Home is where the art is.

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My husband and I built a house. That is a funny sentence because we didn’t physically build any of it, but that’s what people say. That’s what I say. 

What we really did was dream of a home near the water and a coffee shop that also sold books. A home on land with oak trees we could squeeze the house underneath without disturbing. 

We met with a nice woman at a house off the beaten path and she drew it for us. Then, a year later people started bringing trucks and lumber to the land, and nine months later there was a yellow house where there used to be just grass and trees. 

I’m writing this on the porch that the woman drew as the focus of the house. It’s a warm June morning and I’ve got the fans on. The dog is gazing at the woods across the street, no doubt hopeful a squirrel will emerge from some limb or shadow, and she’ll let it know whose home this is. While both dogs felt immediate ownership of this place, it is taking me a while. So much about here feels like home and so much still strikes me as foreign. 

I remember when my dad turned forty because my mom threw a surprise party where she served a huge sandwich in the shape of the number 40. We ate off it for weeks in a kitchen that was part of what I thought of as home my entire childhood and most of my adulthood. I lived in that house since I was a baby and only left it when I went to college. I knew every crevice and closet. My cousin and I would climb out the window and onto the roof, lie on our backs, and look at the stars wondering if they were in fact real objects or just little holes in the universe where the light was sneaking through. 

My husband and I didn’t really build a house so much as watched one being built– participated via proximity. And now that it’s here we are slowly learning to think of it as home. I thought maybe it would happen all at once, but it obviously takes time. It takes memories and moments– that’s the real building and it adds up, starts to accumulate– like a painting that develops from a blank surface. I suspect that the feeling of home will sneak up on me and eventually envelop me without me even knowing it. I suspect I’ll wake up one day wondering how this place could have ever felt unfamiliar.

Maybe part of building this home is sitting on the porch early in the morning looking at the trees and writing about it. Maybe once I witness the leaves changing color a few times, I’ll be part of the world they inhabit. 

I’ll be forty soon, and I’m still building what my parents had long established at my age. My blended family is still fresh, our memories and traditions still forming, still taking shape. I still hit the wrong light switches before the right ones and forget where we keep the colander.

The working title for my new series is called “Linger” and, true to that spirit, it sure is taking a while. I hope that I can learn to also linger in this process of the home we’re building. That I’ll savor it and hold it close without smothering or suffocating it. I hope the kids will feel a deep sense of home and belonging, that this yellow house will invoke in them a sense of warmth and security. That they will know every crevice and closet. That their own kids will run down the stars like buffalo the way they do now. That they will sit on the porch (and definitely not the roof) looking at the stars, feeling certain they have a tiny but firm place in this world. 

The painting that starts this post is one I did in my studio. I didn’t look at my house or even a photo of my house when I painted it, and relied instead on the memories that are just now beginning to form. I love the childlike nature of what developed when I was just playing around with crooked lines and globs of paint, using my studio time to reflect on this crazy notion of home, to pray for it to be a safe and welcoming place, to hope deeply for the kids that will grow up inside its walls.

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

June 4, 2021

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