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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: A home is where your heart is

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

As I pack the trinkets and plates and dusty old decor of my backwoods home, I find it rather a meditation on identity. And the human tendency to hoard the oddest threads of perceived connection.

Charlie has his grandfather’s sextant and his father’s green beret. I have my grandmother’s sewing box and my father’s turntable. There is a ceramic bust of D’Artagnan atop a cabinet in the kitchen, covered in the kind of grease only years of frying hamburger can offer.

Cleaning it, we discover it is a pitcher. His sword is the handle. We obviously run a classy joint around here. Next to it are two glass mugs in the shape of moose. It is a testament to my love for my husband that I painstakingly wrap and pack them with the china. When you merge established homes in your 40s, you make a few concessions if not horrifying discoveries.

It isn’t just the boxes of yarn and knitting needles, my bookshelf organized by favorite authors (starting with the Nobel laureates because it brings a balance to the moose cups). It is the book we have in our living room, the first several of 400 pages filled with memories of our home: Our wedding vows, who won at Uno, what the kids want for Christmas, when the frogs started chirping or the first fire of the season was built.

When I fold up the quilt I inherited from my grandmother, I run my fingers along the hand-stitched lines. They form stars and little swirls, “ 10 stitches to the inch” she said when she gave it to me. It took years to make, an aunt of hers, sometime at the turn of the century.

I wonder if she did it by oil lamp then, and imagine her sitting in a chair by dim light, working inch by inch until she married, had children, then gifted this to her newlywed niece. Several wars, the death of her nephew in Korea, and three generations later, it would be spread across my own bed. Now, tenderly packed into a Home Depot box with a label. FRAGILE – HISTORY.

That uncle, Stewart, had gone to Japan for the Air Force. While he was there, my grandmother became engaged and then married. Stewart went to a special shop, found the finest tea set he could buy, and had it shipped to his sister, Beverly, for her wedding. Then one day his plane never landed, just a telegram that said he’d been lost at sea.

When I chip the edge of one of those gold-laced plates, I burst into tears. I don’t even know that they are my tears, but some ancient severing I am resisting, a stifled sorrow that was passed down through my genes because it was too much for one generation to bear.

My home is filled with the lives that preceded me, people I never met but feel in my bones. The coral rose earrings that belonged to my grandmother’s daughter until she died at 18. My brother was given her name, and so she lives in his home, too. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she made a charm bracelet of all the places she would go to before she died. It is folded in a little wooden box far too small for her hopes.

I pack them all up. My ancestors and stories half-remembered. Then I pack up the new stories we have made with our children.

“You didn’t even ask me if we could move,” cries my child to me over my morning coffee. “This is my only childhood home!”

Actually, B was born in Germany, then lived in Ireland, India, Germany again, then Idaho. This home is the longest we have lived anywhere, six years. I unpacked and packed the things from Germany, Ireland, India, and Germany again. The first stuffed animal, a jewelry box, a dress I stitched by hand, 10-stitches-per-inch, worn to my brother’s wedding.

When my parents divorced and sold my childhood home, I was furious at their inconsideration. We moved to Idaho when I was 6 and they home-schooled us because making your kid calculate joist measurements is math and free labor. We rebelled as we grew older.

“One day, this will all be yours,” they said. But divorce breaks a lot of promises.

After the house sold, I went to say goodbye and sneaked into a closet to scrawl an important message on the wall. Ammi grew up here. The new owners painted the closet. They found my note and painted around it.

I want to explain to my child that I have always brought my home with me, along with the ghosts of my grandmothers and their grandmothers. And that B will take her home wherever she goes, though we may mourn these straw bale walls and even the 4 a.m. woodpecker. I am sure a new woodpecker will find a reason to drill holes in our new house right after we build it.

There, I will hang the sign that has hung in all my kitchens, and those between all the way to my great-grandmother’s kitchen:

Although you’ll find our house a mess,

Come in, sit down, converse,

It doesn’t always look like this,

Some days it’s even worse.

And with that, our new house will become our home, too.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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