As published in the Signal Mountain Mirror newspaper, June 2020.

shelter (verb): to find refuge, to prevent from having to do or face something difficult or unpleasant, to protect or shield from danger

home (noun): a place where something flourishes*

Signal Stories Our Mountain
The Henon Family, 2017. 4 Generations on Signal


We’ve all heard a lot of old words used in new ways since COVID-19 reached our shores.  Will we ever think the same again about terms like “curve”, “distancing” and even the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” used on an hourly basis? But the words and new meanings that captured my thoughts most throughout the quarantine were “home” as in “Stay Home and “shelter” as in “Shelter in Place.”


I suppose the mandates to “stay home” and “shelter” were more welcomed by some than others. In addition to the significant economic impact of staying home, the sad truth is, not everyone even has a home or one that’s adequate to provide physical or emotional “protection from danger” as Mr. Webster defines it.


“Home” and “shelter” are words I’ve spent my career considering. I’ve used and heard these words countless times from thousands of valued real estate Clients we’ve been privileged to serve in Chattanooga over 20 years.


Their vision of “the perfect home” may sound a bit like yours: a gathering place for loved ones, a retreat from stress, a launch-pad for children, a comfort for aging parents, a “bucket list” fulfilled, an investment for the future, or untouched land to create something uniquely theirs.


But in uncertain times like we’re in, “home” and “shelter” take on even deeper, more powerful meanings. Because of our country’s freedom and prosperity, along with conveniences never imagined by our grandparents, most of us haven’t had to think of “home” and “shelter” in the true survival or dictionary sense of the words.


Oxford attributes the origin of “shelter” to the 16th century word for “shield” and defines the noun as: something that covers or affords protection, a safe condition. The verb means: to find refuge, prevent someone from having to do or face something difficult or unpleasant. Wow. Align those definitions alongside our recent circumstances.


We’ve all made adjustments: Fox Run parents became newly appointed school teachers; Birnam Wood kids are learning how to overcome boredom, alongside Walden children taking time to experience the history at Mabbit Spring; at-risk family members have been gently taken in by loved ones; and professionals have given guest bedrooms and dining tables new life as home offices.


Hasn’t it made you smile watching neighbors have time to invest in their home projects? Signal Mountain has never looked better with yards manicured, gardens planted, decks rebuilt, and front doors painted!


Make no mistake: Signal hasn’t lost its spirit. James Boulevard sidewalks are busy with afternoon bike rides, Pruett’s offers us curbside pick-up, ACE Hardware keeps us flush in materials, Bud Floral arrangements keep rooms cheerful, and local favorites like Hummingbird Pastaria and Charlotte White take dinner off of our to-do lists. How grateful I am to be a life-long part of this extraordinary community…where neighbors help neighbors in good times and bad and are always proud to call Signal “home.”  


“Home”…though most of our Clients don’t often come right out and say it, I believe their greatest longing for a home is the same as yours and mine: to provide a safe harbor for the people and values we most treasure. So, as our communities start to edge back toward former routines, I suspect a number of us are starting to ask: Could it be that this terrible virus–an uninvited guest–has actually invited us to adopt a new and more appreciative meaning of the shelter we call “home” and those inside it?


One more tip of the hat please to Webster and Oxford for my favorite definition of home: “a place where something flourishes.”


Perhaps being asked to stay in such a place; to seek shelter in a venue where people and things flourish has not been a net-negative at all. Could it be, in fact, a gift? An opportunity to redefine and measure with a more accurate scale? A chance to create a new normal for our home life rather than returning to old routines?


Whether or not this is the first time we’ve appreciated our home as a “refuge”, “shield”, “protection”, and “place to flourish”, I pray it will not be the last. And for that, we can find redemption in our ongoing challenges as we discover or re-discover the deeper meaning of the shelter we call HOME.



Todd Henon

4 Generations on Signal Mountain


“Hometown Stories” is a series of reflections by lifelong Chattanooga resident Todd Henon,  president of Todd Henon Properties, serving TN, GA, and AL for 20 years in Homes, Estates, Land and Farms, Chattanooga’s only Accredited Land Consultant. For more Hometown Stories, visit


* New Oxford American Dictionary, August 2010; Merriam-Webster

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