Home Again
Leah Walker August 21, 2012

People in small towns are inherently nosy. Ask anyone who has lived in a one and they will tell you the same. I should know. I was one of them.

After living the big-city life for over fifteen years, this aspect of my persona has changed. Oh, I’m still friendly with my neighbors and say “hey” when I pass, but that’s about it. In the grocery store, it’s a get-in-get-out mentality. There are no gossip sessions in the frozen food section like when I grew up. No, city life has made me a bit detached from the people and places around me. After all, a friendly wave and smile equals suspicious behavior in places with seven-figure populations. The bright lights and urban sprawl have desensitized me from my small-town roots, and I’m not entirely happy about it.

I lived my late teen years in Brenham, Texas. It’s situated an hour northwest of Houston, an hour and a half southeast of Austin, and a million light years away from any sort of hustle or bustle. It’s known for bluebonnets, Blinn College, and of course, Blue Bell Ice Cream. Just up the road from Brenham is Washington-on-the-Brazos, where Texas became an independent nation. Washington County is picturesque and perfect, but I hadn’t really been back in fifteen or so years.


Lately I’d felt the need to free myself from Houston’s strangle hold. The heat was stifling. The traffic was murderous. The monotony was absolute torture. I had to get out, even if it was just for the day. I woke up ridiculously early for a Saturday morning and was out the door, sufficiently caffeinated, by 7:30. My wheels were headed in a northeasterly direction.

I was headed home.

There were lots of changes along Highway 290. Big box stores, an outlet mall, restaurants, and bars littered both sides of the highway. I didn’t have to stop at all in Prairie View; the highway whisked me over that old traffic light. As my car reached further and further away from the urban grip, I started to see fields of green. Grass! And there were actual cows grazing, too. I saw ornate gates with giant Texas flags signaling the entrances to ranches. I noticed homesteads, modest and grandiose, scattered throughout the countryside. With every snake in the road I remembered what I loved about this place.

I stopped in Chappell Hill, a speck on the map and a short distance from Brenham. It’s a town of charm, character, and history, yet one would never know without heading north on Farm to Market Road 1155. Shortly up that road lies the heart of the Chappell Hill community. I stopped for kolaches at Chappell Hill Bakery. A high school friend’s family owns the place, and I recalled it being housed in an Exxon station. I hoped the shine of the new building didn’t take away from the goodness I remembered.


I stopped at an antique store across the highway from the bakery. A locked door greeted me, but much to my surprise, a man welcomed me in with a smile. That just doesn’t happen in the city. I found a million things I wanted. Old steamer trunks, books, Depression glass, and old furniture filled the dusty shop. But there was nothing I absolutely needed, so I continued on my way to Brenham.

It all looked vaguely familiar, but completely foreign. I meandered through streets looking at names that rang a bell. I was astonished that I could forget where the house was. I could imagine it and everything around. I remembered that the house, over a century old, stood on a corner. It was a bluish-green color with a white picket fence around the backyard. Steps led up to the front porch where a swing was suspended from the ceiling. The house was near Blinn College and far too close to very active train tracks.

Brenham House 3

Parks that I used to visit, tennis courts that I played on, and old, stately homes that I once admired crossed my path. And as I wandered through Brenham’s historical neighborhoods, I finally stumbled upon Blinn. One right turn and a track crossing brought me home.

There it was.

I parked on the side street next to my former home. Despite temperatures in the 90s, I sat in my car and admired it. The house was now a greenish-white color, but it still had the picket fence surrounding the backyard. Grass was replaced with a bounty of plants in the front and back. I knew that the person who lived there loved the house as much as my family and I did. When I couldn’t stand the heat anymore, I got out of the car with my camera and headed to the front sidewalk.

Brenham House 5

The swing was gone and replaced with a patio set. There used to be two front doors right next to one another; now there was one. The house was originally built by a father for his two daughters. He wanted them to have their own living space, but still be in the same house. One side, the one we lived in, was decidedly larger than the other. My parents rented out the smaller side. Sometime in the last fifteen years it was converted to a single-family home. I wondered what other changes were made.

I walked up the wooden steps just like I had millions of times before and rang the doorbell. I stepped off the porch as not to alarm the person inside. After all, I was a stranger holding a camera. Much to my surprise, a lady, probably in her mid-to-late 50s opened the door.

“Hi. My name is Leah, and my family bought this house in 1991. I haven’t seen the place in a decade and a half. I just wanted to stop by and take some pictures to send my family. I don’t mean to bother you.”

