A Farewell Letter to Home

June 14, 2011 | 22 comments

Hey old friend,

I’ve never been good at goodbye.

But time has a way of forcing these things, and even as I tap the keys, the clock on your wall ticks a steady march toward the inevitable. The moving truck comes tomorrow.

Right now, I find myself back in the place where we first got to know each other: the nursery. The crib’s long gone. Mom and Dad turned this room into an office many years ago. But it seems fitting that this is where I write my goodbye letter to you, in this corner room where our friendship began.

Thirty-nine years, we’ve known each other. We know each other’s scars — your chipped paint and my skinned knees. I know the secret places where I’ve etched my name into your wooden frame. And you’ve etched a bit of yourself into me — and into all of our family.

On the driveway Sunday, one sister wept her farewell. She and I hugged long, and we reminded each other that a person doesn’t grieve a thing they despise. They grieve because they loved.

And we loved you.  You loved us back. Which may sound funny to some people, I suppose. Maybe it’s a you-had-to-be-there thing. I don’t know.

Just this morning, I looked in my bedroom mirror and the reflection staring back at me was an older, lined version of the child you knew. But you always make me feel like a kid when I come back here — no matter how I’ve aged in the mirror.

I remember how you invited the breeze to whisper through your windows, and maybe that was your way of singing me a soft summer lullaby.

I remember crawling up on your lap, that big roof above the porch. I’d haul my library books up there and read my favorite passages aloud to you. I’ll always remember your ladybug tree, and your grand wooden staircase, and your stained glass, the way the whole noisy family would pile into the living room on Christmas Eve. I felt closest to your heart sitting there, with family in the glow of Jesus’ birth.

It was perfect. And it was home. And just today — for the first time ever — I heard an echo in the living room. Everything is in a cardboard box now. Weird. 

But you know? I’ve been thinking about what home really is. Home isn’t a place. It’s people. But even more than that, it’s a Person. Just the other night, my oldest daughter said she thinks Heaven might be a bit like this old house. Did you hear her when she said it?

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that we’ll be leaving here tomorrow, and we’ll turn out the lights one last time, but we know that we take the best parts of you with us.

And you? We aren’t leaving you to die. We’d never do that to a friend.

Some new family will be here soon. Some new little girl will slide down your banister, and daydream on your lap, and want to get to know you — to really know you. Maybe she’ll find the message I left for her in that secret place that only you and I know.

And if you don’t mind, old friend, I might swing by once in a while. Just to wave hello.

So long, old house.




RELATED STORIES: There’s No Place Like Home at The High Calling.

PHOTO ONE: Sister Lynda, removing her senior portrait from the wall. Oldest sister Juliann had already taken hers. 

PHOTO TWO: Sisters, brother, Mom and Dad gathered on the porch, for one last photo at the Marathon house.

by | June 14, 2011 | 22 comments


  1. Lyla Lindquist

    I’m afraid I just heard that echo.

    But you’re right. There are only certain things we grieve. And there’s a reason.

    I’m a bunch older than you, but I still can’t imagine 39 years of any one thing. A treasure you have, and I doubt you’re fully leaving her behind.

    Really left a secret message for a little girl? You are the best.

    • dukeslee

      It is a hard echo to hear. Hurts.

      And yes, I did leave a written message. I whispered my secret message to daughter Lydia and pinkie-promised her not to tell a soul. 🙂 But I didn’t even show her where I put it.

  2. Peter P

    I SO want to buy that house….

    I would LOVE for my children to one day write something like this about the house they grew up in.

    You almost made me cry!

  3. *~Michelle~*


    beautifully written, my friend…..such a treasure in so many ways.

  4. Nancy

    A girl moves into a house and finds a secret message–that could be the opening of a really cool book. I’m so glad you did that! Thanks for taking us along in this process, sharing your stories, and revealing your heart.



  6. Julie

    Well friend you did it again. You really know how to make tears fall so early in the morning!

    I cry with you for the loss of that house but I am also excited for you as you take those memories you have and make new ones.

    Praying for you all.


  7. Megan Willome

    So beautiful!
    My dad is still in the same house he and my mom bought 40 years ago, when I was an infant. He has no intention of leaving, but someday, I know he will. And I will cry.
    I will also cry for all the pain in that house. That pain that made me who I am. I wouldn’t trade it.
    Damn. Crying again.

  8. Lindy

    After moving for seminary, then internship and first call and having my parents move I didn’t know where home was. You are very blessed. Now, on our kitchen wall I have a print that says “When I say I’m going home, what I mean to say is I’m going to where you are”.

  9. Rose

    Thanks for YOUR Memories. Very Touching.
    I wish all the luck to Mama Dukes and Phil where ever their journey takes them. Marathon will miss you.
    god bless

  10. David Rupert

    This old house and the memories will live on. Sad, yet sweet.

  11. Megan Willome

    Sorry, Jennifer. Really. No excuse. Just sorry.

  12. Barb Gifford

    This was a great tribute to the Dukes homestead. There were alot of memories made there. Now, you can make more wonderful memories in a whole new place. It makes me cry to think of you all this past week-end saying your good-byes. Be strong, keep the faith, and move on.
    Love you all, Aunt Barb

  13. Ann Kroeker

    Oh, my heart. It just sighed.

    A house of sweet secrets…you have left it well, it seems. Thank you for sharing it with us (all but the secret hiding place!).

    You’ve been housed well in a true home that has prepared you to race with joy to your True Home, because you know how warm and wonderful it must be, if on earth it can be this rich. 🙂

  14. Jennifer@Adam's Rib

    It’s just a matter of time before we are all here, if we haven’t been here already. Oh to be that little girl of the future who finds your note. How completely amazing.

  15. Lynn Mosher

    Oh, Jennifer! This is so beautiful, so touching. Bless you!

  16. S. Etole

    I’ve always enjoyed a good love letter … and this is very good!

  17. laura

    Oh, this makes me sad! But I feel the resurrection here too. Still…as one who never knew where home was growing up–I can’t help thinking what a gift you are passing along. Beautiful, Jennifer.

  18. Sharon O

    Such a beautiful post I love the part, people don’t grieve what they despise they grieve what they love. Oh how true is that.
    That house is beautiful I would love to take a tour. I hope the new family loves it like your family did.

  19. Diana Trautwein

    What a grand old house, a fine and welcoming home. Your story is an increasingly rare one, I think – one, singular family home for your entire life. That’s a great gift and you have grown into appreciating and valuing it so beautifully. I’m wondering how far away your folks are moving, how far away you are from this place and the new one and what it might feel like to put all your parents’ well-loved things into a new space. Please do some of your beautiful reflecting on that end of this story, too. Because this end has been truly lovely to savor and live with this last week or so. Thank you.

  20. Shaunie Friday

    Tears Jennifer . . . I’m not good at goodbye either. I love the way you have realized that all the things that made that house worthy of your love (and my tears) are going with you, as well as being passed on to the next family who will grow there. Blessings, from one Iowa girl to another!

  21. Connie@raise your eyes

    Sad, but what a blessing that you could do it together…and the secret message…GOD bless you for that:) I agree that would be a great book opening…


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