An Open Letter to the New Owner of My Childhood Home

I first wrote this in September of 2009 when my Dad first put the house on the market. It has just sold. It feels right to re-post it now.

Dear new home owners,

I know to you this house you just bought is fresh and exciting and you are eager to make it your own.  I thought maybe if you knew a bit about it, you would learn to love it much faster than if it was just a “house” you slapped down a huge mortgage for.  It was my childhood home and in a way, like a member of the family.

You see, I get that a house consists basically of four walls and a roof.  A home?  That is a totally different story.  A home is the place where you live.  Where you are loved.  The place where you create your memories.  It is the place where you are free to be happy or sad, share laughter or tears, argue and make up.  A home is your safe place to land when you fall.  I hope you can make this place your home for you and for any children you have.  She will take good care of you if you love her.

Growing up, my home was the place to be.  Ask any of my friends (many are on Facebook and can tell you) that my home was where people liked to go hang out.  Sometimes, they would go there even when I wasn’t home yet just to hang out with my Mom.  (I used to get so frustrated that my friends would hang with her before me.  I now realize how incredible that is.)  Mom was not known by “Mrs.” or her first name.  To everyone who was my friend and knew her, she was simply Mom. Mom to the world.  She made my house growing up a wonderful home.  Dad was the same way.  Of course, he was at a disadvantage working so much and missed out on many chances to blatantly steal hang out with most of my friends.  Either way, my parents gave me an amazing home while I was growing up.  The house you have just bought.

Now?  You own that  house.  It is hard to put into words why this is breaking my heart.  In fact, I hesitate to say anything because I have already caused hurt feelings by being so attached to a “house”.  But that house was my home long after I was married and owned my own home.  It was where I went to find peace.  It was the place I went when I needed to remember who I was, where I came from and just– for a little while– be a kid no matter how old I was.

I have the most amazing memories this house I grew up in.  Memories that I feel helped make me who I am today.  Memories that shape the woman I became and the Mom I want to be.  I lived there.  I mean, I really “lived” there for so many years.  It holds my past.  Here are just a few that I cherish and am holding on to now.

Bringing home my first best friend after we moved there and having her sleep over.  We stayed up all night bugging the DJ’s on the radio. (79Q AM Rocked!) After hours of middle of the night calling,  I finally won A Flock of Seagulls record.  My best friend and I shared our deepest secrets in my room.  It was also the same room I cried my eyes out when that very same friendship shattered.

Bringing home boys who wanted to go out with me and letting them meet my parents.  Worse yet, letting them meet my brother after one of them broke my heart.

Getting together with my circle of friends and talking well into the night and playing “truth or truth” because we were all too tired to actually do any dares.  (I learned a lot from those nights!)

Having friends come over and hang out even if I wasn’t there because they adored Mom and had just as much fun– if not more fun– with her than with me.

Having the boy who I knew was “the one” stay over night downstairs (with very squeaky stairs to prevent any sneaking up or down them, I might add) so he wouldn’t have to drive home so late at night.

Being proposed to in the middle of the night one weekend home from college in front of that oh-so-ugly couch that we all had to endure when we had a date over.  Crying and saying yes and wanting to shout but knowing it was our secret until morning.

Having my best friend stay with me the night before my wedding as we laughed and talked and were just enjoying our time together.

Remembering how Dad woke me up with a rose on my wedding day.

Coming home to stay with my Mom and Dad for the summer after our son Jacob died because Clint was transferred out of state and I needed a safe place to stay until the company offered him a full time position in Dallas.  Remembering the comfort that being with my Mom and Dad brought to me while I mourned the loss of my baby.  Knowing that in that home, in my room, I would always be taken care of at any age.

Two of my three children had their first birthday parties there.

It is where we all gathered for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is where I go when I need to feel the cocoon of my youth, the safety of my childhood.

It was the last place my Mom lived.  I mean really lived.  The last place she laughed.  The last place she walked.  The last place she stood up and gave me a real hug.  It is the one place I can go and really and truly feel my Mom.  When I am there, I feel her as if she could reach out and hug me at any moment.  In a way, that house is where I go when I need to feel safe and to feel Mom.

It is my childhood home.

I know that it is a “house” and these memories will stay with me no matter where my Dad lives.  But I have to be honest enough to say, I will miss that childhood home terribly.  I understand life moves forward and you have to move forward with it.  I just wish I could keep the house and still move forward.

