– By Samuel Moore-Sobel
A quaint home, tucked away in a quiet corner of Portsmouth, Virginia. It has a large tree in the front, casting shade on visitors who pull up to the curb to take in the view. An old car sits in the port out front. The distinctive red brick lining the front of the house and the splashes of white (including the shutters and doors) give off an aura from a bygone era.
What is the value of a home? Beyond the numerical value assigned when one is sold or when a quick Google search is completed. What is the intrinsic value of a home? Think about your home for a moment. What will your memories be of the current place you live, decades after your life has brought you far from the place you now call home? Will it play prominently in your memories, or will it recede with the passage of time, only to be recalled in rare moments of introspection?
“Real estate has meaning,” my mother told me years ago. I have been reminded of this fact in our recent travels. As we made our way back home from my sisters’ soccer tournament, we were close enough to stop by the childhood home of my paternal grandmother. I had heard about this residence for years from my Aunt Jackie. She spoke of it fondly, giving off the distinct impression that her years there encompassed some of the happiest of her childhood.
She had visited more than 20 years before – encountering a woman named “Mrs. Lovingood” – who apparently shut the door in my aunt’s face upon her first request to see the house, only to change her mind after a few seconds had passed. My aunt tells the story over and over – sharing memories of the home she loves. When we informed her of our planned visit, you could hear the excitement in her voice. “Ask Mrs. Lovingood if she remembers me,” she said.
Years later, standing in front of the house, I could see the reason behind her strong affections. Beyond the well-built structure, it serves as a tangible symbol of the American Dream. My great-grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, had built both a successful shoe store in the center of town and a beautiful home, raising two daughters in 1950’s America. This was proof he had made it, achieving what so many others had come to America longing to gain.
Our visit sparked Mrs. Lovingood to come out and speak with us – although she informed us she is now Mrs. Carringer (a name I do not fancy quite as much). She has lived in the home since 1964, creating a lifetime of memories with her own family. Our visit prompted my aunt to write her a letter. In her response, Mrs. Caring (a.k.a. Loving) seemed tickled by all the interest in the house.
Back in the car we go, traveling 20 minutes south towards Hampton Roads. We arrive at a home just two blocks from the water. It is a distinctive house, well-kept and cared for by the current owners. A corner lot with a screened-in porch, the home has a peaceful quality that adds to its mystique.
This was the childhood home of my maternal grandmother. I have seen the house before, having been taken there by my grandparents on a trip to Hampton more than a decade ago. My mother gets animated as she talks of memories of her grandmother. My gaze turns towards the water just down the street. “That was too far for Grannie,” my mother says, referring to her grandmother’s love of the sea. This was rectified when the next house was built in Yorktown with picture windows showcasing the Poquoson River as the front yard.
As we leave, my mother makes another prescient observation. “Your grandmothers grew up 20 minutes apart in different worlds…” I ponder the implications of this statement. How ironic that my parents would find each other in another part of the state when their mothers grew up in such close proximity to one another. My mother’s grandfather, a prominent and well-respected banker in Hampton. My father’s grandfather, a successful businessman in downtown Portsmouth. Both hardworking, attempting to make a living to provide for their families. Sometimes the world feels like a very small place.
Driving back towards our own home, I pondered the symbolism contained behind these inanimate structures. These places contain memories for sure, sparked immediately for my aunt and my mother the moment the homes came into view. Yet it seems to me they also serve another purpose. To remind of the sacrifices that ancestors made. To allow for a slight pause in the daily rumblings of life, to reflect upon the past which can help inform the future. It serves as a reminder of where we came from, and helps spur us on towards what it is we hope to build.
I wonder if my great-grandparents had any way of knowing that their great-grandchildren would get to see the results of their hard work and sacrifice? When these places of residence were being built more than 70 years ago, did they have any idea that their homes, and by extension, themselves, would live on in the imagination of future generations? Homes mean something, for the memories we create and the lives we impact. May all of our homes be places of warmth and love, impacting others for generations to come.
Samuel Moore-Sobel possesses a deep appreciation for the past. He hopes to live up to the example set by his ancestors by living his own version of the American Dream.