About ten years ago, my grandfather and grandmother made their last move. With the help of their four children, extended family, friends and neighbors, they cleared out and packed up a house that held a lifetime of their memories in Kansas City. My grandmother, a seamstress, homemaker and later in life a career woman, held on to everything sentimental...old prom dresses, records, photos, board games, books, pieces of art, letters, memorabilia.
My grandfather was a builder and built their home. Somehow he was a man rooted in the greatest generation that ever lived, yet far ahead of his time, raising his daughters to be independent, strong and capable and supporting his son's creative and artistic mind. Even his siblings were creative and forward thinking, with one sister that still resides on the beach in Hawaii (her bohemian free spirit is for sure imprinted on my DNA) and his brother, the famous cartoonist of Beetle Bailey, Mort Walker.
Their home in Kansas was a two-story Western Ranch with a rather modern open floor plan and master bedroom on the first level. This was a time when fine furniture was purchased with the intent on lasting a lifetime and beyond, and most of their pieces did just that. Homes were not redesigned every ten years. Stuff wasn't thrown away and replaced. It was kept, cherished, cared for, repaired, used, and reused.
My grandfather's basement was a working basement filled with nicely organized tools and a space that was designated to fix, repair, and refurbish. He was always tinkering, whether it was working on his cars, mowing his lawn, or working on some kind of home project.
Eventually, their children grew up and moved away, leaving their home in the heart of middle America and spreading their wings vast and wide, to San Francisco, Denver, Austin and Detroit. My grandmother always said, "You raise your children to be independent, and that's what they do." She's a no-nonsense Swede, tough as they come. My grandfather lived his life by a set of a few simple creeds, such as, "Do the right thing." "Be nice." "Don't force it." He said these things often, but way more importantly, he lived by them. He was a simple man, humble and good to the core. He supported his family during the Great Depression by selling fudge on the steps of the Missouri Capitol and was shipped off to war right after proposing to my grandmother.
I've spent time sitting with my grandmother in her new residence, an independent living facility not more than one mile from her old home, reading the letters my grandfather wrote to her some seventy years ago while he was stationed in the Aleutians and she was home, waiting for him to start their life together. Now that he has recently passed at the age of 94, these letters read like a love story that comes full circle in a way even Hollywood could never have romanticized. In the letters he tells her how much he adores her and and can't wait to see her again. He reminds her over and over of her beauty and his love for her. He asks her to wait for him and promises they will be reunited. As she sits in her chair, now over 90 years old, she listens, looking off in the distance, with the sweetest light glimmering in her eyes. A 70 year marriage, a lifetime of love.
My grandparents succeeded at the game of life. They did so, not because their life was easier, they had more, or they were dealt a better hand. They succeeded at the game of life because they worked hard at it and cherished it. The raised their family with an adventurous spirit, teaching their kids to be independent. They loved, let go, and then watched. What happened then was amazing. Their children grew and lived to do the same. And this is their gift.
As I think about their home on Roe Avenue in Prairie Village, Kansas and what it represents, I am struck by a sheer force to the heart. I don't really remember their stuff. I'm not sure if their home could have been featured in any kind of home magazine. This is what I remember: I remember the feeling of running through their huge backyard barefoot with my cousins, exploring for hours in the creek. I remember catching fireflies in glass jars on warm Summer nights. I remember eating my grandmother's homemade granola at the breakfast table. I remember my grandfather taking afternoon naps in his favorite comfy chair. I remember walking in the front door to the distinctive smell of being home that I'm absolutely sure still must linger there today.
As much as I do love stuff and designing new spaces for a home, I often think, "What will I leave behind?"
My grandmother's house on Roe was a successful home. It did what a home should do. And this is the thing. This is the whole point. This is the gift. I ALWAYS HAVE IT. It's mine. And my mother's and my aunts' and my uncle's and all of ours. It's in my heart...the smells, the feelings, the laughter, all of it.
In this age of pinterest, we don't even have to wait a month for the next issue of Elle Decor or House Beautiful. We we can see on a minute to minute basis what is cool, what is trendy, what is so RIGHT NOW.
Let's not forget what this is about: Creating a successful home. It's a generational gift. It's the greatest gift of a lifetime. It can be filled with fancy winged back chairs from Henredon or IKEA furniture or furniture that is SO NOT RIGHT NOW. And if I contradict myself as a designer, SO WHAT.
Building a home from the heart will never go out of style. And I can never have a Pinterest panic attack that my home is not good enough, if I know this to be true.
I see a lot of my friends at this point building nice new homes and upgrading and renovating. Maybe it's just the phase I am in my life. The minute I catch myself feeling, God forbid, JEALOUS (it's a human emotion, let's get real) or LESS-THAN or not good enough, I am reminded of this beautiful home on Roe Avenue.
May my home always have an open door.
May my home always have a few muddy paw prints.
May my home always be filled with LOVE.
Because I KNOW that is all that is left behind.
For Mona and Granddad and the beautiful home of 8355 Roe Avenue in Prairie Village, KS
This blog post was picked up by elephant journal on March 18, 2015.