Holly Firehammer has been selling residential real estate with Coldwell Banker Burnet for more than 25 years, specializing in Southwest Minneapolis. She recently launched a scholarship fund offering $1,000 scholarships to one student at Washburn High School and one at Southwest High School. She asked the applicants to write essays on the topic, “What home means to me.”
Here are the winning essays:
Jenna Verchota // Southwest High School
No one knows the value of home like the person who doesn’t have one. I have always thought I wanted to go to school very far away, seeking adventures, foreign cultures, and inspiring experiences. As a writer, I wanted to travel and see the best and worst of humanity. This year, I didn’t apply to a single school in Minnesota, because I knew I wouldn’t be happy here. I love the cities and may well return later, but I have been vitamin D deprived all my life; I’ve earned my sunshine, and am ready to spread my mid-western phrases like a virus. Chapman University, the dream school I plan to attend, resides happily in Southern California, surrounded by my favorite thing on this planet—the ocean. As ecstatic as I am about this change and surge of independence, I’m going to be 1,924 miles away from home. At first that number seems small. I can’t wait. I’ve been longing to live solely for myself for over a year now and it seems high time I was on my own. But then I think about my friends, my best friends who will be in Boston— 3,000 miles, New York— 2,788 miles, Rhode Island— 3,024 miles, Milwaukee—2,059 miles, Chicago— 2,142 miles, and here. 1,924 miles. Now it seems a little more desolate. Then I think about my cat Sarah. How will I live? Surely the massive supply of cat photos and videos of her purring on my phone won’t be enough to comfort me the way she does! The distance grows. Then I think about my parents, my support system. They don’t seem nearly as supportive as I want them to be now but, without them at all? No late night talks with mom, no bear hugs from dad that make me feel so safe, no watching 24 or LOST together, no fighting over the war zone state of my room, no special birthday meals. Finally I think about my brothers. Suddenly 1,924 miles seems like an infinitely lonely distance. Those two little boys are my life. They mean everything, absolutely everything to me and I have no idea how I’m going to survive without them. Those two little faces that are so happy to see me every single time I come home, those two little boys who are so blindly adoring of me I doubt they even see me at all, only to be occasionally visited through some invisible medium between computer screens. We three are each others’ rocks; we rely on each other so heavily, love each other so deeply, regardless of the age difference they’re my best friends. There is no one I’m closer to. The thought of leaving them has been the hardest for me to grapple with, and I’m still not sure how I’m going to handle the strain. Home is the keeper of you. It is that one place of unconditional love and support that will never fade. Even when you’re world comes crashing down around you and you don’t know who you are anymore, these people do, and they will remind you. Home is safety, home is protection, home is where you turn when you have nowhere else to go, when you feel worthless, and all these things that we as seniors are now going to try to become for ourselves. We need a home because it’s hard. Because we’re going to screw up, and because we need somewhere that, through all the self-doubt, will never lose faith in us and allow us to give up. Because we will never unconditionally love ourselves, we need a home to be the faith we lack.
Katelyn Haupt // Washburn High School
It’s how the linen closet smells of towels and Band-Aids in the summer, the smell of tea and hot radiators in the winter, coffee and V8 in the morning, dinner cooking in the kitchen, fresh cut flowers, fresh cut lawn, static from the dryer, and the only kind of shampoo my dad ever uses.
It’s the taste of honey and butter on fresh baked bread, homemade noodles and chicken, pot roast, buttery squash, crunchy chocolate chip cookies, burnt steak, corn on the cob, green bean casserole, meatloaf, and lasagna with black olives.
It’s popcorn popping in the microwave, classical and piano music, friendly bickering, laughter, newspaper crinkling, jingling keys, creaky doors and wooden floors, planes and rain and wind and thunder rattling the windows, the dinging and ticking of the mantle clock, and the rushing of water outside the window.
It’s the sight of the big green chair, still green, even after it was painted brown; the creek running low after a long hot summer; the frozen lake; the lone tree across from the field of cut-your-own Christmas trees; brick walls, and barred windows; the sign that says “Don’t piss off the fairies”; and the colors bursting from the ground on balmy spring mornings.
It’s my brother, with bird’s nest hair, my quiet mom, my loud dad, my erratic purring cat, my friends; tall Jonathan, short feisty Savannah, Maddy with her funny ideas, Stephen and Gavin, joined at the hip, Sami, with the biggest heart I’ve ever seen.
Home for me is all of these things, and yet none of them. Home is not a place or a person. It is not a sight, a sound, a smell or a taste. While all of these things make me think of home, bring me back to my childhood and my present, they are not what define my home. These things are not my home. Rather, they are reminders of what the feeling of home is. Home is a feeling. It is a feeling of safety, a feeling of belonging, a feeling of love and companionship. That is what home is to me.