I’d practiced that line in the car, and surprisingly, she asked me to come in.

I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that someone would invite a total stranger holding a camera into her home. Had I been in the city too long? Had it made me jaded? I didn’t wait for a change of heart. I followed her through the front door, but was not prepared for the emotion that I felt.

Brenham House 2

The minute I saw the fifteen foot tall ceilings and the arched entrance to the dining room, I burst into tears. I’m not a crier, and I think this outward display shocked her as much as it did me. The look on the owner’s face was priceless. It was like, “Why did I let this crazy person in my home?” She grabbed for a box of Klenex and brought me a tissue.

“I’m so sorry. My mom died a few years ago, and she loved this house,” I blubbered while wiping my tears.

A look of relief and then understanding came over her face. She and her husband had lived in the house for a decade, but it was the owner before them that made all the structural changes. As she showed me around, I tried my best to remember exactly how the house was situated when we lived there. A closet was now a laundry room. A kitchen was now a bathroom. A back door was now a window. There were lots and lots of changes. The crown molding and beautiful oak floors remained, but everything else was glossed over with new cabinets, tile, and wallpaper, all of which were courtesy of the owner before her.

Brenham House 1

Before I left, I showed her a feature of the front door lock. She’d lived there for ten years and didn’t know a thing about it. This didn’t surprise me. I imagine those walls held a lot of surprises and secrets. After all, it’s been over a century since that father built the house for his two daughters.

I bid adieu to my former home for the second time.

Who says you can’t go home again?

Brenham House 4

I jumped off the porch just as I did when I was a teenager, snapped one more picture, and set off for the Blue Bell factory. This called for mint chocolate chip ice cream, just like old times.


Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. I turned up on a doorstep outside of Conroe a few years ago and the man living in my old house was thrilled to hear the history of the house, how my parents had designed it thinking we would live there until their daughters had families of their own. Of course the house was remodeled, it was already 30 years old when I peeked at it. But it was fascinating to wander the rooms and the yard of the first place I remember living.

    It’s natural to be curious about who lived in your house, especially a house built when you’re a child or before.

  2. Oh wow! I don’t think I would be able to do what you did.. then again we went round to the house we left 3 months ago and had a peek while they were out.. loved reading the memories.. and of course, if I could, I would have some Blue Bell ice cream 😉 do they have coconut? like that with mint!

  3. Great post Leah! Caffeinated and ready to travel early, love it! That was great they let you in the house. On my recent trip to California I went to an old house of the family, sold a long time ago and it brought back so many memories. Spent a lot of time there growing up. Didn’t have a chance to go inside but walked around the house and property surrounding and it looks exactly as I remember. :)

  4. Leah, I, like you, got to live in several different towns and houses (parsonages) while growing up. Often, when traveling through one of those towns, I will drive by the “old house” and “old church”. Those sights conjure up memories and emotions that I go back and visit from time to time. The memories of our mothers nurturing us, cooking for us, guiding us and ever-so-gently loving us live in our hearts. But, some of those memories remain in those houses as well. I’m glad you got to go back to Brenham and visit a few of them. 😉 Love your writing, Cousin! You are gifted!!!

  5. That’s really a cool thing, Kristin. I lived in three homes before I went to college, all in different towns. I can still picture them all as if I still lived in them.

  6. Leah – LOVE THIS. I work at Blinn and drive past y’alls house everyday. Not too long ago I was stopped in front, waiting for a train to pass. I could clearly remember you on the swing on the front porch. It made me smile! Oh, the simple time of ago.
    My best friend, Amy, used to live 2 houses down from y’all. We spent many afternoons on College Avenue, just like you! I love, love, love this story! Keep ’em coming!

    1. Oh, Misti, you made me a bit, well, misty. :-) I do remember that Amy lived just down the block from me. I loved my time in Brenham. Moving there is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I met such great friends and have been blessed to remain friends with people like you. Thank you so much for always supporting me.

  7. How wonderful! I would love to show up on the doorstep of my childhood home and beg them to let me take some photos… next time I get to town, I think I will do just that. The worst they can say is no…and it would fun just to walk from the house to the school like we did so many times.

  8. How great that you got to see and go into your childhood home. not only to see how it’s changed, but also to see how well taken care of it still is. (One of my childhood homes was recently for sale, and I look at the pictures online and was sad to see that someone had done a bad remodel job.)

