Elizabeth and I are homebound. She, a writer of poetry and prose, is bound to Mersea, a 1904 white Victorian nestled in the historic district of a South Carolina shrimping village. I am bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.
Elizabeth and I exchanged a few “homebound” letters over Lent. The nature of a letter is to communicate over a distance, but the season of Lent introduces other distances – there is the space between winter and spring, the break between longing and fulfillment, and the chasm, so like a tomb, between death and new life. But what is Lent, after all, but a kind of long homecoming? It is a practice of return and a way of erasing distance.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them (Psalm 126:6).
This is the meaning of Easter.
Easter is watching all that miserable distance shrink, almost to nothing. Easter is no more letter-writing but a face-to-face encounter. Elizabeth and I haven’t yet achieved that, it remains our not-quite-yet, but here is our literary equivalent. Here, for you Elizabeth, and for each one of you reading along: your very own tour of Maplehurst at Easter time. I am so glad you’ve come to visit.
The first thing I say to almost every guest arriving at my front door for the first time is: You found us! It always seems slightly miraculous to me. These narrow, winding Pennsylvania roads twist and curl in a way that confounds even Google and every form of GPS.
But, Elizabeth, you found us!
Even after you discovered my road (a road once traveled by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on journeys between Philadelphia and Baltimore), even after you crawled, slowly, down our long driveway, craning your neck to see the faraway tops of the maple trees meeting in a green cathedral ceiling overhead, even then there was the matter of our front door.
Where is it?
The apparent front of the house, facing the street, has no door, only a wide front porch and two tall windows. You followed the sign with its pointing arrow, glued to a rock at the place where the driveway splits, to the right. Here is a lamppost, here is a door painted the light green color of old copper, but is this the front door? The driveway curves on around the house, there is nowhere to park, and you were unsure. This is why you found me waiting and waving right there, half in and half out of the door.
You found us! You are here!
If this were your second visit, you would continue on the driveway’s curve around to the western side of the house. You would park your car next to my pickup truck near the old, red barn, and you would enter through the back door on that side of the porch. But this is your first visit, and I will open the front door, with its many glass panes, wide.
Here is the space we grandly call “the front hall,” but it isn’t so very big. A small, oval table sits in the center of an old red rug. The table once belonged to my husband’s great-grandparents in Mexico. I don’t know exactly why, but it looks right at home here at Maplehurst. On top is a glass vase I have filled with branches: the electric green of sassafrass buds and the starry white of spirea. The staircase with its scarred wooden banister moves up toward a tall window before turning out of sight.
Not only is it Easter now, but it is April, and the air is sweet in that way some people name warm and some people name cool. There is no need to pause at the coat closet. Instead, I place your bag on the table, take your hand, gesture to our left, and say,
“Here is the parlor. This is my quiet room. Unless the children are practicing their piano.”
I turn and indicate the room on our right,
“We call this larger room the family room, though I sometimes wonder what the Hughes family, who first built this house, would have called it.”
You see that a round, oak pedestal table sits in the curve of a bow window. The cloth is dark, dusty pink and covered in cabbage roses. I explain that it was once our kitchen table, but we, along with our guests, have outgrown it. Now it sits here for board games and library books and cups of tea with a view of the flower garden.
“Look,” I say pointing toward the garden just beyond the window, “Lent was for planting tiny shriveled pea seeds only to watch them be buried by snow. Easter is for that shower of wild violets. It has flooded the garden. Purple, lavender, white, and green everywhere you look. And there, in the middle of a purple sea, is my youngest. She is a hunter stalking dandelions. When she finds one, she will shout with pleasure before wishing, yet one more time, for a dog of her own.
Bless her heart. I’ve always insisted that Jonathan and I are not dog people, but maybe those dandelion wishes are more powerful than I know.
Would you like to step through to the kitchen?”
To be continued …
Elizabeth is giving me and my readers a personal tour of her home, Mersea. Will you join us?
Thank you, Karen.
Not dog people? My daughter said she wished she were blind when she was six. Why? we asked. “Because then you would have to get me a dog.” And then we did. They know how to get the puppy in the house. ha! I love these letters between you and Elizabeth. Such an inventive idea!
I can’t stop thinking about your comment, Shelly. Goodness, it made me laugh. And also quake a bit in my boots. I’m not quite ready to face it, but I’m feeling more and more certain there’s a dog in our future.
This title made me sad. To me, homebound means unable to leave ones home. I love your description and your love for Maplehurst. But you are free to leave her, to explore, to connect with others. As a 24/7 caregiver for my husband I am truely homebound.
Thanks for your comment, Sara. I am sorry the word “homebound” brought you sadness. It is a meaning we’re aware of, and we invoked it in our introduction to the original epistolary series when we wrote that the bonds we feel to these places are bonds of love that are not always easy to bear. However, one meaning of the word is “bound for home” or “headed home,” and that is the primary meaning this series evokes. But you are right that the word can invoke a depth of painful experience we are not currently experiencing. Thank you for sharing your home bound perspective. Language is personal and complex, and that is one reason I love it.
That was my first thought when I saw the word “homebound” here. I recall as a child being saddened by our church’s list in the bulletin of “Shut-ins” (those who are no longer able to get out and about). Sara, you have the hardest work on the planet, in my opinion! My mom who is now 91, has daily caregivers and a sister and adult children who can come to give them breaks on weekends. I hope you have some community of support to give you respite. May God bless you and sustain you!
Katie, “shut-ins” is the word I recall from childhood as well. But what a wonderful idea to remember those folks and their caregivers on the bulletin! I would love to know who among my neighbors is “homebound” in this way. I’ve been growing more and more flowers and am always looking for new ways to share them. I’d love to make a weekly flower delivery to someone no longer able to leave home.
Oh I’m smiling so when I read this…as if I’d been invited right along with Elizabeth. What a delight to “hear” your voice.
And what a delight to “host” you here. Thank you, Jody.