Editorial - Front Porch Fredericksburg
I read a lot of student essays as an English teacher, especially around this time of year. One of the prompts that is a favorite for many of my students is one that asks them to write about a place they would like to travel, to describe it, and to tell why they want to visit. Students like it because it’s an accessible prompt; almost everyone has some place they’ve thought about visiting. This year, I was struck by the number of students who vividly, almost longingly, wrote about places they consider to be home rather than the usual places not yet seen.
This year, students described places like Pennsylvania, where hills and hunting mean time with grandfathers and uncles over weekends. Places like Florida, where aunties wait with cookouts and hot tubs, Cocoa Puffs and trips to the shore. Places like Louisiana where fishing is done off of piers and Granmè’s spicy turtle stew fills bellies. Places like Los Angeles, where older sisters wait with promises of studio tours and star sightings. Places like Nicaragua, where horses and fireworks take center stage; and El Salvador where mariscadas and pupusas are packed into baskets for the beach. All these places, all these people, mean home in some way to my students.
Their longing for home calls to mind my own memories rooted in pre-adolescence. When I was a child, I lived in eleven different houses before the age of twelve. My parents enjoyed buying older homes around Northern Virginia and fixing them up to flip and build equity. While I remember things that I liked about most of the houses, one in particular remains my image of home - a large farmhouse on Leesburg Pike outside of Vienna, just around the corner from Beulah Road.
The house is isolated, a former residence for Potomac Vegetable Farm next door that remains a working business to this day. The old farmhouse sits on a hill at the top of a double driveway on an acre and a half of land. When we lived there, a cement slab porch ran the length of the front facade, with four massive pillars supporting the porch’s roof. Inside was a winding staircase, a set of French doors leading into the dining room, and a sun porch. Outside was a swimming pool, a weeping willow tree, and sloping lawns, front and back.
It’s hard to explain why this house is home in my memory, since other houses we occupied were certainly closer to friends, school, and entertainment. There was a comfort there, a familiarity with and connection to the land around the house, and there was my parents reconciliation after a long separation, all of which contributed to my fondness toward it. There were holiday parties with friends still living, first kisses and first sleepovers, and there were many long summer days with nothing to do but lie on my tummy with a good book, swinging my crossed feet behind me in the afternoon warmth. Despite its isolation, that place was home.
And now, as my adult-child prepares to head off to grad school next year, it occurs to me that Fredericksburg will represent the memory of home. Memories of reading and a love of books are housed in the downtown branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library and upstairs among the stacks at Riverby Books. Memories of cocoa and coffee are sitting on oversized wooden chairs in Hyperion Espresso. Memories of music, mentorship, and a fond friendship remain with Brittany Frompovich and Picker’s Supply. School memories, fellowship memories, the familiar and friendly and belonging memories will be here. Fredericksburg, too, is home.
Wherever your heart, there lies home. My students’ hearts remain with their families in far-flung places, and a bit of my heart lives in the past with my young self, exploring the boundaries of a world before adulthood. For my own child Fredericksburg will be the memory of home, a fortunate memory, even as life propels us forward, ever changing.