Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here!
“Go home!” she said. Two words. It is incredible how much pain two words can hold. Thank God they weren’t long words, or the pain might have killed me.
I want to say, “I don’t have one.” She would roll her eyes and call me a liar. In the sense that she means, I do have one. I have a place to go, but to me, it is not home, and it never will be. So I place my tongue firmly between my teeth and nod, fighting to hold in the tears until I can reach my car. I grab my jacket, throw it over my arm, and balance the last load of laundry on my hip as I walk out into the cold, dark night. I am leaving, but I’m not going to the ‘home’ she means, not tonight. Tonight I can’t. Tonight I won’t. Tonight I want to feel warm and safe.
I get into my Miata, and at the end of the driveway, I have a choice to make, right goes towards the house, left goes someplace else. I go left, and I smile for the first time in what feels like forever, I am free.
The tank was full, and I drove all night, turning when it felt right to make a turn. Around dawn, I pulled into a little hole in the wall diner for breakfast. The building looked ready for a wrecking ball, but the parking lot was full. My daddy always said to look for a dump with a parking lot jammed with cars, and you’ll find good food. It almost always works.
I ordered coffee, a veggie omelet, and home fries and hoped for the best. The coffee wasn’t good, but it wasn’t terrible, either. I sipped the coffee and pulled up the maps on my phone to see where I was. There were twenty-seven missed calls on my phone. I ignored them. The map wouldn’t load, no GPS signal. That made me smile. I had found the middle of nowhere.
The food was good, extremely good. I filled up the tank and kept driving. I wasn’t tired. I couldn’t wait to get to wherever it was I was going.
Around four, I felt it. I drove into a small town, and I was home, just like that. It was a quaint little town, my town. I rolled down the window and smelled the sea and smiled. The sense of belonging was so strong, and I didn’t even know the name of the place.
I continued taking seemingly random turns until I ended up in front of the cutest little brick bungalow I had ever seen. There were two palmettos in the yard and dozens of azaleas. I wondered what color they would be when they bloomed. The front door was oak with iron hinges and a heavy iron knocker. It was arched. My soul felt such peace sitting out in front of it. Then I saw the best part of all, the ‘For Sale’ sign.
I looked at my phone, fifty-two missed calls and one hundred twenty-seven text messages. No one wanted me around until I left—their loss. I called the number on the sign.
“Yes, I’m calling about 127 Orange Street. I was wondering if I could make an appointment to look at it.”
“I would be happy to set that up for you. When would you be available?”
“Any time tomorrow.” ‘Or any day, really…...,’ I thought.
“I will call the owners and set that up right now. Can I call you back at this number?”
“Yes, that’s fine. And is there a bed and breakfast or hotel here in town that you could recommend?”
She gave me the names of two B&B’s and gave me the name of a restaurant for dinner. I thanked her and called the first number. They had a room available for the week, and it was close by, so I told the lady that I would be there later to check-in. First, I needed food and a suitcase. It wouldn’t do to check into a B&B with a laundry basket for luggage.
I found the bar and grill that the agent had suggested. It was harborside and walking distance from ‘my house’. It also had some of the best fried shrimp I had ever tasted.
After one of the best seafood platters I had ever eaten,I headed to the supercenter for a suitcase and toiletries. I packed my bag in the parking lot and headed back to the B&B. I had an appointment to see my house at ten the next morning.
I had never touched the money my dad had left me, not a single penny. It had never felt right, but I would now. I was going to buy that house tomorrow and start over here from scratch. I felt so ridiculously happy and free. I didn’t realize how miserable I had been until now.
The B&B was beautiful, and the owners were charming. They were an older couple and very gracious. I sat on the porch sipping wine with them until nearly midnight.
I woke up to the aroma of coffee and bacon beckoning me. I showered and dressed quickly before joining my hosts on the screened porch for breakfast. The food was spectacular and plentiful. The bacon was thick and chewy, just like I like it, a made to order veggie omelet, home fries, and biscuits. And there were blueberry muffins.
“That was the best breakfast I think I have ever had," I sighed.
"I'm so glad you enjoyed it," Mrs. Helms said as she cleared the dishes. “Will you be back for lunch?”
"No, ma’am, I am going to look at a house at ten, and I plan to make an offer, so I should be tied up for a while. I’ll just grab something, but I will be back for dinner."
