Our House Was a Very, Very, Very Fine House

houseI’ll be honest with you:  I’m feeling a little traumatized today.

Yesterday, I said “goodbye” to our home of 24 years.  Although I didn’t live there regularly since June 2011, I was there often enough to be a legal Virginia resident.  Part of that was because Cindy was sick and I popped in to check on drink wine with The Moderator.  And part of it was because our kids still officially lived in that house.  We did what had to be done to keep in-state tuition.

Last Friday morning, we said goodbye as a family, thanking God for our lives in that house.  One of the kids recalled in prayer, “The house was falling apart, but it didn’t matter.”  We loved each other in that house.

My Dad found the house shortly after Mom died when HH and I learned we’d been called to a church there.  Dad needed something to do after eight years of watching cancer ravage the love of his life,  and he randomly met a hoarder at the Rite Aid in Alexandria who sold us her house.  And then my Dad died of cancer.  We foolishly thought we’d be exempt after losing one parent.  I became an orphan at 34.  In that house.

My grandmother – who rarely left her county, much less the state of NC – visited when HH and I were installed as pastors.  It was in that house that I  entertained MV and CB and KB.  All of them are gone now.

This was the house where two of our children came home from the hospital.   This was the house where FBC marched to the theme to Inside Washington every Saturday night.  This was the house where SBC saw angels who literally saved his life.  This was the house where TBC played “church” in her room singing “Holy Holy Holy.”

This house is where the neighborhood kids divided their Halloween candy every year on our living room floor, where the high school kids met to watch episodes of “Lost” on snow days, where we celebrated 22 Christmases and countless birthdays.

This is where I recovered from cancer surgery.  This is where my brothers drew a (lame) portrait of Coach K on the wall when they were helping us paint the living room.

This is the house where the kids did their homework at the dining room table, where we buried a pet goldfish in the back yard, where we planted bulbs in the yard and played “horse” in the driveway.

This is where we had baptism parties and confirmation parties and Thanksgiving dinners, and one particular Easter dinner for people with no place to go – which was nuts considering the fact that we were also pastors and already had full schedules on Easter morning.

This is the house where I taught the kids how to bake.

And so I drove away from our house yesterday and stopped one last time at my neighborhood Caribou – which will become a Peet’s Coffee in 2014.  And the barristas came from behind the counter to give me hugs and I wept.

The other customers were amazed that these barristas were so kind to the crying middle-aged lady. Little did they know what all of us had experienced there together.  Those barristas had watched me sit with parishioners in that tiny coffee shop – one sharing the details of her divorce and another confessing his love for other men.  They’d watched me fire a church staffer there.  They’d watched me pray with people sitting right there in that crowded seating area, in that Caribou a mile from my house.

I was very young – 33 – when we moved into that house.  And now I am much older and living in a wonderful place in the Midwest, but my heart will always be on the Virginia side of Our Nation’s Capital.

Our house happened to be in a neighborhood filled with Peace Corps alums and Foreign Service professionals and wild-eyed NoVa liberals from all over the country and lots of mutts from the pound.  The schools were so diverse that our kids grew up with friends from Peru and Italy and Jordan and Ethiopia and Paraguay and Guatemala and Thailand.  I am forever grateful to – and I’m naming names here – Doris Jackson, Erin Sonn, Meg Tuccilo, John Word, Lisa LaBella, Kelly Carruthers, Amy Shilo, Loren Zander, Colette Fraley, Nancy Mohler, Joe Spencer, John Clisham, Denis Babichenko, Doug Burns, and the magnificent Mr. O’Donnell.

Yes, I’m getting personal here, but I don’t care.  Thanks be to God for friends who had nothing to do with our church lives.  I will love L & B forever.  And thank you to J. who came over when I went into labor and took the boys.

One of the truths of moving to a new part of the world as a middle-aged lady is that no one knew me as the mom of three kids under four.  No one remembers me as a soccer mom or a lacrosse mom or a chaperone mom.  No one remembers when my hair was long and my waist was tiny.

All of those wonderful times happened in a simple Cape Cod house in South Arlington with a cracked foundation and a single working bathroom.

And now new memories are happening on a lovely street in Chicagoland.  But it’s a loss.

And now  – I’m proud to say – I totally live in Illinois.

8 responses to “Our House Was a Very, Very, Very Fine House

  1. You’re making me cry, Jan! The best thing I can think of to say to you is that you have the best memory of anybody I know, so you will never lose that house in your heart or your mind! That’s a blessing!


  2. It was a very fine house and very fine people lived there! Now those very fine people are spread out to other parts of the country where they can share their “fineness” with others. And for that I am grateful!


  3. Yes…..I was there once or twice picking Fred up for one thing or another…it was a very fine house…and I remember when you were a very young woman…..”to live in this world you must be able to do three things, to love what is mortal, to hold it to your bones knowing that your very life depends on it and when the time comes, to let it go, to let it go.” Thanks for telling the story…I was confused about why you were just now letting it go.


  4. And thanks for all that you brought to NoVA and National Capital Presbytery. Your ministry (and HH’s too) spread far and wide. May your memories of the house and your time in DC bring you joy and strength for the continuing journey of ministry and life!


  5. I love you so much.


  6. Carrie Karangelen Root

    Jan, its been many years and we both have well traveled paths behind us. I bid adieu to Arlington two years ago. It was a very bittersweet parting, but I decided to look forward and it has been a good decision for me. I hope that God will bring our lives together again, you are a wonderful woman.
    Carrie Karangelen Root


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