Along with a good segment of America, I’ve started to pay attention to Waco, Texas because that’s where Chip and Joanna Gaines host their HGTV show Fixer Upper. Not only are the Gaines’ (as Chip might say) sweeter than candied yams dipped in honey with them big ole pieces of white sugar on ’em and a dadgum cherry on top, but the finished products in the show’s reveals are gorgeous. Like, sometimes jaw-dropping beautiful where the new owners are brought to tears at the thought that they will be living in this actual loveliness.
What I love most about the show, though, is not the vintage, farmhouse style that each of the Gaines’ homes spotlights, but the easy camaraderie of the couple and the sit-on-the-porch-and-have-a-drink vibe that emanates from each house they create. The South is all about place, roots, and home, and Waco rests squarely in that geography.
Southern homes say welcome. As soon as you cross the threshold, you’re liable to be handed a sweating glass of tea or a slice of red velvet cake. The same is true whether you’re at one of those seer-sucker and bowtie events at a Charleston mansion or at Aunt JuJu’s double wide in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Folks in the South share what they’ve got, from surplus summer-ripe tomatoes to that joy, joy, joy down in their hearts. There’s a reason it’s called Southern hospitality.
For years, we hosted a weekly evening gathering of friends. As the night grew long, we’d put children to bed in every spare corner (sometimes even in the bathtub) while the adults stayed up talking. Everybody knew where the spoon drawer was and could help themselves to whatever was on hand: extra sippy cups, a cup of coffee, or a cookie or two. Often a layer of dust coated the piano and laundry lay on the arm of the sofa, but it wasn’t about that. It was grab your favorite chair, take your shoes off, and stay awhile.
Home is where we breathe deep. It’s the base we come back to after playing tag out in the world all day. Right inside the door, usually in a big messy heap, it’s where we drop our stuff: backpacks, keys, tight shoes, sports gear, winter coat or wet pool towel. It’s where we shed our anxieties: crisis at work, driving in Atlanta traffic, that grade in chemistry. Off come the scratchy sweater and bra along with all the fakery we sometimes show the world: I’m fine, my life is perfect, I’ve got it all together.
Home is where you don’t have to be fussy or extra-starched. If it is to transcend from house to home, it’s messy and full of life. I’m talking about the upstairs window, cracked by a hockey puck, dog nose prints on the storm door, nail polish in the carpet underneath the strategically placed end table, or the desk piled high with papers (it’s a system, people!). I mean messy like dishes all over the kitchen from my son’s experiment with molecular gastronomy (google it), finding glitter in perpetuity from my daughter’s Christmas crafting projects, and my husband’s giant shoes by the door, ready to take the dog for her evening walk.
You can sink into the lumpy couch and have a good cry without people edging away from you, wondering about your particular brand of crazy. If you tire yourself out, you can lie right down and someone might just come along and cover you up with your favorite blanket. Chances are good that even after slammed doors and scowly faces, someone will be saying sorry and someone else will automatically reply “it’s ok,” and mean it.
Growing up in a military family, I moved frequently in my childhood. With each new house, my mother immediately set to work freshly cleaning each corner before moving us in. Then, over time, she set to work removing wallpaper, adding new coats of paint, and making curtains for each window so we would feel settled. Once the grandfather clock was wound and we could hear its reliable chimes every quarter hour, something in me would relax into the new place and begin to see it as home.
It must be a natural instinct to feather these “nests” of ours, to fill them with people and objects that soothe. I’ve been in the meanest huts in Africa where the women still take care to sweep the dirt floors smooth and hang a bright colored piece of fabric on the wall, just because it’s pretty to look at. We want our littles to feel warm and safe there, and guests to feel welcome. It amazes me each year when I find bird nests in the yard, blown down from the latest summer storm. Each one is intricately woven, often lined with feathers, horse hair, stray ribbons or strands of hay. Does this make the nest sturdier in some structural way? I like to think the mama birds just like the way it looks and know it will feel good to come home to after a long morning hunting worms.
Feathering our nests is such a creative effort. Aside from taming the smudges on the refrigerator or crumbs in the carpet, adding pretty colors, favorite pictures, or a bouquet of flowers gathered from the yard nourishes the spirit and that place within that yearns to co-create. I’m no expert, though I love trying new things. So many fellow creatives have such overflowing talents! Here are just a few blogs and instagram posts that might offer you some inspiration, too: Melissa Skidmore, Diane Henkler, Bre Doucette, Lucy at Society 6, Patsy @ blessedmommatobabygirls on Instagram, and Kelly @ eclectically vintage.
Whatever your style, whether you’re an HGTV addict or prefer the bohemian yard-sale look, feather your nest to nourish yourself and others. No one cares if the laundry’s piled up or the baseboards haven’t seen the light of day in months. Aim for peace, but don’t mistake quiet for peace. Families with pets and children and full calendars don’t get many doses of quiet. It’s peace like a river, not a pond. So, grab a glass of tea and take a load off.