The House that Built Me

It was a crazy thing to do, especially considering the events of that morning, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

The urge to go back felt incredibly strong, and it descended from out of the blue. Since I had two daughters with me saying, “Let’s do it, Mom!” after I voiced the idea out loud, I gained courage. I felt like it might be healing.

It was February 6, 2020, and at 6:45 that morning, my mom passed away. It had been a highly emotional week as my dad, my siblings, Mom’s caregiver, and I kept vigil around her bed after hospice said we were down to a matter of days. Around lunchtime, as my daughters and I started our drive from Tuscaloosa to our home in Birmingham, we got off the interstate exit that led to my childhood home.

For years I’d toyed with the idea of revisiting this place. It’d been a happy home for our family, filled with love, laughter, late-night antics, big family chaos, and countless friends over the course of 30 years. My parents moved after I graduated from college, and because I loved their new home, I rarely thought about the old one.

But as time marched on, and my mom’s health issues intensified during her final 4 years on earth, a nostalgia grew inside me that I couldn’t shake. I felt my childhood tugging me back, making me miss and long for the past.

I missed my mom being vibrant and healthy. I missed my memories with her when I was a carefree, joyful, silly teenager. I missed the 10,000 formative moments that shaped me in this house. I missed the days when life was simple, and my heart didn’t know the sadness of what we mourn as we reach our 40’s.

There’s a lot to celebrate, of course, but there’s also a lot to mourn as we face the reality that WE are the adults, the ones shouldering tremendous responsibility, getting stretched too thin, raising kids, launching teenagers, adjusting to a changing or empty nest, facing big-league challenges, and saying goodbye to the generation that raised us. It’s a lot of upheaval and uncertainty at once, and on hard days, it can feel overwhelming.

I normally don’t dwell on the past (if anything, I’m too future-oriented) but what I’ve learned about my current stage of life is how it demands a big transition as my friends and I figure out how to “be the adult.” While the theme of our 20’s was marriage, and the theme of our 30’s was babies, the theme of our 40’s is funerals. This is not a happy, joy-filled season, and for many of us, it helps to talk it out, admit our feelings, and process the changes together. 

Looking back, I longed to go home because I didn’t have closure. I couldn’t let go of this chapter in my past. And after years of listening to the Miranda Lambert song, I’d grown attached to the idea of walking through my childhood home just one more time.

I told my daughters that if somebody was outside, I’d ask if we could go in, and if not, we’d view the house from the street. I felt disappointed when we pulled up and saw no one, but a minute later, the owner stuck her head out the front door and asked if she could help me.

“Hi!” I replied from my car. “I grew up in this house, and I was showing it to my daughters.”

“Are you a Kubiszyn?” she replied.

“I am.”

“Would you like to come in?”

My heart jumped at the invitation. “Yes, do you mind?”

“Not at all. I’m still in my house robe, but you’re welcome to walk through.”

The owner’s name is Emma, and she immediately made us feel comfortable. As I walked into the foyer, old memories rushed back, and I started to cry. I told Emma what happened that morning. She hugged me tight and consoled me with the warmth of a mother’s love. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was a pastor’s wife.

Emma walked through the house with us, listening patiently as I shared memories from the past with my daughters:

That’s where we put the Christmas tree…that’s where we had the kid’s table on holidays…I got ready for school in this bathroom… I wrote in this closet for hours one night after a close friend died in a car wreck…my mom had a pink Oriental rug here, and we’d roll it up to practice our moonwalk…we sat sit on this brick wall while Mom cooked dinner, and my sisters and I used it to practice our herkies…I busted my knee on my brother’s weight bench here….

We used to throw our dirty clothes down these basement stairs like a laundry shoot, and Mom would cry as it piled up…there was a refrigerator here that we hid on top of during hide-and-seek…we had a pool table there and a Pac-Man machine there…we had a smell in this basement for years, until we found a rotten Easter egg in the pullout couch…my mom tried to get my dog Peppy to mate with another dog on this porch, but Peppy wouldn’t have it…there used to be thick woods behind this swimming pool, and sometimes when we swam at night, bats would come out…

Surprisingly, my trip down memory lane was happy and made me laugh. I remembered how there was never a dull moment growing up as a Kubiszyn. I didn’t cry; instead, I just felt grateful and satisfied, as if a missing piece to my life puzzle had been put into place. After the tour, Emma invited us to sit down in the living room, where she shared more about the home’s history and a detail I had forgotten: My mom fell in love with this house after spending the night with the original owner, a friend of hers. When it came up for sale years later, she and my dad bought it.

