The story of home, or the holy place that raised me, starts when I’m alone in
my bedroom enjoying
the company of spirits.
It starts on the sloped balcony of the white house on St. Aubin street
that overlooks I-75, where
I look out as rain poured and wonder about the worlds sheltered
within the walls of
It starts in Esmont, Virginia, in the middle of a winding road named
Chestnut Grove, during Hurricane Isabel when my mother tells me
my infant niece was playing with the spirits of the
It starts with uproarious thunder and pouring rain and the
hypnotizing scent that follows
in the wake of the storm.
Thunderstorms cleanse. They release and wash away. The elements of air, fire, and water strike down upon the earth, opening portals of purification from the skies.
We witnessed many a thunderstorm in that old house. Huddled around candlelight once the power inevitably went out, we watched the trees shake and bore witness to the beautiful process of shedding leaves from March to November. We were in constant need of shedding because you can’t bring anything in until you let go.
The old house held all that was released. It carried the weight of worlds in its warped walls.
I grew up sleeping next to rooms of weeping women, each of us finding comfort in our solitude. Preserving strength with doors left slightly ajar, open just enough to funnel in steady streams of soft light.
I grew up in colors, bright walls of deep grass green and soft peach that reeked of decades of cigarettes, yellow aluminum siding under a red tin roof.
I grew up in bittersweetness, tears punctuated by cackles.
I grew up on linoleum floors, where I wept against the coldness learning how to exhale without opening my mouth. I grew up in a house that had been made a home long before I arrived.
I grew up in this house that would one day become a shell with my mother, sister, grandparents, and niece. When my grandparents first arrived to call it home, the mid-twentieth century dwelling was too new to have any spirits of its own, besides those of the hands that built it. My family was free to imprint memories all their own. The house collected snapshots from past Revival-weekend family reunions, the sadness and gossip that followed deaths between the cornbread and collard greens relatives brought to wakes.
“Damn, that ol house held so much,” my mother said to me a few months ago, a deep exhale.
“It sure did,” I agreed. From the sweat of humid summers to the flaky skin of mild winters that ol house held all of us.
Above the hot tin roof, cats did acrobatics. It started one day when a three-legged calico pulled up, her belly turned outward with kittens. After gazing into the cat’s lonely eyes, my grandmother didn’t have the heart to turn Sheeba away and so, the cat stayed. She ate and played and birthed and raised her dozen kittens. More strays started to pop up in search of food and a sturdy roof upon which to rest. And since we never had the heart to turn any of them away, I grew up with a dozen cats.
My grandparents had always been known to open their door to passersby in need of shedding, the harmless winos and kind-hearted drug dealers, single mothers, and suspected root women. To them, sheltering stray cats, and ordering their house to accept those creatures along with the pains and joys they carried, was no big deal. The house, from its inception, understood its purpose. To hold and cherish anyone who passed through its doors, to see them through to the other side of whatever threshold they had come to cross, it was love work.
The house held its family through Christmases, Easters, and Thanksgivings where there was never enough but somehow always plenty; through Sunday evening gatherings after the church services they never attended; through weeks-long power outages caused by hurricanes and windstorms and the occasional midwinter’s blizzard; through visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses and unopened Watchtower magazines left to pile up on the doorstep; through unpaid bills and a thousand phone calls from their relentless collectors. Suspended above the wood-burning stove in the dining room, swirled a collected pool of “in-need-of-fixing” energy.
The house held secrets, too, like when the phone lines got tapped by the Feds, forcing my cousin to bury his stash along the yard’s wooded perimeter, my shiftless uncle following right along behind him to retrieve the goods. The house held loose hips and looser lips, Brown skin pressing together after hours lubricated by Evan Williams that could have gone down smoother. The house held the weight of my grandmother’s undiagnosed postpartum depression after the loss of her ninth child. It collected sisterly squabbles and faded photos of the cousin I never met, Yvette, who disappeared one day twenty-five years ago and once visited me as I slept in that very home and said: “Tell them to let me go.” The house archived the duo dance parties my mom and I would have when the storms didn’t come fast enough. It held the rage we let out on the grown ass men who tripped somewhere and hit their heads and thought it was a wise decision to come at the Morris women. It held the muffled insults of cars driving by and the woodman who tried to rip off my mom after she refused to go on a date with him. "Crazy bitches can rot in yo ol raggedyhouse," he yelled as he left that house running and was neither the first nor last man to do so.
All this love work took its toll on the house. Broken records, busted hot water tanks, my grandmother’s dementia, my grandfather’s failing body, our combined sorrows.
As its lovers began leaving and it began letting us go, the house’s decay hastened.
My grandmother left the house in 2002 with her passing.
The hot water tank passed away not long after,
followed by my grandfather in 2005.
The spaces between the wood boards began drifting further apart.
Tiles upended and paint chipped once the porch pillars started to tumble.
I left in 2012 when I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, for college.
The roof above the energy pool at the wood hearth started to sag when the floor
beneath the toilet began to sink.
My sister and niece left in the summer of 2016, which left my mother there alone to hold down that crumbling house and all that it had held up. Last September she moved into a shiny new apartment. The house had served its duty well. It knew it was time to release its last love.
By then, the doors we once hid our tears behind barely closed.
But that old broken-down, raggedy, love-wrecked house’s back never gave out on us.
My mother returned to the house to retrieve a bed frame two weeks after her move. The dozen cats she had left in the care of her brother who lived next door, were dead and gone, poisoned by a neighbor who decided to unleash his own kind of cruel release. The cats had left with the rest of us.
A house is not by itself a home but together with that old raggedy house, we created a beautiful one. An enduring home that had kept us safe and sacred, and now it was time for every one of us to move forward and cross the threshold.
Today, that old broken-down, raggedy, love-wrecked house still stands in the middle of a winding road in the backwoods of central Virginia named Chestnut Grove, taking His last breaths | the sweetest release.
And to that ol raggedy house that contained us until we gained the strength to fly, I pen this love letter. I thank you for your service and I regret that I couldn’t see how much magick you held until you were empty.
Brotha, you are the holy place. A heaven on earth. And I know that when you finally fall, you will do so with a rainbow above your head.