I’m writing this post from the sky. The plane is taking me away from my family, but back to my husband. Far from sadness and close to my comfortable life. The longer it flies, the more I feel the distance between myself and the first 24 years of my life.
The past week was really rough. What was supposed to be a trip to just help my parents move became one also centered around spending time with my precious grandmother, who had a significant stroke three weeks ago. That is a different post for a different time, but it made an already emotional weekend even more so.
I have so much to process through, leaving behind the home I grew up in and watching my family change dramatically in one weekend … so to start I’m mentally walking through the home I grew up in, pausing in certain rooms to remember what they meant to me and say goodbye to them. The amazing thing about this process is that all of us kids took turns living in each of the bedrooms. It was like a puzzle: who is coming home from college? Who is moving away for a long period of time? Who has their own house? Who is moving back home with their family in tow? Who only needs a room on the weekends? We all made our own memories in each room and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Disclaimer: This will probably be the longest post I ever publish. And honestly? It’s for my family. It’s so we have something concrete to look back at and remember our life together in this place. I won’t be offended if you don’t read this and I can’t promise it will be the most riveting post in the world. But it’s my memories and there is nothing more sacred to me.
First up? The driveway. I would not be surprised if I have run that driveway almost a million times. It is one tenth of a mile long, which made it the perfect place to train for soccer every summer of college. I would lace up my sneakers at 5:30 am and march to the end of the driveway with chalk in my hand. I remember sweating the second I got out the door—Pennsylvania humidity in the summer is no joke. I would pace off 20 yards, 40, 60, 80, 100 … I already knew that the long stretch in the middle was exactly 200 yards. And then I would run, over and over and over again. I won hundreds of mental battles against myself on that driveway. Seeing it always made me smile.
Moving inside to my first memory of that house … There is little nook underneath the staircase in the kitchen. As of late, it’s been used as a play room for my three-year-old niece and nephew. But the first night we moved into that house, I slept in there, under the stairs, pretending it was going to be my room forever. Me and my then six-year-old sister Becca were crammed next to each other, drooling in each other’s hair and snoring into each other’s faces. Eventually, the boxes in our room were cleared out and we moved into our bedroom…
For the next three years, we shared bunk beds in that room. To clarify: Becca’s was the top bunk which she slept in approximately four times. She was terrified of absolutely everything so we slept with both closet lights on and her slammed up against me on the bottom bunk. In that room I remember having the first of many marathon phone calls with one of my three fourth-grade boyfriends. (The boy craziness started early in the Horning household.) I also remember dancing to many an *NSYNC song (our favorite was “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You” if I remember correctly). Later in life, after it turned into a guest room, I snuggled and whispered with a boy after my senior prom (read: Mennonite banquet) while all of his guy friends slept on the floor around us.
When I was 12, my oldest sister Katie went to college so I moved two bedrooms down into her room. I remember thinking that maybe some of her coolness had stuck around in that room, waiting for me to claim it. That room was where I learned to sleep in the dark, put on make-up, and how to spit into the water while brushing my teeth so the sink didn’t get gross (thanks, Ben). I went through braces, puberty, and eventually college in that bedroom. My friends called my bed “heaven” because it was so comfortable. I went to two different colleges each year, which meant moving every semester and summer. That room was my only stable place for five years. Right before my senior year, I moved into the sunroom which was converted into a bedroom.
The sunroom is the room I laid awake in, wondering what would happen after college. That was where I went to stay when life got too loud. It’s also the room my mom walked into at midnight the night before I was moving to Africa when she said, “Rachey, I know you’re not very excited to leave, but you really should pack … ” It’s the room that was waiting for me when I came back seven months later, more uncertain of the future than ever before.
The sunroom is next to the formal living room, where the family sometimes gravitated after a meal when the conversation was just flowing. The beautiful baby grand my mother bought for me more than 15 years ago sat there. The shelves used to hold thousands of photographs in the incredible and thoughtful scrapbooks my mother made. The room was regal and I probably spent the most time there out of anyone in the family, banging out the same songs over and over. Everyone else was annoyed but I could always hear my mom humming along, even during my 100th attempt of the day.
The dining room is where we spent countless evenings as a family, singing “God is Great and God is Good” before dinner, with my mom harmonizing. One thing the Hornings did not skimp on was family meals. My parents were very committed to them and I so appreciate that. I laughed more at that table and in the kitchen next to it than anywhere else in the world.
The kitchen was where the action was, but not just because that’s where the food lived. It’s because it’s where you could always find my mother. When she was home, people want to be around her. We would stand at the island for hours talking to her while she cooked and baked, or we would hop up on the counter she wasn’t using and make jokes until she paid attention to us. I learned how to bake in that kitchen, mostly from watching her do it. Though she was always making food for us, she also made food for everyone else. Patsy is the queen of taking people food. That kitchen is where I learned that if you don’t know what to say to make someone feel better, you just take them cookies.