Emma said that my Mom had tears in her eyes as she handed her the house keys. She told Emma, “I prayed for years for this house to sell, and now I know that it didn’t sell because it was waiting for you. This is your house.”

My mother then hugged Emma in the foyer – right where Emma hugged me when I walked in that day. 

After closing, my mother told Emma how her children might want to walk through the house one last time, but years passed and they lost touch. I can’t help but think how that opened the door for my February 6 visit. When Emma invited me in, it felt completely natural, almost like she was expecting me.

After the hardest morning of my life, I felt peace and comfort. Somehow, God orchestrated this, He knew what my heart needed, and I felt my mom’s spirit in this very familiar place. What also hit me was how my mom’s fingerprints had truly touched every aspect of my life.

Even my childhood home – the place that shaped me, my siblings, and our friends – was chosen by my mom. She’d fallen in love with it and turned it into a place of warmth and magical memories. Our home was not fancy, luxurious, or big by today’s standards…but it had HEART. It had a quality that money can’t buy, one that comes from the love, joy, and laughter of family and good friends.

Hearing Emma’s stories about her family in this home helped me let go. I realized this house would always be special because it shaped and bonded our family, but it no longer belonged to us. While some things remained the same, like the basement bar my grandfather built, a lot had changed. Some changes made me sad, such as the loss of both the dollhouse my grandfather built and the magnolia tree in the front yard.

My mom loved that tree dearly and always cut flowers from it when she had a party.

I learned from Emma how the dollhouse had caved, and the roots of the magnolia tree had grown over the sewer system, so they had to cut it down. This reiterated a truth I’d witnessed that morning: What is tangible is temporary. What we can see and touch – an earthly body, a home, a favorite magnolia tree – will eventually expire. While we should enjoy these gifts, take care of them, and appreciate their beauty, we can’t put our faith in them. We can’t expect the landscape of our past to never change, because it will, and if we live our lives dwelling on old memories and always wishing to go back, we miss the new chapters still ahead through the hope of Christ.

Emma and I exchanged numbers before my daughters and I left. I told her my siblings and my dad might be interested in returning; would that be okay? She graciously allowed us to all walk through the day before Mom’s funeral. We had a large crew with15 grandkids, and what a gift for them to see the home that built their parents.

I’ll always feel nostalgic as I look at the above picture of my family at my childhood home. Though it wasn’t a happy picture day for me (my little sister’s hair curled, and mine didn’t 😉 ), it was a happy home. My parents set the stage for that. They gave us roots and wings. While those roots make us ache for our childhood, those wings propel us forward. It’s now our turn to do the same. Like my mom, I hope to leave fingerprints that endure in the hearts of my daughters, fingerprints that keep my spirit alive long after I am gone. 

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On Aug. 18, my new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter releases. It’s gaining fantastic early buzz, and by pre-ordering now, you’ll receive amazing incentives like downloadable prints and prayers. Simply redeem your receipt here. Pre-order through Amazon, and you’re guaranteed the lowest price between now and Aug. 18. 

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Posted by Kari on May 12, 2020

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3 responses to “The House that Built Me”

  1. Erika says:

    Beautiful! Made me cry. Thank you for sharing & I am so happy you enjoyed a happy home like you did growing up.

  2. Pat Patton says:

    I was a tri delt alumni with your mom and my mouth fell open with disbelief when she told me she had 5 kids. I think I only had one at the time and was fascinated with her relaxed happy attitude. She was always a joy to be around so I can imagine that you had a wonderful childhood and I enjoyed reading about your memories! Thank you!

  3. Rhonda says:

    I cried too and I believe it was an exercise I needed as well. I didn’t get to walk through the house in person but even taking a mental trip down memory lane similar to what you wrote about was cathartic. I was happy with how much I did remember without effort considering I often feel that my memory lacks. I’ve always done a lot of memory albums so sometimes my memories are because of the photos – but that’s ok. That’s what they’re for. I haven’t looked back like this in this manner before so thank you for the gift that it was!

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