home, numerous messages clogged my voice mail bearing the same report: “Your house caught fire!”

It was no longer my house and had not been for years. After Mama’s death and my father’s remarriage, I tearfully watched the last vestiges of my childhood home being carted off by total strangers at an estate sale. Daddy rented out our former home for awhile; then, tired of being a landlord, sold it. Daddy is gone now, too, as is his second wife.

Like others fortunate to grow up in a happy home, I thought my childhood home was the most wonderful house in the world. Built in 1949, the compact brick bungalow was about 1,300 square feet. My father confided that he could have built a much larger home, “but we would have had a mortgage!” My parents saved for 15 years to build the house debt-free.

Two large magnolia trees flanked the front of the house, while two large maple trees did the same at the rear. Our lot was small but my grandparents’ 40-acre farm was a short walk away. Until my grandparents’ death when their farm was sold and morphed into a subdivision, there were only a few houses nearby.

The living room, dining room and kitchen flowed into each other. A floor furnace straddled the dining room and hall leading to the home’s sole bathroom. My parents’ front bedroom was large and airy; the smaller rear bedroom was mine. The walls were block and plaster, and the floors were hardwood.

A screened front porch adorned the face of the house, with another small screened porch in back. I loved the tall, white-painted cabinets that anchored walls surrounding a white porcelain double sink in the kitchen. My father added two additional rooms by finishing off the second-floor attic. The detached brick garage and carport out back were adjacent to the small plowed-up patch of land that was our annual summer garden.

In the summer we enjoyed thick slices of cold, garden-grown tomatoes on bread with mayonnaise, to me the choicest dining delicacy. We sat on the back porch amid cooling breezes, shelling green beans and listening to the sound of cicadas. I loved catching “lightning bugs” in the twilight, marveling at their luminous glow in a Mason jar with a lid of holes allowing air to keep the mystical creatures alive. In the fall the leaves turned golden and the air cooled, but the house’s welcoming presence never changed.

A few years ago I gathered the courage to knock on the door. I had gone from room to room, documenting each part of the house with my camera, before Daddy sold it. Now I wanted to see it again. A single mother, along with her son and mother, were tenants; they’d always wondered whose house it had been. The kitchen cabinets remained the same, but otherwise the house was very different.

After the fire I went to the house again and took as many photos as possible. (The tenants, thankfully, had escaped the fire unharmed.) I visualized Mama’s tear-streaked face as she stood at the rear kitchen window whispering, “They’re burning my home place down.” When her parents died and the family farm was sold, the local fire department was allowed to set her childhood home ablaze to “practice” their skills. Eerily, I finally understood what witnessing that must have been like for her.

As work progressed, one day I could actually see the house’s original wood sub-floor. I realized this is what the house must have looked like as my parents watched it being built, full of their own young dreams.

Friends asked, “Why don’t you just remember it as it was?” I couldn’t explain why I wanted to see the fire-ravaged house that is no longer mine. Another friend suggested retrieving a brick from the house as a remembrance. When I managed to locate the owner for permission, I learned the house would be restored.

Continuing restoration has totally changed the look of the house. All the trees but one are gone, as are Mama’s azaleas. The second floor was demolished, the new floor extended to provide more square footage. The back porch was enclosed and the front porch has stately pillars.

What is it about this bricks-and-mortar, physical thing that so draws me? I know home is in our hearts, not in a physical place — but the allure remains. Today’s mega-houses, filled with all manner of upscale amenities, can’t touch the warmth of that small bungalow, filled with kindness and love. It is no longer mine, but I know I will possess it for all my days.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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