Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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The Little House on Flannery

August 2, 2022

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

— Susanna Clarke, Piranesi [1]

It wasn’t a particularly gorgeous house. There was nothing about it on the outside that set it apart as special. It was just a typical 1970’s-era home on a street called “Flannery,” complete with a den and a living room, three bedrooms, a backyard just large enough to support a small garden…and the incessant roar of the interstate just a few blocks away. 

This was the house my grandparents bought in the late 70’s when they moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. My mom was all of 10 years old at the time, and she’s always said it was the home of her childhood. Everything before it was temporary and fairly unremarkable. 

Fast forward several decades, however, and the stable home she remembered became for me and my family a transitory domicile. My grandparents had just moved into a new home out in the country, and while we built our new house on their new property, we would rent their old home on Flannery Road. 

If there’s one thing I remember about our five months at the Flannery house, it’s how cramped we were. I was the oldest of 7 at the time (our numbers would later swell to 9), and my four sisters and I somehow crammed ourselves, one bunk bed, and two twin beds into our mom’s old bedroom. It had been a generous space for one glamorous girl of the 1980’s, but for five sisters in 2005, it was a tight squeeze. My two brothers claimed our grandfather’s old TV room while my parents moved into the master bedroom, suffering the nightly torment of the neighbor’s dog barking his head off at the interstate-bound traffic. 

Yet there was something strangely special about living in my grandparents’ home. For one thing, it was deeply familiar to all of us. I remember it as thoroughly as I do our old city house and occasionally visit both in my dreams. My mom still recalls how surreal it was for her to leave home as a newlywed, only to come back 16 years later with her husband and 7 children. During the time we stayed there, we hunkered down for a hurricane, devoured many an unhealthy serving of Burger King, watched Gone With the Wind for the first time, and celebrated Christmas. 

I confess, I don’t remember any bittersweetness when we finally moved out. (I do know my parents were very relieved; out in the country, there’d be no barking dogs just outside their bedroom window.) But as I look back on that friendly little house, I realize it was our “in-between space,” a home away from home that gladly received us because it had always been a place of old-fashioned, Southern welcome. 

My grandparents’ new home—the one I now see from our kitchen window—still doesn’t smell quite the same way their old one did. I’m convinced that the mellow scent of red beans and rice saturated the walls of the Flannery house. But the well-known comforts didn’t stop there. For years, my siblings and I had played hide-and-seek amid our grandfather’s impressive hoard of garden tools; we continued those rowdy games during our five-month stay. Just as I’d done as a toddler, I often ran my fingers over my grandmother’s gauzy window curtains, loving the way the material rippled over my hands like a wedding veil. And one afternoon, my brother and I pushed our scooters over the old buckling driveway we’d cut across so many times before, listening to the death throes of Hurricane Rita as she tried (and failed) to drown out the interstate. 

It wasn’t our true home. But through a combination of long memories and our presence in an already-beloved place, we made it a home—and I like to think it welcomed us, too. It had, after all, been part of our family for decades. If houses could feel and think, perhaps this one hoped it could do one last kindness to the children who’d gobbled Mimi’s biscuits, tromped through Pawpaw’s garden, and stayed overnight every time a new baby arrived. 

Creation groans. That little house probably did, too. But even in her groaning and her “in-between-ness,” Creation—like the Flannery house—is still a home. It isn’t our truest home, but it is the place where God has asked us to be pilgrims and adventurers. And we are called to love it and let it welcome us as it’s meant to. 

There are days when I’m hyper-aware of how transitory this home is. I’m reminded of it every time I hear the latest dour prediction of how the end times are finally upon us. I shall be fair and concede the point: maybe they are upon us. The scientists and great thinkers and the Doomsday Clock are all wringing their hands and declaring that we’re “100 seconds to midnight”—and maybe they’re right, too. 

But I’m far more aware of the “now and the not yet” of this world whenever I find myself wrestling hard with some nagging sin…or when a fox carries off one of our hens and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop him…or when the soft light of a tiny unborn baby quietly goes out and all that remains is a deep, dark, choking grief. 

This is the earthly home we’ve been given. Like the never-sleeping interstate two minutes east of Flannery, the darkness of evil and suffering will never end this side of eternity. And yet there’s so much more to this temporary home of ours. We still live in a world full of velvet-cheeked babies, sunny afternoons, gentle romance, wriggly earthworms, Easter hymns, Marvel movies, buttery biscuits drenched in maple syrup, and red beans and rice. Long ago, God saw it and declared it very good. And even when it was broken and aching and groaning, He sent His Son not to annihilate it or to treat it with stoic indifference, but to redeem it along with His Bride and make it all new and beautiful again.   

Yes, we often feel out of place, exiled, and very much like “poor wayfaring strangers.” We feel this way because this isn’t where we’re supposed to remain. But while we are here, let us not despise the welcoming beauty of the house we’ve been given for our sojourn.

May your Paths be safe, your Floors unbroken, and may the House fill your eyes with Beauty.”

― Susanna Clarke, Piranesi [2]



1. Clarke, Susanna. Piranesi. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.

2. Ibid.



Image courtesy of Toa Heftiba via Unsplash. We are grateful for her generosity.



 

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  1. Tresta Payne says:

    What a loving tribute to our temporary places, Maribeth. I truly enjoyed reading this and I agree with you–the Doomsday Clock may tick on, but there is still so much of the goodness the Lord declared, here in this ready-to-be-redeemed place.

  2. Thank you so much, Tresta! This was a really special article for me to write, and I so enjoyed revisiting my memories of that transitory home.

  3. Nancy “Mimi” Westfall says:

    What a sweet article! We do need to be reminded that we are and have been on Holy Ground in so many places, past and present – all gifts from our Lord and Savior.

  4. Deb says:

    Oh, Maribeth, what a needed reminder of a beautiful truth! And your way with words is truly comforting.

  5. Laura Hale says:

    Yes, and amen.

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