I felt melancholic as I opened the door to the beach house. At first glance everything seemed the same. The ever-lasting pothos plant that some people think is fake, the blue-patterned cover for the bench cushion I sewed thirty years earlier. The still life picture I hung just as many years ago. The familiar musty smell welcomed me as though I hadn’t been away.
I climbed the stairs and wished I weren’t the first one there. It was too quiet and Billie and Dub’s absence felt heavy.
I’d avoided going there because of how I might feel. It didn’t seem right for the house to be empty. Dub (Grandad) has been gone over three years and Billie (Grandmom) lives in a care facility. We called my in-law’s home the the beach house after someone said it the first time over thirty years ago. The name stuck, much like a person walks along a fresh path that becomes worn over time.
I missed the heavy kitchen smells and the hearty greeting from Dub. He’d call out, “Myra Jane!” as I walked into the living room. I loved that he’d given me ‘Jane’ for a middle name. Sometimes he’d say, “How’re you percolating?”
There was no dining table stretched out into the room with chairs squeezed in around it. No potted plant centerpiece on the table. No bright yellow table cloth, freshly ironed, with places set for family and friends. No applesauce with cinnamon and sugar. No pork roast, over-cooked.
I’d driven to the beach house to meet Tom and our kids that Sunday afternoon. We grabbed take-out on the way there like unsophisticated slugs. That was not Grandmom’s way. No vegetables, rice and meat would be served on a properly outfitted table. All etiquette had flown the coop. I think Billie and Dub would be delighted, though, to know their kids and grandkids enjoy their home even if we lack the refinement of earlier generations.
I first stepped into the beach house 35 years ago on the weekend of July fourth. It was the first and only time I was with Tom’s parents before our wedding. I was crazy about them right away, and I hoped they felt the same about me. Billie was a beautiful petite blond, obviously adored by her husband. Dub was tall and strong—he looked like the athlete he was. They loved to travel and camp and hike together.
They were the best in-laws a girl could have. They loved and accepted my two children as their own and acted like they’d won the jackpot.
Being there that Sunday brought sadness, but also new thoughts to mind. I realized that my relationship with my in-laws happened mostly in their home, among lots of laughter, lots of food and lots of Christmas gifts.
On that particular day, it struck me what a crucial role a home plays in our lives. A home is intrinsically good; an incubator of sorts, where family members enjoy nurture and unconditional love that propels them on to meaningful lives. The actual structure creates spaces where intimate relationships grow. If all goes well, home should be a little taste of heaven.
I realized that relationships birthed under one’s roof don’t last forever. As I grow older the time seems short and passes too quickly. We’ve created a few of our own traditions. I tell myself that these also will pass and must be enjoyed now. The Christmas games, dinners, polar plunge, summer adventures, ordinary playing on the floor with grandkids. Let me embrace and cherish this season.
I wish I had appreciated our beach house traditions more: the Sunday lunches, the conversations, playing in the park and going on long walks with Tom by the water. I more or less took them in stride—I had no idea what a gift they all were until now.
We become accustomed to things that occur over and over again. We act like a certain season will last forever, but it won’t. We should capture each special season and enjoy it to the hilt.
A house shouldn’t be just a container to make pretty for strangers. It should be functional for the family, and for friends who’ll visit. Homes shouldn’t be quiet and empty. Houses that are dark, dank and empty are sad. Houses need people, laughter, handprints on the glass, talking, running around, piles of dishes, piles of clothes and and some dirt on the floor. But these are the things I’ve fought hard against. The things that caused me to miss some moments. Why is it hard to focus on the present without pondering the future?
Is your home a vital space that offers life to family as well as friends? Why not fling open the curtains and let the light in? What are some tangible ways you can use your unique gifts to create a place of beauty and inspiration for others? Let’s not let the gift of today slip through our fingers.
Home, by its nature, is meant to be a foreshadowing of Heaven. It is both satisfying in the earthly life, while also offering a glimpse of things to come when we see the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of Heaven. Theology of Home