Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The House That Built Me

My oldest daughter, Rachel, had the assignment in her U.T. English class to write a paper about a song. She had many options, but one was to write about a song that had an impact on her in some way. The following is her paper, just as she wrote it, about Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me."

You Can’t Go Home Again

During the first weekend of May 2010 a flood washed away my city and my house. Nashville “Music City,” Tennessee is the home of country music and was my home for thirteen years. I was never a fan of Nashville’s famous country music. I was drawn more to the rock, blues, and the singer/songwriters of Nashville, because they were more original than the country music that used the same guitar rifts to sing about growing up in the back woods, drinking beer and driving pick-up trucks. After the flood, I gained a new appreciation for country music with the song “The House that Built Me.” Miranda Lambert’s song would become the theme song for all of Nashville as the city was rebuilt, for my family as we packed up our home of thirteen years, and for me as I moved to Knoxville.

“The House that Built Me” was released in February of 2010 and became widely popular around the time of the flood. It was said in all of the media coverage of the flood that Nashville was a big city with a small town feel, a town where six hundred thousand people could call home. In “The House that Built Me” Lambert sings of specific memories associated with certain parts of the house, such as learning to play guitar in her “little back bedroom.” For many Nashvillians, like myself there were a lot of places in Nashville that had sentimental value similar to a little back bedroom. During the flood many of the places that made Nashville what it is were damaged. The Titan’s stadium, Predator’s rink, and the Grand ‘Ole Opry House were all flooded, and all these places held fond memories for many people. Lambert’s song is about returning to a childhood home in hopes that the her current “brokenness inside [her] might start healing.” For Nashvillians, we had to return to the devastated parts of the town in order to heal the city that built us.

I was raised in was a very old, small house built on top of a steep hill. My parents, especially my dad, were never happy with the look of the house so he renovated the basement, bathrooms, and kitchen. He built the house “nail by nail and board by board,” in the same way Lambert’s family built their home. Personally, I knew the house was small but I always liked it because it was home. Then on May 2, 2010 a mudslide pushed my house off its foundation and a tree fell through my sister’s bedroom and the kitchen. From that day on we would only return to the house to move our belongings, search for our cat that ran away in the wake of all the commotion of the slide, or to simply sit on the front steps wondering how it would all work out. We “thought if [we] could touch [the] place or feel it [the] brokenness inside [us] might start healing” and our questions might be answered.

A few days after the flood water’s receded and we moved in with my grandmother, my dad built a playlist with music either about floods or songs to help our family cope. In this playlist was Lambert’s “The House that Built Me,” which quickly became the song that my family related to the most because some of her memories were identical to our memories at 525 Holt Valley Road. Lambert’s mother and my mother both “cut out pictures of houses for years from Better Homes and Gardens magazine.” Lambert had her favorite dog buried under a “live oak,” while we had our favorite cat under a pear tree. It was the house my sister learned to play the piano and the house we I spent hours doing homework. It was the house with the kitchen where we had thirteen years worth of family dinners. For my parents and sister, the song reminded them of all the memories that we had shared at 525 Holt Valley and it made them sad that they had lost the place that held all of the memories. As for me, I was leaving for college in a few months so the song had a different meaning for me.

Since I was already moving out of my childhood house before the flood hit, Lambert’s song became a reminder of my roots. Lambert returned to the house to “take nothing but a memory from the house that built [her].” The song reminded me that even if I could not physically return to my childhood home, I could remember all of the things that built me. I was built by a family full of love for one another, for animals, for music, for sweet tea, and barbeque. I was built by a city full of friendly faces, country music and southern accents. For me, “The House that Built Me” is not a reminder of the home we lost, but a reminder of the how “I [can] find myself” so that I never feel “like I’m someone else.”

Country music may not always have the most original lyrically or musically, but in reference to the flood it was appropriate to have a country song be the song that embodied Nashville as it was rebuilt. The fact that “The House that Built Me” was country became moot once I was able to appreciate it significance to my life and to the lives around me. The song connected with my family because of the eerie similarities between Lambert’s house and our house. The idea that “a memory from the house that built me” could heal the “brokenness inside me” is the part of the song I carry with me, because even though I can’t return home I will always have the memories.

(Oh, and she got a 98 on this one.)