I am sure like me, there have been times when you have wondered what difference might have been made to your life, if your younger self had been gifted with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated over the years.
I invited several friends from the writing community to share their thoughts on this subject which I am sure you will enjoy as much as I did.
Today author Claire Fullerton shares her memories of the home that her mother grew up in and returned to with her own family when Claire was ten years old.
I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! ‘Home’ by Claire Fullerton
79 Morningside Park
The house in which I grew up anchors me in the larger world as a frame of reference, although while I was growing up, this was an unrecognized fact. Youth takes given things for granted. I had no way of perceiving the snail-pace of change, that one day I’d walk out the door of the place I’d always called home and close it behind me forever.
The house had familial history. Built in 1901, it had eclectic features— intricate wrought-iron over a series of cathedral doors, a black-and-white tile entrance hall, a lattice-roof gazebo accessed by throwing open the doors of the card room. People in Memphis are mindful of the extreme summers, and fashion their homes accordingly. In the winter, area rugs ran throughout the house, and in the summer they were put away in storage.
Family lore is my mother’s parents went for a Sunday drive and left my then seven-year-old mother with her nanny. Pulling in the driveway of 79 Morningside Park, my general physician grandfather turned towards the passenger seat and said, “I hope you like this house because it’s yours.”
My mother, an only child, grew up in that Midtown, Memphis, four-bedroom house. She kept a Shetland pony in the backyard and rode it along the wooded trails of East Parkway. It was the home she returned to whilst away at boarding school in Simsbury, Connecticut. When she became engaged to my father, it was the setting of their lavishly orchestrated engagement party.
As a child, I visited the house every summer, when my mother took us home to see her mother. We lived up North in those days, my father being from the lake area outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The yearly trip my brothers and I took to Memphis opened our eyes to a disparate culture. To my young eyes, there was an austere tenor to my grandparent’s Southern home, an all-encompassing, echoing formality anchored by serious gravity. Because my grandmother, whom I am named for, loved collecting antiques, my brothers and I minded our footfalls when we visited, well aware that most things in the house were breakable.
I was ten years old when my family moved permanently into that house in Memphis, Tennessee. When my grandparents went to heaven, my mother inherited the house and everything in it. It was as if someone flipped a switch during that first year of occupancy, threw the doors open wide and ushered in new energy. My brother, Haines, played guitar and added weekly to his record collection. My brother, Joe, practiced every game ever played with a ball. And even though we had two Scottish terriers, six months into our residency, I waged a full-frontal campaign and ultimately acquired a cat.
My mother, taking the house’s new dynamic in stride, rolled with the changes, but then again, she was conveniently blessed with a delightful sense of humor. I look back now and realize the finesse she brought to the act of balancing the small details of domestication. Through the years, 79 Morningside Park retained a certain antiquated elegance, but throughout my youth, the energy within remained abundantly and vibrantly alive.
One counts on a place they’ve lived in for years. Adolescents put down roots and mark their turf in the interest of security, and much of my coming-of-age security came as a byproduct of knowing my homes’ history, in tandem with whom I could rely on that lived down the hall. Family is the nucleus of a home’s identity. With enough years strung together, they become one and the same to the point where location is an overarching sense of belonging made of complimentary elements. Where one begins, and the other ends is all but immaterial, when it comes to the concept of home.
Which is why I felt like the rug had been pulled out from beneath me when my mother called me with the news she’d be selling the house in which I grew up. I was thirty-six years old, living in California with no plan of ever returning to Memphis but that wasn’t the point. Only one of my siblings lived in Memphis at the time, and I clutched the phone, fighting back immediate tears as my mother explained the house was too big for her to live in alone as she rattled towards her dotage. She had a good point when she declared she wouldn’t be one of those poor unfortunates having to make a bedroom downstairs in their infirmity, having lost the mobility to navigate the stairs. She’d found a charming, one level, zero lot-line house in East Memphis and was excited about her new lease on life. And of course, I supported her, even as I wrestled with my own fear of change.
It’s been many years since my mother sold the house in which I grew up. Most in my family have passed on, and I’ve long lived in the wilds of California. They say home is where the heart is, and what I now know is how well the heart stores memory. When I think of home, my heart leaps to that 3rd generation house in Memphis, which will serve as my home’s frame of reference for all the days of my life.
©Claire Fullerton 2022
My thanks to Claire for sharing this wonderful trip down memory lane through her memories of the home that meant so much to her.
About Claire Fullerton
Claire Fullerton hails from Memphis, TN. and now lives in Malibu, CA. with her husband and 3 German shepherds. She is the author of Little Tea, set in the Deep South. It is the story of the bonds of female friendship, healing the past, and outdated racial relations. Little Tea is the Goodreads, 2021, July Book of the Month, the August selection of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, a Faulkner Society finalist in the William Wisdom international competition, 1st place winner in the Chanticleer Review’s Somerset award, a finalist in the International Book Awards, and the Independent Authors Network 1st place in Literary Fiction winner and 2nd place winner for 2020 Book of the year.
Claire is the author of 12 X award winning Mourning Dove, a coming of age, Southern family saga set in 1970’s Memphis. Claire is also the author of 3X award winning, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set on the west coast of Ireland, where she once lived. Claire’s first novel is a paranormal mystery set in two time periods titled, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She is a contributor to the book, A Southern Season with her novella, Through an Autumn Window, set at a Memphis funeral. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary
Books by Claire Fullerton
My review for Little Tea January 26th 2020
Little Tea is a simple title that belies a story that is both complex and compelling. Beautifully written, the novel moves seamlessly between the 1980s Memphis and the present, as we become fascinated by the family dynamics, and events that would change the lives of those touched by them. It is a book you will be reluctant to put down, and with some unexpected twists to the story it will keep you captivated to the end.
The story begins with three friends who arrange to meet in a lake house at Heber Springs Arkansas, a few hours outside Memphis. They are coming together in support of Ava, who is experiencing a crisis in her marriage and nomadic lifestyle. The other two women are very different, with Renny the self-sufficient and straight talking veterinarian and Celia, who the author describes as the ‘the friend in the middle, neutral ground, the interpreter’. She is also the narrator of the story as it unfolds.
Others from the past arrive at the lake house, stirring up long forgotten emotions, resulting in Celia in particular, to revisit her childhood and teenage years, despite it raising painful memories she has chosen to bury for over twenty years.
We return at pivotal moments in her story to the 1980s, and begin to see faint cracks appearing in both family relationships and key friendships, as long accepted social mores continue to fade into the past. Just because a law changes, adherence does not happen overnight, particularly when a family is multi-generational, and the young are quicker to adopt the new and more inclusive approach to the way they interact socially.
This is where we meet Little T or Thelonia, daughter of the foreman of the Wakefield cotton fields and plantation, whose family has been in service to the Wakefields for generations. Little T and Celia at age ten are best friends, and with Celia’s brother Hayward two years older often in attendance, they have the freedom to roam the plantation and surrounding countryside together.
All the strands of this compelling story come back to Little T at the centre. She is the catalyst of the events that unfold and will change the lives of the Wakefield family forever. What is acceptable at ten years old is frowned upon in adulthood, and even those who appear to have embraced the new future, hide deeply ingrained prejudices.
The book is beautifully written with a flow that is not disrupted by the time shifts within the story. The characters are wonderfully crafted and even those with more than their share of human flaws, are easy to visualise and connect to. It is a book you will be reluctant to put down, and with some unexpected twists to the story it will keep you captivated to the end.
Thank you for dropping in today and it would be great if you could share Claire’s guest post.. thanks Sally.