Growing up overseas, we had no family home. Rather, every place we lived had a different name, generally given to the house by the previous owners or missionaries gone by. Through the years we lived in Baker Building, the Johnson’s house (later named Shah Latif), Park House, Rosenheim, Kuldana Cottage and Forest Dell. All these houses became homes and hold in their walls the secrets of our childhood and adolescence, but they were never ours to keep.
It was on one of our furloughs that my parents and my oldest brother made the decision to buy some land. Land was cheap and they could decide what to do with it later. It was a wise investment. Within two years the land had doubled in value and ultimately, that land in the woods became the site for my parents’ retirement home.
It was a modest home – a Cape Cod style with two bedrooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. My mom wanted a house big enough to host her children “one or two at a time.” The house was set back from a dirt road on eight-acres of land. While Christopher Robin had his 100-Acre Wood, we had our eight-acre woods. In the summer, flowers and green grass colored the world around with a green glow. In the fall, a picture postcard couldn’t do justice to the golden beauty. In spring, everyday brought new buds, and in winter, the world was white and thick with snow. A wood stove in the living room kept the house toasty warm throughout those cold New England winters. When we moved from the eternal sunshine of Cairo, it was the only place that I could be truly warm.
Eight-Acre Woods was a magical place. There were family dinners crowded around a wooden table by the bay window; times of reading by the wood stove; games and forts in the woods; picking vegetables out of Grandma’s garden in the summer; sitting on a picnic table while Grandpa grilled chicken – these were the sights and sounds of extended family at Eight-Acre Woods. No matter what chaos was going on in our lives, it would disappear at Eight-Acre Woods.
A neighbor across the road had two horses named Annie and Caesar. Our kids would walk over to feed them bright orange carrots before being hoisted onto their backs for rides down the road. The nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away, the nearest movie theatre an hour. It was a place of calm creativity, made more so by those who lived there all the time – my parents.
All of the memories of Eight-Acre Woods came back to me in a flood of emotion on Saturday night. We were at a family reunion in Ocean City, New Jersey. The cousin generation planned the reunion with relatively little input from the parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Perhaps this was the reason for its success – the recognition that we could, without fear, pass on the baton to the next generation. It was a gift of time together. There was little formal activity, instead informal games, walks on the beach, and times of singing and eating took up most of the weekend. But Saturday night we gathered in the living room for a slide show. In thinking about the weekend, my mom wanted to have something to offer the family in the way of documented memories. With the help of a granddaughter and my brother, she scanned in hundreds of pictures of children and grandchildren – all at Eight-Acre Woods.
For twenty minutes, we were taken back in time to Eight-Acre Woods. Taken back to a time where our children were small, and their problems smaller. There were birthdays, Christmases, and Easters all celebrated at Eight-Acre Woods by different families at different times. There were pictures of cousins playing dress-up in Grandma’s wedding gown; there were pictures of kids blowing out candles, surrounded by their cousins. There were pictures of Grandpa doing his back excercises, a granddaughter perched on his legs. Pictures of Easter baskets and sleepy kids. Even a picture of our son Joel getting breakfast in bed on his birthday. Through the magic of photographs, we were given the gift of these memories.
In the big scheme of life, my parents only had Eight-Acre Woods for twelve and a half years. Yet, they had it at the perfect time. They had it at a time when many of their own kids, following in the family footsteps, were overseas and had no secure base to hang their hearts.
My extended family knows what it is to be travelers. We know what it is to learn to hang our hearts in different places around the globe. On Saturday night, we remembered a place that brought us in and gave us strength for the journey.
Eight-Acre Woods now belongs to another family. Some of the grandkids talk about buying it some day – making it a family homestead. But for now, we have only the memories.
Family is never easy, but it’s always necessary. Gathering together this weekend gave us yet another chance to strengthen these bonds, constructed through the years with the super glue of life in all its celebrations and sadness. It’s the super glue of forgiveness, grace, patience, and humor.
And if you’re lucky, you sometimes get an Eight-Acre Woods to hold it all together.