The Blade and the Earth

A courthouse is designed to provoke obedience. Everything from the unforgiving stone floors and stuffy silence to the polished rails and guards in their creaking leather belts demands order. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a place where justice is meted out. A place where disappointments like us went to be punished.

We were nervous before we stepped inside, and the cop who checked us in certainly didn’t help.

“Sir!” he barked at my husband. “You can’t bring that in here.”

We looked around, wondering what contraband he could possibly be carrying.

The guard sighed and pointed at the waist of my husband’s carefully pressed black suit pants. “Your knife, sir. No weapons are allowed in the building.”

Born and raised in the country, my husband carries a pocketknife everywhere he goes. It’s as much a part of his ensemble as a watch, wallet, and cell phone, and neither of us had even considered our destination that morning as we prepared for what promised to be one of the hardest days of our married life.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” he stammered, sliding it from his belt. “Can I leave it here with you?”

“Nope,” the guard replied. “We’re not allowed to keep personal items at the desk.”

There wasn’t time to make the long walk back to the parking garage, and we stared, genuinely flummoxed and more rattled than we had been when we arrived. But then my husband saw a stand near the door that held plastic umbrella bags. He marched toward it, ripped one from the peg, and headed back outside to the courtyard. I couldn’t help but follow.

img_6399Choosing the closest planter, he wrapped the bag around the knife, tied it securely, and then began to dig a hole in the moist earth between a row of freshly planted purple and white pansies and the concrete wall. Then he dropped the bag in the hole and filled it in.

When he stood, I saw his hands were dirty—as dirty as I felt.

For weeks, I’d known this day was coming. It had been inevitable ever since we discovered the condo we’d bought, along with hundreds of others, hadn’t been built to code. Despite tens of thousands of dollars spent on repairs, which more than doubled our mortgage, the place still wasn’t close to passing inspection. In a few months, our savings account was siphoned dry, and bill after bill slipped into “past due” status.

Rather than continue to throw money into what had become an 1,100-square-foot pit (with new carpet no less), we’d opted to file chapter 13 and cut the rope keeping the financial albatross around our necks. Now, I imagined everyone who looked at me saw a scarlet “B” on my chest.

There was something so final, so disheartening, about stashing his knife that I couldn’t help but sob. It was like he was burying everything we’d worked so hard for—hopes for home ownership and putting down roots. Of finally being able to paint a wall yellow or blue instead of sterile rental white. All of it was going into the earth with that blade.

The rest of the day passed in a florescent-lit haze. We entered the courtroom and numbly sat down next to our lawyer. And when the time came for us to officially declare our insolvency, we stood and locked hands—more grateful than ever for each other. Shame, heavy as it might be, sits a little easier on two shoulders.

As the judge droned on for what felt like hours, we waited, letting the waterfall of meaningless words fall over us. The entire time, I imagined I could still feel that dirt on our hands, ground into the whorls of fingers and the crooked lines of life and love.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought. From it we were made, and to it we shall return—all at once or one piece at a time.

After the papers were signed, we escaped into the sunlight of a perfect Florida afternoon, exhausted and looking for the closest bar—unsure what to do now that we were, for all intents and purposes, homeless. We were so desperate to leave, in fact, that we nearly forgot the knife, but my husband remembered and went back. It reemerged as clean and sharp as when it went in, and—though it didn’t feel so at the time—the same would be true of us after seven long, lean years.

I won’t lie. Being flat broke and without credit was rather close to the bone, but it also had a way of clarifying things. The finances were tight, but somehow, there was always enough. The few things we did have were enjoyed richly. My husband and I grew to love each other in truer and more meaningful ways, and each day, we found the answer to Jesus’ question “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25) was a resounding yes.

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Jamie A. Hughes“The Blade and the Earth” was written by Jamie A. Hughes. Jamie is a writer, editor, and unapologetic St. Louis Cardinals fanatic who currently lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two adopted sons, and a pair of needy cats. A former high school teacher, she now works as the managing editor of In Touch Magazine and is struck dumb by her good fortune. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @tousledapostle. 


As a kid, I always thought it was odd that my grandparent’s house had its own name.

When my siblings and I piled into mom’s red minivan to drive the five winding hours to the South Carolina Lowcountry, we weren’t just headed to “Mimi and Pop’s house”—we were bound for the oyster-shell driveway of “Marshlands.”

Marshlands (1)Marshlands dripped with history. Huge oak trees, strung with Spanish moss, seemed to have been rooted in the front yard since Earth’s creation. A plaque on the ivy-draped front gates declared the house a National Historic Landmark due to its early 1800s construction and its use as a hospital during the Civil War.

Inside, among antique furniture and fraying Turkish rugs, I found artifacts of more recent, familial history—pictures of my parents smiling on their wedding day, newspaper clippings about Mimi’s real estate business and Pop’s run for lieutenant governor, photo albums of my older cousins as toddlers, always at least one caught red-faced and wailing in the camera flash. Pop’s reluctance to throw anything away (a tendency born from his depression-era childhood, perhaps) even made the fridge an excavation site for expiration dates gone by.