Dad is not selling the house “just because he wants to” or because it is too big now.  There is wonderful reason he is moving and I am thrilled for him.  (He is getting married.)  That is a cause for celebration.  In that respect, I am very happy for him and for the new journey this will take all of us on.

I do still feel like I am losing a part of my family now that you have bought this house.

I may get sad now and then when I think about it and want to see it.  So, if you see a woman in a van outside staring at your new house and crying, I am not crazy.  I am just remembering.

By then, our home will have become your house. (And I do so hope, your  home.)   And like I said before, a home is where your family is, where the ones you love live.  You can make any house a home.  I know that.  I just wanted to say, I really, really do love my childhood home.  It was very good to me.

So, new owners, please take good care of her. She was good to us and holds more memories than I can share.  I thought about letting you know how to bypass the squeaky stairs (there is a way,  you know) or the various nooks and crannies that hold secrets, but you will have to find those out by yourself.  It is yours to discover.

All I ask of you is this:  Love her.  Because?  She is very loved by many.

Warmest wishes and best of luck in your new home,

~Jenn

ps- My Dad’s house has not sold yet.  But I know it will and by then, it will be too hard to write this.

PPS- The house sold. And I was right…there is no way I could write this now. (04/13/2012)

17 Comments

  1. Beautiful post, my friend. Thanks for sharing it again and congrats to the new home owners.

  2. You should put this in the mailbox once the new owners have moved in…

  3. Oh, I’m with you. My childhood home means so much to me!

  4. I am about to sell my childhood home as my parents are both deceased. My parents purchased this home back in 1961 when I as only 5 years old and my brother an infant. It is breaking my heart knowing that soon we will no longer own it. Your letter expressed everything I am feeling. I had tears streaming down my face as I read it.

  5. Beautifully written. I’m at work now, so I’m really fighting back tears, but I can relate to this as my mom has sold our childhood home and this weekend will be the last time I will ever see it. Your letter is wonderful, you are a truly gifted writer, and even more so, know that I and many others can relate to your pain. It isn’t easy, it won’t be easy…but reading this has comforted me. Thank you.

  6. Once my parents told me that had the house of the market my heart sank and I googled “sad without childhood home” and your post came up. Thanks for sharing your pain. I have had similar experiences that you have described growing up. I will be the crazy lady outside in the van too. Let us feel blessed for those times.

  7. Jenn, so beautiful, thanks for sharing! It’s been 5 years since my parents passed away and we sold our family home and I still feel so “lost” without it. So glad to know there are others feeling exactly the way I do. I am constantly told to “get over it” and “move on” or “it was just four walls” and I do my best to focus on my family and our house but there is such a strong emotional connection with my childhood home that is hard to just “move on” . Losing your parents is one thing but losing your childhood home at the same time made it worse. I had to chuckle about your comment about “driving by in the van” as I live about 15 miles away from our home and find myself driving by often just to get “that feeling” again. Hopeing to see my Mom in the kitchen window waving bye to me as they did a thousand times before…getting those priceless hugs in the driveway from my Mom before I pulled away with my family after a visit. Peeking into the backyard where my Dad & I would toss baseball. Reading your note at work was tough because I became very emotional with each line as you opened up a part of me that I did my best to hide. Thank you so much!

    • E.J….I so much appreciated reading your comment, as I’m going through the same kind of withdrawal at the idea of letting go of my childhood home. Part of me wishes that my folks had sold the big old house before they passed away, so the emotional decision would have been out of my hands, as much as it would have hurt at the time. Now a number of years since they passed away I am at the point where the only practical thing to do is sell the home (which I’ve been renting out for most of the past seven years, but that’s an option that no longer makes sense). But I am in so much agony and pain over the idea of no longer having that house in my life…so I wondered if for you that feeling of being “lost” has diminished any, since now it’s been over six years since you sold the family home? Will I stop feeling “guilty” about handing over that wonderful home to strangers (I feel on a deep level that the house is a third parent to me, having been in our family since before I was born 64 years ago)? I’m not sure if this comment will makes its’ way to you….not sure how this response thing works on blogs. But at any rate it helps to write more about what I am feeling and going through, so thanks for offering me the chance to vent. If you are interested please read my longer reply to Jenn’s blog that I wrote on April 18th.