My mom made so much food that there was a second kitchen in the basement. That refrigerator was full of what I call “the good stuff.” If we ever had a party, the leftovers got stored in that kitchen: soda, pie, pudding, cookies, cake, chips, ice cream … do I need to go on? There was nothing better than coming home from high school and eventually college and digging through that kitchen looking for a snack as I watched reality television and fell asleep on the couch. My sister Mattie and I spent many nights down there, watching TV and eating until we fell asleep. Well, she would fall asleep and start snoring and then I would throw pillows at her.
The basement is where the parties happened. For every holiday, my aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids would gather around the tables and we would all eat until we couldn’t move. The men would go outside to smoke cigarettes and talk about golf and eventually they would come in and pass out on the couches in front of the TV. The women would graze on the candy my mom always put on the table while they laughed and told stories. One would get up every couple minutes to wash a dish or refill her coffee mug, but mostly I just remember laughter. And all of us young ones would run around in the racquetball court to burn off our sugar high. We played soccer, basketball, and just about every variation of either game. We did that on holidays for more than 10 years, until we all had too many children to fit under the same roof. In the summertime, the parties moved outside and we sat around the pool or got in. We would barbeque and play sports and again, we would laugh.
You haven’t heard much about my dad because he stuck to his own territory. A deeply introverted man, he built the house and laid out the property with his need for space and quiet in mind. My memories of him inside the house are few but rich. He would spend hours rebounding for me in the gym downstairs, teasing me about how I always used two hands for the outside shots and explaining in detail the importance of making your lay-ups (I still miss all my lay-ups).
He watched sports in his little nook outside his bedroom at night. When I played the piano in the room next to him, he never asked me to stop. And every Saturday and Sunday morning you could find him in his library, surrounded by genealogy books and my mom’s Lori Wick collection with a sprinkling of Clive Cussler and John Grisham novels. He would sit at his desk with his glasses on and his coffee cup on a warmer next to him, drawing unbelievably beautiful and creative homes with his mechanical pencil and graph paper. I like to think of those mornings as the basis for my entire life: the time spent there and those drawings provided for my family and fueled my father’s passion and creativity. Those mornings showed me what hard work and dedication looked like and also that money isn’t worth making unless you love what you do. Those mornings grew my own entrepreneurial spirit, slowly weekend by weekend for the entire span of my life. They are what I want my company and life’s work to embody.
My dad’s most beloved place was outside. He created what we called his personal Machu Picchu in the woods behind our house. He built gorgeous rock walls one by one and planted flowers along the path, creating an oasis for himself. He did his hardest thinking out there while working with his hands … I think of everything about this place, he will miss this work the most.
Outside is also where I vowed to stand by my husband for the rest of my life. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to get married at my parent’s house. It’s the one place that was always constant in my life, even after I left. I always had a bed and a meal there. I could always count on someone I loved being inside. When life got hectic, it was the place I found peace. When I was sad, it was the place I found laughter. Getting married there was never negotiable—it was literally the only option in my mind. The bedroom and bathroom where my mom used to braid my hair was where we all got ready for my big day. The hill I practiced soccer on was where I said, “I do.” Travis and I were photographed on the same porch where I stood for photos with prom dates and with my family on the first day of each school year. The yard I rode our 4-wheeler through each day of every summer was where we all ate and drank and danced that night on September 24th almost four years ago. I can’t express how valuable it is to me that all those memories are now wrapped up into one.
So though these photos show you a stripped version of this house that has always been my home, I want to remember each room as it was for almost 20 years. Full of my family: their voices, their tools, their laughter, their memories.
This may seem overly sentimental for just moving from a house. And it’s fine if you think that. But it was so much more than that to the seven of us. It was this place where we could be completely us, whenever we wanted. We were spoiled rotten by that freedom and I hope we find a place to be “us” again.
Sidenote: the “us” I’m referring to is perfectly depicted below. My mom found all her old glasses and absolutely insisted we get a photo of all of her kids wearing them. We still have no idea why, but we did it and laughed the whooooooole time.
I have found solace in the fact that the memories don’t disappear just because my family isn’t there anymore. I will take every relationship that grew in that house with me into this next phase of life.
But for today, I’m just going to be sad and maybe cry a little until I feel better. Who wants to bring me cookies?
I’ll bring you a cookie! Or come over and we’ll make some! I could soak up these words and pictures all day, they are so moving and beautiful. I can see it all through your description and It’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen. Thinking of you today friend.
Oh my word…nobody told me I’d need tissues! Thanks, Rachel, for the perfect description and pictures of our past 18 years! Well written and I appreciate your kind words! (I’ll send you cookies!)