“Where is the house?” she asked.
“It’s not far from here. It’s on Orange Street, a brick bungalow….”
"That's why you look so familiar! Are you Martha's granddaughter, wait, no. It would be her great-granddaughter?"
I stared at her for a few moments. "Martha who?”
"Martha Lewis, Ben, and Martha. They built that house. You are the spittin’ image of her when she was young."
"I don't know much about my dad's family. He died when I was little. I lived in Indiana all my life. I do have an uncle I can ask." I took a long drink of my coffee. “I couldn't possibly have just randomly found my dad's family home, could I?”
"I don't know darlin'. What was your daddy's name?"
"What was his daddy's name?”
"Ben and Martha had a David. He died in Vietnam."
I just nodded at her.
"You didn't know they were from here?" she asked.
"I knew they were from the Carolinas, but not where in the Carolinas. I guess I need to call my uncle."
"I have pictures of them somewhere.”
"Of who?" I asked.
"Ben and Martha and probably the kids too. We lived next door to them for thirty years. I will look for the pictures today. You can look at them at dinner."
"Please, don't go to any trouble," I said.
"It's no trouble, and I want you to see the pictures of Martha. I can't get over how much you look like her."
"Thank you. I guess I need to get ready to see the house. Does someone in the family still own it?"
"No, a young couple from Columbia bought it several years ago. They had planned to remodel it, but they didn't stay very long. It has been empty for at least a year."
"I can't wait to see it," I said.
I ran up to my room to grab my purse and freshen up. Then I called the bank to let them know what I was planning, and I had them fax a pre-approval letter to the real estate agent's office. If this house really was my family home, I wanted it even more badly than before. It was still only a little after nine, so I called my uncle.
"Hey, Uncle Karl."
"Do you have any idea how upset your mother is?”
In all the excitement, I had forgotten about my disappearing act. "She noticed I'm gone, how refreshing."
"Don't be cute, Abbie," he said, laughing. "This disappearing stuff would upset any mother, even yours."
"In a weird way, I just did what she told me to do. She told me to go home, and I ended up in Georgetown, South Carolina."
"Georgetown. I have an appointment to look at a house on Orange Street in a few minutes, and I'm going to buy it."
"How did you even know about Georgetown? I'm sure your mother doesn't know, and I don’t think I ever told you about it."
"No one did. I just got in the car and drove until I ended up on Orange Street in Georgetown, South Carolina, in front of the house that Ben and Martha Lewis lived in with their son David, who died in Vietnam."
"Now, I'm sure I didn't tell you because I didn't even know the street name."
"The owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I’m staying lived next door to them. She says that I look just like Martha."
"You just blew me away, kiddo. I'm coming down there tomorrow. Get me a room where you are staying and text me the address. Oh, and call your mother before she reports you missing and takes all your money. See you tomorrow."
"Okay, Uncle Karl. See ya tomorrow."
I sent my mother a text, then I went down to make sure the Helms would have a room for Uncle Karl, and I was still twenty minutes early for my appointment. I took some pictures of the house with my phone and sent them to him.
The agent, Gina, came at 9:55 with a big smile on her face. "You have been busy this morning. Your bank called to assure me that you are more than capable of buying this house. So I assume you anticipate making an offer?"
"Yes, ma'am, I do.
"Do you want to walk around outside first, or have you already done that?"
"I've been here for a few minutes, and I have already looked at the yard and the outbuilding. I'm ready to go inside."
"Let's go inside then."
She opened the front door and let me go in first. The stale smell of a long-empty house greeted me, along with that ‘old house smell’ I love so much. The front door had a small square stained-glass window, with a lighthouse and a seagull. The floors were oak, dirty, but had been redone recently. There was a formal living room to the right. On the left, a dining room with chair rail and built-in corner cabinets with glass doors. Through the dining room was the kitchen. It took my breath away. Nothing had been changed since 1928 when the house had been built, and it was all still in excellent shape.
"The kitchen needs to be gutted, of course," Gina was saying.
"No, I love it. It's perfect," I sighed.
"That would be up to you."
At the back of the house were a walnut-paneled den and a sunroom. The back door led to a screened porch that ran along the entire back of the house.
