Going home again, pt. 1: We find the 'farmhouse'
The story of how I went home again––and found myself in my own backyard.
By Lisa Brunette
Ed. note: Today’s piece is part of “Going Home,” a regular series.
They say you can’t go home again, but I did.
At least, if you can call St. Louis, Missouri, “home” for me. Prior to this current six-year stretch, I’d lived here for a decade, which is the same amount of time I lived in Seattle. Those were my two longest stretches in any one city, as both my childhood and the bulk of my adulthood so far have been nomadic.
As I explained in “A newcomer on notice,” a 2007 essay for Crosscut:
My childhood education was spent in eight different schools in four different cities. We lived in one place for only three months; the longest we lived anywhere was five years. My three siblings and I hold birth certificates from three different states. My youngest brother speaks with the self-proclaimed redneck accent of one born and raised in Southern Illinois. I think of that part of the country as merely where I went to high school.
Equally nomadic have been the decades of my twenties, thirties, and forties. First I hopped neighborhoods within the St. Louis area, taking turns in Tower Grove, Shaw, South Grand, the Central West End, University City, and Dogtown (twice). Then there was a two-year stint for graduate school in Miami, Florida, of all places, followed by 15 years in the Pacific Northwest. There I lived first in Tacoma, then Seattle proper, and finally in a small town called Chehalis. It’s been a whirlwind half century, to say the least.
It’s the same for my husband, Anthony. One of the reasons we get along so well is because by the time we met, we’d both been all over the country, had grown tired of our Gen X rootlessness, and were looking for some permanence. We found it first in each other, and then we cast around for a physical locale to sort of set it in stone.
Until we bought the old farmhouse, AKA Dragon Flower Farm, AKA Brunette Gardens, the longest stretch either of us had ever lived in a place as adults was three measly years.
But I’m not here to talk about nomadism. There’s been enough said about that, as it seems to be our national preoccupation. What I want to relate is the story of how I went home again—and found myself in my own backyard.
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It began in 2017 when we decided to go ahead and buy a house in St. Louis rather than rent or even wait for our house back in Chehalis to sell, which it hadn’t yet.
I’d found the listing on one of those real-estate websites or apps, I can’t remember which. While realtors can be indispensable during certain parts of the home-buying process, I’ve purchased four different homes in my lifetime, and none of them came to me via realtors.
I guess you just know what you want, and it’s hard to know that for someone else.
Our mental criteria list got sufficiently checked off, of course, and I could go into that for you, everything from hardwood floors because we’re both too allergy-prone for carpeting (and we agree that carpet is gross) to the much more vague quality “character,” which this World’s Fair-era 1904 sweetie had in spades. But so much of why you buy a house is undefined, gut-instinct, the feel of the place.
I think about that moment when we were standing in the yard, backgrounded by the chugga-chug sound of the train going by across the street, and Anthony, or “Tino,” as I call him, flashed an excited, almost boyish smile at me and said, “It’s just like an old farmhouse,” and I know that was the moment. That was it for me. This house got him happy and excited about our move, which took him thousands of miles away from his own family, just so we could be closer to mine. This had to be the house. The home.
Which is not to say that it didn’t have flaws. We were able to afford it largely because it did… have flaws. Many of them. In fact, the flaws formed the basis for the six-year project we were about to undertake….
Tune in next time to find out what they were—and how we tackled them.
Has anyone else returned to a past home after a long time away and tried to set down roots? What happened?
Thanks for the restack, @Niccolo Soldo !