My husband and I have always been placemakers, though it is only since moving to Maplehurst that we have settled on a name for this thing we do. Maplehurst is as imperfect as any place we have ever called home, but it is also the fulfillment of the hope we invested in every one of our many homes.
In our first apartment, we covered the brilliant 70s orange of our laminate countertops with wood-patterned contact paper. We only lived there four months, and we made terrible food in that tiny kitchen, yet I still remember the culinary achievement of the spring salad dotted with strawberries I served to a friend. The table I laid with such care was so rickety it didn’t survive our next move.
In twenty years, we have moved and moved and moved. And though it has never made financial sense, or any kind of sense at all, we have left each house or yard a little more beautiful and a little more loved. Yet always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion. A place to cultivate and share with faithfulness, with no plans for moving on. Four years ago, we found it.
I first saw the house on a day of record-breaking heat. I suppose we never choose the day when our dream will come true. Just as we do not choose the precise place our dream will carry us. This Victorian, red-brick farmhouse did not look like the home of my dreams. That first, terribly hot day, it did not feel like it, either. But my dreams began rearranging themselves almost the moment I stepped across the smooth, worn stone of Maplehurst’s threshold.
Back then I didn’t know a thing about keeping an old house cool in the summer. What I knew was the artificial hum of the central air-conditioning in our Florida split-level and the surprisingly detailed dream that began to visit us in that lonely place. We called it the farmhouse dream, but it was always about so much more than a house. It was a vision of growing roots, cultivating beauty, and opening the doors to neighbors, wanderers, and pilgrims – near and far. It was a vision of home.
Built in 1880, Maplehurst is a square, red-brick farmhouse wrapped in a white-spindled porch. It sits at the top of a Pennsylvania hill surrounded by a small island of land. Once long ago, the wavy glass of the home’s old windows framed a view of fields. Today, where crops once spread in cultivated rows, we see only builders’ homes and polished sidewalks. A long, looping, split-rail fence separates what is left of the farm from our neighbors’ newly seeded lawns.
On that first day, I felt my dream of home become reality as I touched the warm wood of the banister’s graceful curve. I stood on the stairs trying to catch my breath, the humid air too heavy for my lungs, and I should have known. I should have recognized the moment for what it was. I had arrived at both the beginning and the end of a journey.
A few weeks after moving in, one of my boys slid belt-buckle down and carved a deep scratch the entire length of that beautiful banister. Somehow I most clearly grasp the living reality of my dream come true when I touch that scratch or remember the miserable heat of that first day. We live in a good world shackled by decay. A world that always seems to fall at least a little bit short of its own promise. Yet glory dwells here too. Heaven and earth meet in scratches and scars. In broken banisters and in a Body broken for us.
What is a placemaker to do? I polish the scratched wood. Jonathan smooths the splinters in the old oak floor. I grow my own strawberries now, but I still serve that strawberry salad. And in these small and ordinary ways, we cultivate our own patch of earth that it might better reflect a heavenly reality.
Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for a farmhouse, a garden, and a blog. Her book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is available from Revell. Connect with her and discover more about life in a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst on her blog or on Instagram.