To me, the exact dates and details of Marshlands’ past didn’t seem especially relevant. But the house’s musty oldness—hinting at stories of antebellum balls, of wounded soldiers, of my mother’s teenage years—added to my certainty that Marshlands was magical. It seemed like the kind of house where all the stories I read started. Surely I would find a hidden room if I just pushed some hidden knob on the fireplace or tugged on the right dusty, leather-bound book on the shelves lining the study. I knew the massive wardrobe upstairs would lead me to Narnia, though I was too intimidated to get close enough to pass through. The giant vase in the back yard (an actual relic from the filming of The Jungle Book in the nearby Sea Islands) sent shivers down my spine in the best possible way, as I envisioned the cursed rubies and gold coins that must lie at the bottom.

Marshlands had its own sort of everyday magic, too, in the way that only familiar childhood places away from home can. Much of that magic came from Mimi, who was unfailingly gorgeous and refined with her red lipstick, perfect makeup, and elegant Southern accent. She served us lemonade and iced tea on the porch, taught us to play rummy, and took us to Boombears, the nearby toy shop that (coincidentally?) went out of business shortly after Mimi’s 18 grandkids passed the age of Beanie Babies obsessions.

Even after Mimi got sick, some of the childhood magic of Marshlands lingered. My siblings and I still climbed on the low-hanging branches of the oak trees and bounced on the trampoline with rusty springs. Mimi still served lemonade and rum cake (with increasing portions of rum as her eyesight dwindled). Pop still snored in front of TV college football, and woke up to protest when anyone changed the channel.

But when we left, my mom would cry—not “sad to leave” kind of tears, but tears of a sort of loss I couldn’t quite understand. I was a preteen who had never watched someone close to me slowly slip away.

After Mimi fell and broke her wrist, my mom and her siblings decided to move Mimi and Pop to a one-story house in my uncle’s neighborhood. They rented out Marshlands to strangers for a few years.

The next time I went into Marshlands was for the luncheon after Mimi’s funeral. Nothing had changed—and everything had changed. The gold-patterned wallpaper remained. The old books. The dust and faintly musty smell. But the house’s magic was harder to find. In the years since I’d been in the house, I’d gone off to college and started paying my own bills. I’d forgotten the rules for rummy. I’d realized that the wardrobe upstairs only held mothballs and fur coats.

After cleaning up from the luncheon, my cousins and I climbed into the attic and tried on Mimi’s old ballgowns. We each took a few pieces of jewelry. One cousin pocketed Mimi’s iconic red lipstick.

A few years later, we celebrated that same cousin’s wedding on Marshlands’ lawn. We watched her walk down the aisle between the oak trees we’d climbed as kids, then sipped champagne under the huge reception tent that had temporarily displaced the rusty-springed trampoline. Pop joined us on the dance floor for a shuffling Carolina swing, taking my cousin by the hand as the band played “My Girl.” Just before the newlyweds drove off in Pop’s antique car, we all lit lanterns that sailed past the trees and over the house’s red roof, creating a new kind of magic.

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photo (1)Dargan Thompson is a freelance writer and editor based in Orlando, Florida. Other than one glorious semester studying abroad in London, she has always lived in Florida, and she finds the Orlando airport quite accommodating for her frequent travels. Find her online at or on Twitter @darganthompson.

Where Are You From?

“This is my sixth time at this conference. Why do I have the jitters?”

I fired a short, honest tweet into the digital atmosphere, took a deep breath, and stepped into the halls of a Disney World convention center I knew so well. I scanned the crowd, simultaneously hoping to spot a friendly face and remain invisible until I got my bearings. My name badge displays a new city, a new company, and, oddly, my old name: Jen Rose.

The last time I was here, I was telling my engagement story and showing off a ring to anyone who asked. Two years later, marriage has changed more than a few things, but my former last name remains. Now it’s a radio name, belonging to a character on this networking stage.

Once I settled into the energy of the conference, I felt more like my past self. I spent the weekend laughing at old jokes with friends I grew up with, meeting newcomers, and struggling to give a short answer to every stranger who asked, “So, where are you from?”

IMG_6982“Well, I’m from here, Orlando, originally. But now I live in Massachusetts.” And I wondered every single time if that’s the right answer, if there even is a right answer.

Where are you from? Is it really where you traveled from? Because I’m definitely not from New England. Or is it where you work and live now? Is it the airport I flew from, Providence, Rhode Island, another state entirely? Do I tell them where my employer is – a small and sort of new CHR station in Worcester – or that I work from my apartment in another city over an hour away? I used to tell people I was from Orlando, but I actually lived in a small town an hour away. So should I tell them I’m from Boston because it’s a major point of reference and the only city most people out of state know of? No, definitely not.

Having two homes is weird.

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It’s been about a year and a half since I said “I do,” packed up whatever could fit in a suitcase or the trunk of my Honda Civic, and moved into a third floor apartment 1,200 miles away from everything I had known. And since the day I arrived I’ve been wrestling with ideas of home and finding my place. Friends and family ask if I’m feeling at home yet, and I say yes. It’s partially true. I can get around without a GPS most of the time, I have favorite coffee shops, and I can finally pronounce some complicated Massachusetts town names.

