A House Is Not a Home


Moving Day.jpg

Dear Mackenzie,

We moved this week. And yes, it’s sad (both the fact and the context), but it’s also part of life. It’s not like we’re Abraham Lincoln who was born in the same room as his great granny. People of the 21st Century are mobile. It’s a mark of progress and an intimation of America’s Westerly consciousness toward discovery, invention and prosperity (or so I heard from this thing I watched on PBS). And while it’s probably safe to assume that we’ll be leaving parts of ourselves in what was our very first home, most of what’s to be gained will be taken with us. Consider the following examples. And remember to lift with your legs.

4304 Windsor Drive, Provo, Utah:

My sister potty-trained me in this house. It’s not as weird as it sounds, it was the 90’s. And there are no standard operational procedures in a house of nine children. Even if I peed in a corner, it’s likely no one would notice. So, my sister Ma’ele was usually the one to dot the i’s and cross the t’s my mom didn’t always have the time to dot or cross.

We lived in a brown home on Windsor Drive, several hundred feet above Provo valley, and held up by a retaining wall made of stone pulled from a mountain. Besides learning toilet seat etiquette in that house, I broke my first bone in that backyard, got my head stuck in the banister overlooking the living room and began a confused obsession with Barbie dolls that my dad protested but my mom encouraged.

Fanga ‘o Pilolevu, Nuku’alofa, Tonga:

Of the three years my family lived here, I was naked and dancing in the rain for about two and a half. It was always hot but there were no water heaters, so the only warm baths came from the water you boiled – as I imagine Abraham Lincoln did and Oprah still has done for her. I’ve never had the patience for boiling water so the tropic rain was my bath of choice.

Christmas mornings were spent getting sunburned at the beach and every Sunday, more so than any other day of the week, was about God and eating. A hurricane blew out our living room windows, I once threatened another boy with a butter knife when he tried to steal my bike, and rats seemed to chew through everything that wasn’t given regular attention. It was a humble home – cinderblock and concrete – but the true living space was outside; in the rain, naked and dancing, literally as if no one was watching.

403 W 3800 N Provo, Utah:

Seven Peaks Water Park, Canyon Crest Elementary School, sleepovers in the backyard and divorce. That’s about it.

1417 Shoal Drive, San Mateo, California:

So, listen. There was a time in my life, albeit brief, when I was firm in the delusion that I had any business wearing gold chains, saggy jeans, and Timberland boots. I don’t want to talk about it. But I will say that this house, and my lovely family in it, had the patience and sense of humor to accept whatever Boyz From the Hood phase I was going through. Besides, about 17 minutes after moving back to Utah I took up figure skating. Always kept them guessing.

1042 E 850 N Orem, Utah:

This is the house where I fell in love for the first time.

380 200 S, Provo, Utah:

This is the apartment where my heart broke in two for the first time.

1142 E 2700 S, Salt Lake City, Utah:

And this is the home where my mended heart grew to a size and strength that still scares me. This was our place. We had a standing date every Tuesday for $5 movies at Sugarhouse Cinemark where we’d always get a large popcorn but never eat more than half. We brought the average age of our neighborhood down 50 years. We carpooled to work and you wouldn’t let me listen to NPR. We took turns making brave yet mostly regrettable dinners, learned each other’s official couch zones, and used any excuse imaginable to avoid writing wedding thank you cards.

And on the end of the red couch in that living room on that warm August Friday, we were struck with the blow that shifted the axis of our new universe a few sharp degrees.

Jupiter Circle, Highland, Utah:

And now we’re home. For now. The Madsen-Whatcott (now Madsen-Whatcott-Unga) homestead. Which isn’t too much of a stretch seeing as I’ve spent the last four years there, eating out of your mom’s fridge and watching movies in her room. And your mom and I have about the same shoe size, so…


And all of those moves and boxes and return addresses have led us here. Home. This is where we raise our kids, who will hopefully inherit your hair genes instead of my Whoopi Goldberg hairdo circa 1989. Maybe the house will be brick. And Tudor. Or maybe your real estate dream will come true and we’ll have Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper turn a meth house into a spackled slice of heaven. But whatever the material or style or budget, I know that any four walls with you will be warm and light and safe and ours. It’ll happen. When it’s time. When you’re strong enough and can breathe deep enough. And it’ll probably happen sooner and wilder than we’re ready to yet accept.

Let’s start looking for that home anyway, you and me. Let’s find it and let’s paint the front door red. And pull up the carpet to reveal teakwood floors. And let’s have a bedroom with morning light and a sitting room with afternoon light. And not worry too much about lawn-mowing patterns or garbage days.

Let’s paint ourselves into the walls. And memorize everyone’s unique sound of walking through the front door. Let’s climb the hills surrounding, swim in the lake down the street, overcook hamburgers in the backyard, use our neighbor’s names when we see them going and coming, and look both ways before backing out of the driveway because we have kids too and live with an escalated paranoia and probably always will.

Then let’s meld our bodies into our home’s warmest corners, after long days of long weeks of even longer years. And let’s fade away. And never move again.

What do you say?

Love, H

6 Responses
  • Susan Berger
    January 20, 2016

    Such an amazing man. I hope these letters are being archived somewhere permanent, they are a treasure.

  • Lavi Mounga
    January 20, 2016

    Standing ovation Hen!!! I was captivated from the beginning til the end. Love you & Mackenzie both so much!!! Good memories.

  • Debbie Dopp
    January 20, 2016

    Thanks Henry I look forward to your Dear Mackenzie letters, even though they are not addressed to me. Thanks Mackenzie for letting us read theses little snippets of your life together. I love you both so much. I can’t wait to see your new place and eventually the place with the red door and the lake down the street.
    Love Debbie, you know, Debbie Dopp

  • Peg Carter
    January 20, 2016

    Just beautiful! Brought tears to my eyes. And, well, they just won’t stop!

  • Mama Rebecca
    January 22, 2016

    I love their love–I have always been team Hen and Mack. It just seemed the right fit from the beginning. I couldn’t be happier that they found each other. The sum is far more than just 1 + 1 = it is infinity and eternal.

    Love, the Mama

  • Cassie
    March 1, 2016

    Tears, that’s all. ❤️

Share Your Thoughts