5: The Story People Who Live with Me

5: The Story People Who Live with Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

The Story People Who Live with Me

Whenever I go on a trip, I think about all the homes I’ve had and I remember how little has changed about what comforts me.

~Brian Andreas, StoryPeople

We walked into the empty house carrying garbage bags filled with clothes and shoes, big plastic tubs of kitchen paraphernalia and armfuls of bedding. We had no couches, no beds, no television. We arranged our blankets and pillows on the floor of one of the bedrooms and put our clothes in the closet. I carefully unwrapped the flat wooden pieces from the towels I had transported them in, lining them all up on the linoleum kitchen floor, looking at their familiar faces. I felt the warmth of happy memories spread across my skin and couldn’t help smiling. My son and I walked from room to room, carefully deciding where each of them should be hung on the bare walls. When we were finished we sat on the kitchen floor, ate our Chinese takeout and took some deep breaths… a familiar ritual we had repeated over and over and over again… sixteen times to be exact.

Sixteen homes in fourteen years, twelve of them in five states since the death of my husband when Jackson was a toddler. This is certainly not the vision I had for his childhood, moving from place to place as work and finances dictated. Over the years, we went from being financially secure and stable, living in a sprawling Mediterranean style home in San Diego, to renting two rooms in a friend’s house in Vegas to now being in a sweet little rental cottage built in 1865 on the border of New York and Connecticut. Thankfully, our life is now on an even keel and Jackson and I are both starting to feel settled in our new hometown.

Our nomadic existence is a far cry from the way I grew up — going from kindergarten to high school with the same group of friends. Living in a handful of places — mostly in the home that had been my grandparents and then ours — I had a strong sense of where I was from, home and family.

Through all of these moves, I have looked for ways to create a sense of stability. Little things that we could have with us no matter where we are that would mean “home” to us. For me, the answer was found in a series of brightly painted characters made from old Iowa barn wood by an artist named Brian Andreas. Each piece has a whimsical, amusing and often wise saying stamped on a multi-colored background. My first “Story Person” was a wedding gift. It read, “He loved her for almost everything she was, and that was enough for her to let him stay for a very long time.” That began my love affair with these StoryPeople. Over the years, the collection grew into a community of happy and heartwarming friends that my friends and family have been kind enough to add to for milestone occasions — the birth of my son, our first home, my thirtieth birthday. They have accompanied us from one place to the next — the sometimes only familiar part of the décor. They have become our calling card — our announcement to the new address that we have arrived and are going to stay — even if only for a little while.

After the first major downsizing experience, I had to put almost everything we owned in storage. All of my furniture, my mother’s china, my husband’s surfboards and every piece of memorabilia you can imagine, are still in a storage unit the size of a small airplane hanger in Vegas, waiting for the day when we can all be reunited. As much as I would love to be surrounded by all of the wonderful possessions I have accumulated, I can honestly say, there has been a beautiful simplicity in living without them.

As we went from California to Vegas to Vermont — we picked up a couple more family members: our two dogs Gandhi and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (yes, that is the name on his nametag). The four of us have become our own little portable community — happily and hairily pitching our tent wherever fate has landed us. We have also added a few more items — some photos, a Bob Marley wall hanging, some hand-painted mugs from the local ceramics studio in each place we have lived. Each of them creating a sense of familiarity and connection that has helped us on our journey. As soon as we got the keys to wherever we were going to be living, the StoryPeople were the first personal items to go in. From the big beautiful homes we were fortunate to live in, to the one bedroom apartment in San Diego, to the rooms above an old bed and breakfast in Vermont. Our traveling companions hung proudly on otherwise bare walls. They became our anchor, our familiar surroundings (thankfully very portable) and confirmation that this place was ours.

I still look forward to the day when we have a more permanent address and can rescue all our possessions from their dark existence in storage. Although I will be excited to have them back — it will undoubtedly feel like Christmas — I have learned that I don’t need them to create a home. Our family of StoryPeople has stood by us through good and bad times, adding the worn-in comfort of a favorite pair of jeans to what would otherwise have been cold, strange surroundings. It amazes me how such simple things can create so much warmth and a sense of security. Of course, the most important ingredient in creating any home is love — and that we have always had in abundance — no matter how large or small our place of residence has been.

~Joelle Jarvis

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