    1. Not all the changes were for the better, but I can’t blame the current owner. The one before her took so much of the Victorian character out of the inside. It made me kind of sad. Pretty ingenious of you to check out the photos of your old house online. No risk of trespassing with that. :-)

  9. Wow. I can imagine this being really weird and emotional. I’m fortunate that my dad still lives in the house I grew up in. I bet it sent a flood of memories coming back and felt really weird to see it changed so much. Really interesting experience.

    1. You’re very lucky that you get to go back to your childhood home. Very few people probably have that opportunity. It was weird to say the least. So much had changed, but I could still envision myself living there so many years before.

  10. An awesome story Leah…My parents sold the house that we grew up in a few years ago. Sadly, the new owner has let it fall into total disrepair, and it is nothing like it was when it was our home. Then again, nothing ever would be I guess… Will you stop it with these gut wrenching stories???

    1. I’m so sorry, Deej, am I making you weepy? It wasn’t my intention. 😉 That’s such a shame about your childhood home. I also have one like that. It’s enough to go knock on the door and tell them to take pride in the place. It’s like it’s a piece of you that they’re destroying.

  11. awwww i love this post. so nice. it’s funny, i have zero desire to return to any of the houses i grew up in. funny huh? i’m happy that you were so warmly received but i’m not really surprised – that’s how Texans are :)

  12. Great story!
    I used to go to Shiner, TX all the time with a friend who’d visit his grandmother regularly. She once told us about this lady in her quilting club who was living by herself and would literally drive around Shiner to find out any juicy stories. Talk about nosy, ineed! LOL

    1. Oh yeah, Stephanie, there’s a couple of those in every little town. Shiner is a great little town though. I sure hope you took the opportunity to visit that little ol’ brewery in town. 😉 Thank you!

  13. this is really cute! my parents still live in the house where i grew up, but i have a feeling they’ll be moving soon.

    i DO know that if someone showed up at my apartment door asking for a tour of their once home, i would say hells to the no and mace them in the face.

    xo, the romantic

    1. Yeah, but you live in New York City. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Small-town Southerners offer cookies and a nice glass of lemonade. New Yorkers yell at people through their triple-locked doors. Isn’t that right? LOL

  14. Where’s my Kleenex?!… Beautiful story and it made me think of my once-a-year homecomings. I always look for things that I remember and those that are completely new, Thankfully, it’s a healthy mix. I can imagine the emotion you must have felt when inside the house. How cool that you were invited in.

  15. Beautiful piece, Leah. We moved a lot in my childhood but every ten yrs or so, if I go to PR, I drive past the earliest house I remember living in (maybe we lived there 2-3 yrs). I remember every detail vividly, including the black bean stain in the kitchen ceiling courtesy of my Mom not knowing how to use a pressure cooker properly (so it exploded!). Just as well, her black beans back then had not been perfected :) And I LOL’d reading the lazy travelers’ comment! I would not let a stranger in my house either but I wouldn’t mace them!

    1. Thank you, Raul. That’s really neat that when you go back to Puerto Rico you visit your old house. I love the black bean story; yes, those pressure cookers can be tricky. :-) And yeah, those Lazy Travelers are full of goodness, aren’t they?

  16. I grew up in the city and still live in the city, but my grandparents lived on a farm in a small town in Montana and we’d spend summers there growing up so I definitely understand the allure and welcoming feeling of small towns. This post reminded me of that song by Miranda Lambert, “The House that Built Me.” Really enjoyed reading this, Leah.

  17. Touching childhood memory. The new owners of my childhood home bulldozed it to the ground and in its place put up a much more beautiful home. It was so strange driving by when it was raised to the ground before they built the new home. It was like phantom limb disease or like the feeling of emptiness where a tooth was recently knocked out.

    My first home I have not seen in years. It is only an hour away. This post makes me want to visit it.

    1. Great analogy about the phantom limb disease, Ted. I’m sorry your house was torn to the ground, but I say give the other house a visit. See what memories come back as a result.

  18. Sadly I can’t do this too as my parents still live in my childhood home. Maybe I should suggest they move ha. This is a really cute story. I’m glad the woman had the small town attitude to let you inside. I was just in a small town in Nebraska, the town my grandparents came from. We saw my grandma’s old house, now about five apartments. I felt emotional about the house and I didn’t even live there.

    1. I think it’s probably just as special to come home to the house you grew up in. For you it might be totally weird to celebrate Christmas in another home. I think it’s really cool that you visited your grandmother’s former home. I’ve seen photos of mine, but never been. I can imagine it was emotional.

  19. OMG! I cried too! I remembered our old house Leah. I always wanted to visit our old house now I have the courage and go there.

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