48: A Place of Love

48: A Place of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

A Place of Love

Home makes the man.

~Samuel Smiles

Home. The word kept running through my mind as we drove along the dusty road deeper into the country. All around us oak tress drooped in the sweltering sun. I peered through the dust at the little farmhouse we were nearing. It stood alone at the end of the road, looking more tired than I felt. I swallowed a knot of fear in my throat.

My mom had moved us to California in search of a better job. We lived close to the beach and I woke up each morning to the smell of salt in the air. It had been great, but then my mom’s company closed and we had to go back to Texas. I was okay with that, happy to be going home, settling into the city again and returning to my old school.

But my mom told us that the cost of moving had eaten up all our savings, and she still hadn’t found a job. That meant we couldn’t afford to rent an apartment in the city, so we had to stay with someone until we saved enough money to get our own home. Then she told us the real shocker. We’d be living in the country with our grandmother, whom we’d never met before.

Stepping onto the creaky porch, I put my suitcase down and looked at her. She was a tiny woman with white curly hair. She smiled when she saw us and began speaking, but it was all in Spanish so I couldn’t understand her. My mom smiled back and said, “Your grandma says welcome home.”

As I opened the screen door and went inside, I couldn’t imagine this place being our home. The farmhouse was the only home within miles of anything. It was a dilapidated four-room shack that smelled of dust and mildew. Everything in the house was old, including our grandmother. We’d never met her before because we lived far away in the city. I didn’t know how to feel about her.

My mom carried my youngest brother inside and put him on Grandma’s bed. Grandma stood beside him and stroked his head, singing to him. Although I couldn’t understand what she was saying, my brother seemed to like the song. She turned and gave each of us a hug. Her arms were thin and bony, and when she moved she moved slowly. I was afraid she’d break.

That night we lay on blankets on the cold wooden floor. I heard all kinds of noises I’d never heard in the city. Strange birds called out in the darkness. Crickets and frogs chirped and croaked. I heard sounds in the wall that I guessed were mice. I shivered under the blankets and moved closer to my brother. This was in no way the place I’d hoped to come home to.

That first week we all got a crash course in farm living. You get up early on the farm, and I mean early. Grandma showed my brother and me how to gather eggs from the chicken coops behind the kitchen porch. I got pecked by more than one angry hen. Mom and my sister helped Grandma in the kitchen, and as I stood throwing feed at a horde of clucking, scratching chickens, I shivered and wished I was anywhere but here.

Grandma showed us how to care for her kitchen garden. My hands got raw pulling weeds and hauling buckets of water to the screened-in garden. We finally got a break after lunch, and my brother, sister and I wandered around. We found a turtle in the grass, and built a house for it from scrap wood. When we showed it to Grandma she smiled and nodded. I was actually happy as I sat down to a great tasting chicken dinner that night. That is, until my sister leaned over and whispered, “This isn’t chicken. Grandma took our turtle and fried it. Grandma told Mom it was nice of us to catch dinner.”

Life went on like that. Since Grandma had no tub or shower, she, Mom, and my sister bathed in a big iron tub inside. When it was our turn, my brother and I had to take the tub outside and bathe under the trees while the chickens and goats looked on. When winter came we got to experience cold like we never had before.

But something funny happened along the way. I got really good at taking care of chickens and goats, and the vegetables my brother and I got from the garden that fall made everyone happy. Grandma showed us how to do a hundred different things with just our hands and some simple tools. Even though we couldn’t talk to each other, smiling and hugging went a long way to showing how we felt.

Then one summer day, Mom told us she had found a job in the city and rented an apartment. We were going to leave for our new home the next day. That night, as we lay on our blankets and tapped on the wall to scare the mice away, I thought about all that had happened, and about the grandma I had come to know and love.

The next day, we said our goodbyes. I hugged Grandma tightly, feeling her small but strong arms hug me back. As we drove away from the farmhouse, I realized something. The place you live isn’t really what makes any house a home; it’s the people with whom you share it. Smiling and waving at the woman who had welcomed us with love and caring, I knew that no matter where I went there would always be a place for me here, a place that truly was, now and forever, my home.

~John P. Buentello

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