As is sort of custom for us, when Russ and I were left home on our own while Jonathan traveled to a conference in Orlando last week, we took off to go spend a little time with my parents down in the Lowcountry. Only this time, it was going to be a very different visit in the sense that we were going to a completely new place. Mom and Dad just recently sold their house (the one I spent my teen years growing up in) and built a new place further outside of my hometown of Conway (SC).
Now the other night, Jonathan and I were talking about all the places we’ve lived. Jonathan has lived in twelve places in his life and I’ve lived in seven (counting college dorms and apartments and the like in this tally). My parents brought me home from Conway Hospital in March of 1984 to a small one-story house on the corner of 701 South and Live Oak Street in Conway. Later, when my brother was born, we moved to a larger one-story brick ranch on the corner of Betty Street and Johnson Street in south Conway. And then when I was 12, my parents began building their dream house in north Conway on Windmeadows Drive. I remember right off the bat one thing I loved about this house was the high ceilings – Betty Street had what felt like such low ceilings (they might’ve even been 7 ft. or so, I can’t quite remember) and the house on Windmeadows just opened up over you and felt like a breath of fresh air. It was a house filled with light and color (we’d never had walls with color on them, only white and the occasional spot of faux paneling). And then there was also this brand new experience of having “New House Smell.” It’s this heady combination of drywall, new paint, and sawdust. Oh man…what a great smell. Probably not good for you, but I sure dig it.
Anyhow, the whole time I was packing for this little jaunt down to Conway, I legitimately knew that I wasn’t going to the Windmeadows house this time, and that I wasn’t going to be there again. But at the same time, my brain wasn’t really buying it. It was as if part of me was still saying “Yeah, yeah, okay. We’ll go have this nice time at this so-called ‘new place’ over by the river, and then next trip, we’re going right back to Windmeadows.” I wasn’t really getting it. But then I had to drive what felt like an eternity beyond my usual turns and stops in order to get to the new place. And it was really new. Not laid out the same, didn’t smell the same, didn’t feel the same. And I only went into Conway the last day we were there – the rest of the time, I was much closer to Coastal Carolina University, the hospital, etc. But I really loved the new house – it just didn’t feel like home the way the Windmeadows house did.
In truth, Conway stopped being my home years ago. When we first moved to Greenville, I said I wanted to go back, but that sentiment is gone now. Greenville is home and I don’t have any interest in ever returning to the Conway area or Myrtle Beach to live. But Windmeadows always felt like a safe place because it became a safe place when I needed it most. I was a teen back in the years before sexting, Facebook bullying, and the 24/7 teen contact cycle that cell phones, internet, and 4G connections have brought about. When I arrived home the day after being called fat, ugly, a whore, a slut, or having my feet pulled out from under me on the staircase at school, it felt like everything outside of the walls of that house bore some sort of poison towards me. Windmeadows was the safest place to me on those days. If for no other reason, I will always love that house because it was more than just brick and mortar – at least, on those kinds of days. On those kinds of days, that house was a fortress and I could finally breathe a little once I was in it. And it was always like that – I moved away and got married and all that, but with the house you grow up in, you can always pick back up where you left off. It always still feels a little like home.
Last Thursday night, on my last night in Conway, I finished up dinner with a few friends and headed back to the new house. But I took a detour and drove by the Windmeadows house. I drove down Graham Road, and it hit me that I won’t be running there again. I won’t head out and do my standard 4 mile loop, down Graham, over to Trinity, down to the railroad tracks near the elementary school and back to the house. The neighbors won’t be the Soucys anymore – they’ve been neighbors of ours my entire life, both at the Betty Street house and then again at Windmeadows. We won’t do anymore bridal or baby showers in this house (it was the perfect house for showers, and we did so many there). Not to take anything away from the new house, of course – it’s just, this is where I did all my growing up. It’s different.
Past the sign and into Windmeadows, I came around the last corner and saw the big white house there. Big red door, which my mom painted in order to help sell it (the red is fabulous). Everything looked exactly the same, feels exactly the same. I should’ve been pulling in the driveway, but I knew better.
There by the front door, a thin woman with a sandy brown pixie cut was dusting the springtime pollen off of the red paint. A pretty woman, but she couldn’t have been more antithetic of my mother and her long, dark hair. A car was parked in the driveway that looked nothing like my dad’s truck. It was one of those moments of adulthood when you realize that you’re not going to be any more “home” by being in one location, but rather by being with the people you love the most, the people who understand you the most. The house that my mother used to live in back in White House, Tennessee when she was a single mom is now a Verizon store, so I guess she really has a firm grasp on this concept. Rather than having just a nice family inhabiting the house now, her old place is filled with electronics, people, a “check in” station, and sometimes overzealous sales associates. I guess I should count my blessings that the Windmeadows house isn’t something really depressing like a dentist office. But it was weird and alien to see the house being lived in and cared for by someone else, nonetheless. With my family there, it was glowy and romanticized. But seeing some stranger there on the porch, it became just another porch, if that makes sense. For a moment, it felt like every memory in that house was suddenly just hanging out there, with nothing to ground it.
My mom reminded me shortly thereafter that she’s lived in enough homes now that she doesn’t care anymore about the Windmeadows house itself than she did the Verizon store (which, incidentally, she partially burned down after a bacon-grease fire – fun trivia about my mom). And I know she’s right – I already feel a little of it in my own life. Though I didn’t voice that in this conversation with mom, she always knows what’s in my head (this is how she kept tabs on me as a teen, coupled with the eyes in the back of her head of course). She told me one day this house (my house in Greenville) that I hate so many things about now will one day be a place that I love and sometimes long for. A simpler time from a lower budget life. The only place Russ has ever known as home. She reminded me that we are not the walls we live in, but the lives we lead within them, and that this is what makes a home truly great.
I’ve started saying these past few years that I really feel more at home in Manning (where my parents lakehouse is) than I do in Conway, and I believe that is still the case. If there weren’t family and friends there that I’d like to see, I would probably never go back to the Conway area. So, no, I’m not “sad” that the Windmeadows house is sold and gone. I’m just cognizant of the fact that another chapter is now closed. And I guess I’ve just always been a bit of a sap about closing the book up.