  8. My parents are in the last stages of packing up my childhood home and moving into their dream retirement home. I didn’t know I would feed so sad and your post is beautiful. How I will miss walking through the door and knowing I’m home. I live far away, but went for holidays and each summer took my children. So happy I captured photos of them in most every room during our last visit this summer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…they capture how I’m feeling. It’s been a few years for you so, I hope you have made peace and are enjoying the memories.

  9. Holy Smoke……just came from seeing my dad who is 92, has dementia, and has been living in assisted living for a few years. My mom died 5 months ago and my brother and I are talking about selling the house after 55 years. You would think that at my age I would just think of this as another transition in life, but I am sobbing after reading your fine letter. I long for home. Thanks again!

  10. First of all let me say thank you for posting this letter because when I discovered it I was trying to find my own way of grieving the loss of my own childhood home. It’s not even been a week since I’ve had to leave our home due to forclosure and I never imagined I would be this distraught. My parents left the home 8 months ago as they purchased a new home before the foreclosure process began and I decided to move my family in to enjoy the little bit of time left until the bank took over the property. That was a big mistake. I have spent months killing myself on the inside awaiting the day I actually had to say goodbye. You see this little house way more than just 4 walls and an empty lot it was the only place I knew I was always safe from the cruel world I’ve always lived in. It was always the safe place I had to go to when something bad happened I knew I could always go home to my little house on Sesame lane and be safe, as a teenage I made some very poor decisions that left my badly abused at the hands Of boyfriends and lovers and this little house was the only place I ever had to escape. The only place I always knew I could go to no matter what. It was my safe house wrapped In memories of wonderful holidays and many fond memories of my childhood. Now my husband has managed to move us into a huge home with a pool and anything else I could ever want, but I’m not happy here I just keep telling myself how badly I want to go back home to my run down little house on sesame lane I just want to be home. But I know as things are now that will never happen I can never go home again and that kills me in a way I never thought it would. It’s not particularly something you can discuss with others because everyone always says just get over it it’s just a house. But that’s the problem it’s not just a house it’s my childhood home it’s my safety net its a safe place it’s familiar it’s a burial ground to many beloved pets it’s home. But I guess now it’s just an ever fading memory for my to stack up with all the rest of the painful memories that I have.

  11. Desperately in need of some support over the same issue, I took a chance and googled the words “blog, selling childhood home” and thankfully the first entry that came up was yours. Now five used tissues later I want to tell you how grateful I am that you wrote this beautiful tribute to the home that was like a member of your family, your “safe” place no matter how old you grew to be. My parents bought our family home when my mom was expecting me, 64+ years ago. As the youngest of four children, that big, beautiful (100 year old) house is like a third parent to me. Although I’ve been married, become a parent, been divorced, had a full life, interesting work, and and have owned my own house (that I do love) for 32 years, the family house is and always will be my true “home”. As you mentioned, throughout all the ups and downs of life, the tearful and happy times, that house has been the place to which I could always return and find acceptance, safety and comfort (not to mention a full refrigerator!).

    My mother, who was the first “love of my life”, died in that house in 2004, and my dad passed away four years later. Though my sisters felt we should hurry up and sell the house, I did not have the heart to do that at the time, so opted to buy it from the “estate”, spent much $$ on structural and cosmetic repairs, and have had renters on and off in there for the past seven years, just so I could know the home still belonged to our family…to know I could still drive up the driveway, go inside and just “be there” (between renters) with my memories, and did not yet have to give it over for good to strangers.

    As you said, my family home is where I can go and truly “feel” my mother’s presence. I see her in the kitchen stirring hot cereal and cocoa for my breakfast on cold mornings when I was a child, standing at the sink doing dishes, then handing me a warm, moist wash cloth to wipe down the table after dinner (I’ve never forgotten the feel of that warm cloth in my hands) while we casually talked about ordinary things. My mom helping me make arts and crafts gifts for my dad, tap dancing together on the linoleum floor, lingering over our dinners (both being slow eaters) at the kitchen table long after the others had finished and left the room…so many memories. I miss her so much still.

    But now I have to face the fact that I have no energy for dealing with renters any more and feel it isn’t fair to the next door neighbors to keep things so unsettled. I’ve thought of moving into the house myself, but it wouldn’t make sense from a practical standpoint, and I have realized that the deep down reason I’d want to live there, besides the fact that it’s a lovely house, would be that on some subconscious level I’d be waiting for my parents to “come home”, and for our family (including my son…so many memories of his childhood took place in that house) to be back together again, which is just never going to happen, no matter how much I might wish it.