Upstairs were three large bedrooms and two full baths. As I walked through the house, I seemed to know my way around, and I had the strangest sense of déjà vu. I snapped pictures with my phone to show my uncle. My favorite thing was the fireplace in the master bedroom. It looked as if it had come from an even older house.
"That fireplace looks older than this house."
"Yes, it was saved from the family home of one of the original owners," Gina explained.
"Do you know the names of the original owners? Or where the family home was or is?"
"Yes, there is a packet of information that goes with the house." Then a look of sudden realization crossed her face. "You're a Lewis. Sometimes I am so blond! So sorry, sugar. It didn't occur to me that you are one of those Lewises. You should have told me."
"I wasn't….completely aware of it myself until this morning," I said, which earned a raised eyebrow. "I think I'm finished looking. I would like to make an offer." That earned me a big smile.
"Let’s go to my office and see what we can do."
Two hours later, I left the office with a stack of papers, including an accepted offer, a list of calls to make to make sure the lights, water, and gas would not be turned off, and the names of several insurance agents. Gina had agreed to allow my uncle to see the house while he was there and to set up an inspection.
It was nearly two when I arrived at the Wild Fish Grill for a late lunch. I couldn't wait to read the documents that came with the house, but I wouldn't get those until the closing in seven to ten days. I called my uncle to tell him what I had done.
"You couldn’t have waited until tomorrow so I could go with you?" he said halfheartedly.
"No, what if someone else had come along and bought it?"
"I don't really think that would've happened, but…..it's too late now. You didn't pay the full asking price, did you?"
"No, I got a deal, Uncle Karl. What time will you be here tomorrow?"
"I should be there by two. We’ll have lunch then look around."
"Sounds good, see you tomorrow."
"Try to stay out of trouble."
"I'm going furniture shopping."
"Didn’t I just say to stay out of trouble," he laughed.
"I'm going to antique stores."
"That's even worse," he chuckled. "I think your dad would be proud of you. Getting away.... well, I think it will be good for you."
"Thanks, Uncle Karl. See you soon."
After lunch, I walked to a nearby antique store. I saw several things I liked but realized that I needed to measure the rooms before buying any furniture. As I was browsing, I saw a cabinet style mantel clock with a painting of the ship on the glass door on the front. I carefully opened the door, and the scent of wood smoke and old wood tickled my nose. It had a pendulum, weights, and a key to wind it. A label on the back read New Haven Clock Company. My heart raced. If I remembered correctly, that would date the clock to sometime between 1830 and the 1880s. I looked at the tag, $150, and it said it was in working condition. No way was I passing this up. I carefully carried the clock to the register and paid without haggling.
I returned to the B&B with my treasure cradled in my arms. The Helms oohed and ahhed over it. Mr. Helms offered to buy it several times, before finally realizing that it was useless.
“So, are we celebrating a new neighbor this evening?”
“Yes, ma’am, we are. The closing will be in seven to ten days, will you have space here for me for that long?”
“You may have to change rooms once or twice, but I’m sure we can manage it. We are so glad you found your way here. Dinner will be ready at six-thirty.”
I took the clock upstairs to my room and went for a walk. First down Orange Street to gaze at my house. Then a stroll along the Harborwalk. I felt so at home here. It was almost unbelievable. There were still a lot of details to work out, but I felt sure that it would all fall into place. I was here for a reason.
The next morning, I was up to watch the sunrise on the Harborwalk. Then I sorted through the laundry in my car and made a list of things I either didn’t have or would run out of soon.
At breakfast, Mrs. Helms had found the photo albums from the time they were neighbors with my great grandparents. There was a picture of Ben and Martha and their four children taken in front of the house on Orange Street. Mrs. Helms carefully removed it from the album. The date on the side was 1961, and on the back were the names and ages of the children. David was sixteen, and he looked a lot like old pictures of my dad and Uncle Karl.
I handed the picture back, but Mrs. Helms stopped me. “It’s yours. I have plenty of pictures of them. This one should be yours.”
“Thank you so much. I feel like I’m finding a part of myself I didn’t even know was missing.”
I took the photo up to my room and propped it up in front of the clock. As I looked at the eerily familiar faces, I wondered what happened to my grandfather’s brothers and sisters. ‘Maybe I have family still here,’ I thought. I would have to ask the Helms later.