Finding Your Storm Home

Wood Etching in Porch Swing by Ron Campbell
Wood Burned image of the house on our front porch swing– by Ron Campbell

The year was 1999. When late December came, the reclaimed old house was wall-to-wall with boxes from our haphazard move from Walnut Knob; but we were finally under roof. It would not feel like home for months, but we belonged here, and we would settle in. It held such promise.

The contractors–who had been since May like visiting family that just wouldn’t leave–were finally gone for good, mostly. We got down to the business of living here.

But there were unaccustomed night noises; we faced the challenges of this unpredictable and treacherous road; and neighbors –all strangers–slowed down to gawk at the NEW old house that held the soft city folks who wouldn’t last here for even a year, the talk was.

The looming disaster ahead made those first awkward weeks on Goose Creek quite the drama. Yes, disaster. Y2K was upon us.

With its new paint and Currier and Ives quaintness, indoor plumbing and first-time light switches, the farmhouse was our Storm Home, we told each other. We would weather here whatever befell us with this falling apart–planes falling out of the sky, cars that wouldn’t start or would go dead in rush hour traffic; the end of “just-in-time” filling of grocery store shelves. Computers world-wide would shut down at midnight on New Years Day, 2000.

We were prepared–with artesian pressure on the well, and a faucet at the wellhead for filling buckets. I’d moved over a dozen truck-loads of wood from the Knob–at least a winter’s worth, not to mention all the deadfall here from the logging back in 1993. We’d burn for a half-dozen years off the collateral damage that uncareful loggers created for every one desirable white pine they took to the lumber yard.

Bad times may be upon us, it seemed. Here at last, we felt real security on this real estate. We quickly fell under a family provenance and peace unlike any of the other several moves during our married life. This place was where we had been moving all these years. We were putting down roots, finally, in our early fifties.

And might it be our children’s storm home–a place they could always come, and bring their own children? a place not of the fabric of the rest of the “real” world, a tranquil island in time?

Driving or flying here from their hurried city lives a few times a year at best, they would for those brief times enter a storybook version of reality. Over the river and through the woods….

This would become their ancestral home place, I imagined, a grounding in place for a gaggle of relateds not from any rooted place in particular. And when the founders were gone (that’d be me and Ann), other generations who perhaps carried some faint trace of the Hengen nose or the Dillon build would live, love and maybe even write from this same room where I sit this morning.

We knew it when we saw this place she insisted we would call HeresHome, that we would become something like the Krugers, moving in, sprucing up, making ready to welcome our storm child. Or storm grandchild.

But given the scripts that life deals us, this place will not, after all, become the page on which their future stories are written. Even so, that notion still resonates as a lie I knowingly tell myself. Our kids and theirs will at least have memories. Perhaps it is enough that we have passed through so many storms here ourselves, with more to come yet before we seek shelter at a less picturesque place of residence–if not truly home ever again like this.

We all need a storm home–or the fantasy of one–to flee to when the blizzards come. Garrison Keillor can tell you all about his storm home. If you don’t know this particular monologue, I highly recommend it to you, especially here at this family time of year.

I’ve linked the unlisted youtube audio from the page where I found it. Thanks to Kathy at Bereaved and Blessed for the good memories from this passage so familiar to Prairie Home fans like us. Our kids grew up with Garrison on Saturday nights, and this story is part of their legacy.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Suddenly… You seem to have rediscovered your voice at the end of 2013. If you keep posting like this you may find the virtual living room a bit more crowded as we all sit a ,little closer to the wood stove this winter… Good narrative.

  2. Fred, I enjoyed your post. Having lived in four or five significant homes where memories accumulated over the years, I can relate to what you are saying. We weathered many blizzards and temperatures as low as minus 40 in our Tay Creek, New Brunswick farm house in Canada. We were close to self-sufficient in that piece of wilderness. Our home of 20 years on the side of Twelve O’Clock Knob Mt. overlooking Roanoke often felt like a ship perched on the edge of precipice buffeted by the strong winds of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The derecho in 2012 made us feel a little more vulnerable there. Beyond that our family has recent memories and even ones relayed by those long gone of our home place at 347 West Pine St. in Mt. Airy, NC. The family owned that spot from 1900 until 2004. We have been near the ocean for seven years now and somehow it seems to be the right spot since all our families crossed the oceans to get here. We have grown deep roots here and while our granddaughter remembers the mountain house, she has lots of memories of the beach house where she learned to swim and ride a bike. I hope there will be a time when we can take her to the old home place which is now a bed & breakfast, the Sobotta Manor. The owners named it after my father.

    The memories grow even as you move and leave cherished places behind. We are fortunate that the memories become part of us and help define who we are. That is the important thing.

    As I said in one of my recent books, The Road to My Country, “In some ways, memories are like small towns along a highway. You’re in the dark until all of sudden, you round a corner on to Main Street, where the memories are waiting for you like the inviting lights in a late-night diner.” A storm home is a lot like that.

  3. I never had a storm home. We moved almost every year. I went to five grade schools in eight years and then Daddy died, this was in the middle of the depression. Money was tight, Daddy left very little, so Bea (my mother) had to go to work and I came home to an empty, cold house. But—before this happened, Bea was always home when I came home from school, most days there was the smell of gingerbread or cookies and these are precious to me. We had little but she made sure I always had nice clothes and plenty to eat and never a doubt that I was loved very much. I will never know how much she sacrificed for me. She was one of a kind!

  4. I hope my son’s family will visit Floyd enough to develop memories of the place we love. Of course they are embarked on their own journey of creating home and memories of place on the coast…maybe it is enough to create your own sense of place and pass on the,joy that brings to our adult progeny.

  5. Lovely post, Allen and I also enjoyed the audio link. Thank you for both. (And don’t decide now that none of those grandchildren will never live in HeresHome. You never know who they will marry and what they will decide to do with their lives.)