    I’ve never been someone who does well with “change” and knew that when this day came, when I’d be faced with having to say goodbye to my childhood, lifelong home, that it would be hard, but I never dreamed it would be this painful. I know intellectually from other endings I’ve had to deal with over the years that time does indeed heal, and the loss will become less overwhelming, eventually. But in the meantime I’m grateful to you Jenn, and to those who also commented, for helping me to know I’m not alone in this very difficult life passage.

    • I never dealt well with change either. I kept my childhood house 3 and 1/2 years after my mom’s death because i could not bear to sell it. I am spending a lot of money on maintenance, taxes, utilities etc. but it was worth it. now I must sell it and I am in so much pain too.

    • Oh, Diana your reply expressed and validated so well what I am going through. I am trying to save the house myself, against everyone’s desire to torch and burn it, figuratively. Even mom, who said she would die in that house, has completely disassociated from it, and is completely and uncharacteristically resolute in her decision to move on. I am gasping with grief and no one seems to even care about the place. We don’t talk about it or mourn it or celebrate it. My parents got an apartment and started inviting everyone over and now we have been gathering there for the past five months like NOTHING EVER HAPPENED, namely the past 50 years of life together. It’s crazy, that’s what. But I’m the crazy one,and so I sorely need a forum like this to share my love for that home and my past, and to mourn it and our the fact that my good mother and father cannot even say one word about the beautiful home they made there. They pouted themselves into life there, in that home and neighborhood and school system and church. They continue ued to parent all of us and our kids there right up until their traumatic falls. I get it that things look different to them because of the falls and their age, but wow this is painful.
      Did they ever love family life there as much as I did. I thought so, but was wrong.huh?

  12. I’m lying here tonight staring at the ceiling with memories flooding my heart and mind. Why? Because a few weeks ago my mom fell and broke her femur and is now in a 45-day rehab away from her home, my childhood home. The home is a bi-level and is no longer a home she can manage safely because of the stairs so she has decided to sell it to my nephew. I was ok with this decision and, in fact, know it’s a good one. But when the time-frame accelerated quickly in order to have the needed funds to purchase a home on one level, I find myself now in this position–my mom will never return to her home again as “her home.” My last trip there after she had fallen was my last trip back to “home!” I wish I had known it was my last because I would have liked to have said my goodbyes to it properly. Every inch has so many memories–good and bad!! Your blog, though our memories are different, expresses my own feelings of sadness. I wish my nephew and his new wife-to-be all the blessings with their new home, but there is a hole in my heart right now. I know that wherever mom lives will be “home” as long as she is alive, but man! I didn’t think it would hurt this much! My brother says, “it’s just a home!” But it’s so much more than that!!! Thank you for expressing what I wish I was talented enough to put on paper!

  13. I love this! I am thinking of sending a welcome letter to the people who just bought my grandparents house. Would that be creepy? I think if it was me I would really like it (but I live in the house my husband grew up in so no one is going to send me anything. Ha!

  14. First, I want to say this blog is awesome. Second, I’ve been missing my childhood home since 2014, when it was sold. It’s kind of weird because a lot of bad things happened there (thanks to my abusive stepfather).
    But it was the home I’d lived in the longest and I would still visit my mom after I moved out. There is so much about it that I still miss…its old-fashioned charm, the way the stairs would creak at night, the light above the kitchen stove and the lamp glowing softly in the corner in the evenings.

    The smell of my mom’s cooking wafting through the house; the oak tree in the front yard; my bathroom upstairs where I took so many showers and washed my hair and applied makeup; my bedroom where I spent many nights watching TV or crying over the boy who broke my heart; the walks to and from school; looking up at the night sky and seeing the stars.

    The way the light would glimmer on the walls because it had this velvety finish that I would run my fingers across sometimes; the mirrors in the living room downstairs; having my mom do my hair and give me the attention I rarely received growing up. So many memories and it makes me so sad that I will never be able to capture the few positive moments again. Since the house was sold, there have been a few different owners.
    From what I’ve heard, the new owners aren’t taking care of it so that makes me feel worse. Some people think I should simply forget about it, but I can’t…there is still a deep emotional connection.

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