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Everyone has that place they call home. For me and my two sisters, it was a little farmhouse in Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma.

We couldn’t wait to get out of there. As teenagers who were determined to find new and bigger things, the world around us seemed closed off and backward. The winding roads were all too long. The wide-open vistas were far too much space. We pace of the farm was way too slow. We needed something speedy, something fresh and new, something that didn’t smell like oil and dirt and fresh corn.

We needed the city.

My older sister, Ellie, was the first to spread her wings. The day she left, the car was packed to the gills and she had plenty of money in her pocket to make the drive to Nashville, where she was certain all those big dreams would come true. “I’ll leave the porch light on for you,” our mother said, as though Ellie was just going down to the corner store for a bit and would be back by dinnertime.

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When it was Samantha’s turn to head out on a great adventure, the City of Angels was the only place for her. She packed all of her things into boxes in the attic, filled up a few suitcases and headed to the airport. Our mother said the same thing: “I’ll leave the porch light on.”

When I headed to New York City a few years later, I beat my mother to the punch.

“You’ll leave the porch light on for me?” I asked.

She smiled. “You never know when you might need to find your way home.”

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My porch light in New York City was the streetlight that shone into the windows of my apartment. Sometimes it was the red and white flashing of the police cruiser that patrolled the not-so-nice neighborhood. I would find myself lying in bed, looking at up the flat white ceiling, thinking of the yellow porch light that glowed in the Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma.

My sisters had the same thoughts. Ellie found Nashville to be a warm and welcoming place, but the porch lights she saw burning brightly made her miss being home. Samantha had a porch light, but it was a bright white, not the yellowed bulb that hung in the old lamp on the front porch back home.

“This light doesn’t feel the same,” she said once. “It doesn’t feel like our old house.”

The next Christmas, we were all together at home. Ellie was the last of us to arrive, and she pulled up after dark. She stepped out of her dusty car and looked up at the porch light, then started to laugh and cry at the same time.

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Ellie decided it was time for her Nashville adventure to end. A few months later she was home for good. Now she’s married to a good man and they have three small boys. Her porch light shines about a mile away from the house we grew up in.

Samantha chose to move to Portland, Oregon. She found a little house there, tucked away on a little one-land road. The first thing she did was install a porch light. “It’s more important than the mailbox,” she insisted.

Today, I have a little house just outside of New York City. It sits at the back of a long driveway. The porch light is on all the time, because you never know when one of the kids will show up.

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But regardless, the light down that dusty road in Oklahoma is different. It’s a homing beacon, guiding us back. It’s where my elderly parents still wait for all of us. The food is always good, the house is always warm, and the light is always on.

We three girls went out into the world, and this is what we learned: There are bright lights everywhere, but none of them are nearly as bright as the porch light that leads you home.

 

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.