And yet, still the displacement. Still the realization that I can’t go back to the past. And sometimes, the nagging voice that says “You’re different. You’re not from here.”

In some ways, the voice is right. This will never quite be home. That isn’t resistance to change, or bitterness, or resignation. It’s truth. And it brings some comfort.

IMG_6905The biggest move of my husband’s life was from the house he grew up in to our current apartment, eight blocks down the road. He’s a New Englander through and through. The rhythm of the seasons, the cadence of the language, the pride in the land and its history are all a part of who he is, and loving him teaches me to love this place more. So in a way, with him, this is truly home.

As for me… well, I can’t turn back time and grow up here. I can’t transplant my family, can’t rewrite history so my New Englander grandfather never married an Alabama girl and worked out his days in the orange groves of Florida. I can’t, and I’d never want to. The rhythms, seasons, culture, and history of my homeland have shaped me into the person I am, and though I never fully appreciated it then, I do now, every time I catch a glimpse of palm trees outside an airplane window and relearn how to breathe the heavy tropical air.

And you know, that’s okay. Home can be in two places, even many places. Home is where we first spring from seeds, and it’s where we replant our roots. But we still reach for the sun, for something more, for the home still coming, someday.

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 Jen Rose“Where Are You From?” was written by Jen Rose Yokel. Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. She’s a poet, a radio nerd, and a regular contributor to The Rabbit Room. When not writing, she enjoys frequenting coffee shops, hunting down used books and vinyl records, and exploring nature with her husband Chris. You can find her thoughts and poems at and see pictures of mostly food and trees on her Instagram @jen_rose.

The Sunshine State

Florida has two seasons: summer and January. And flip flops can (and should) be worn during both.

Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and its more laidback cousin, the Gulf of Mexico, it quietly putters along while the states above it tromp through seasons and mark time in the usual fashion. Like Peter Pan’s Neverland, Florida is a green, sun-soaked playground where April is indistinguishable from October and a staggering array of flowers blossom year-round between gumbo-limbo trees and cabbage palms.

Jax BeachTo a nine-year-old child like me, born in the grubby northeast corner of Arkansas, Florida was a revelation—a land of limitless azure skies filled with cotton candy clouds and a salt-tinged breeze. I spent days hunting for sharks’ teeth at Venice Beach, trail riding through acres of slash pines and saw palmettos (always on the lookout for fat yellow spiders), tubing the Ichetucknee River, and prospecting for balls in the water hazards that dotted the state’s ubiquitous manicured golf courses.

Though I grew up, the landscape changed much more gradually than I did. Sadly, once empty property is now filled with the ubiquitous, inescapable trappings of modern society—chain restaurants and grocery stores. Gas stations and home improvement warehouses. A Starbucks on every corner. But my elementary school, the place where I learned about Seminole Indians and fell in love with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, is still there, a larger parking lot and bike corral its only signs of growth.

My grandparents’ home is still there too, a two-story structure of weatherworn bricks surrounded by a sun-bleached and slightly warped wooden fence. It’s the place where I perfected my backstroke in their kidney-shaped pool and lazed away the afternoon on a lounge chair, a bowl of Schwann’s rocky road ice cream in my lap. The place where we celebrated countless Christmases and birthdays and where my aunt and uncle—and later my husband and I—were wed by my great uncle James in front of the coquina fireplace in the living room.

In a state where the Fountain of Youth burbles away, The Mouse still turns a brisk trade in his Magic Kingdom, and the seasons never change, it’s all too easy to forget that time isn’t a renewable resource and that, for everyone who lives there, it will eventually run out.

Between the home I love and the school I remember is a small structure—one that has served both as a law office and a police sub-station. But it is now an assisted living facility for people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and my grandfather is one of the people who calls it home.

Like the beach he once enjoyed, which is siphoned grain by grain back into the sea, he is being pulled away from us by the tide of time. And there is no regaining what has been eroded, no reclamation project that can bring him back. It’s a hard truth to witness in a place filled with the delightful lie of endless sunshine.

I now live in Georgia and experience the passing of time as others do—season by season. Summer lingers longer here than it does most places, and autumn is far shorter than I’d like. There is winter too, a span of months where leaves wither and fall into doleful piles, leaving their trees naked and exposed to the same cold winds that slice through my bones no matter how many layers of clothing I pile on.

But because I experience those bitter months, I’m all the more appreciative of the spring that is sure to follow. I want to cheer when the Japanese Red Maple in my front yard once again dons its ruby-colored cloak and my husband’s bees begin the work of restocking their hives. Witnessing it all has helped me accept that for everything there is indeed a season, a time for everything under heaven. What is born will die. What is planted will be plucked up. I will weep and mourn at times, yes, but I will also have cause laugh and dance again. And one day, I’ll live in a land that knows no seasons and where death no longer holds sway.

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Jamie A. Hughes“The Sunshine State” was written by Jamie A. Hughes. Jamie is a writer, editor, and unapologetic St. Louis Cardinals fanatic who currently lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two needy cats. A former high school teacher, she now works as the managing editor of In Touch Magazine and is struck dumb by her good fortune. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @tousledapostle.