Surrounded by a thick hedge of ornamental orange trees and towering pines, the gabled mansion on Kyrene Road in the East Valley has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.

For years, I’ve driven past the property on my way home, wondering who might live in such an imposing structure and what it must be like inside.

The doors to the place were thrown open Sept. 12 and thousands flocked to the public auction of the home’s contents. The owner of the residence passed away in June and the property has fallen into foreclosure. Asking price for the place? A cool $8.7 million.

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “Cry of Ninevah.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

Although the home was once characterized by a meticulously manicured lawn and lush landscaping, on the day of the auction, dozens of cars were parked in neat rows amid scorched, brown grass.

Inside the 20-room mansion, crystal chandeliers sparkled, and wood floors gleamed while thousands of bidders milled about, admiring the ornately carved furniture, stained-glass windows and exquisite décor.

You can bet your last dollar I was there merely to satisfy my curiosity. Not too many writers boast digs like this, unless their last name happens to be Rowling.

As I strolled the grounds, saddened by the dying trees and parched vegetation, I thought of the words Jesus spoke to His apostles: “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions.”

Who wouldn’t be impressed by the grandeur of this earthly home? And yet, if we take Jesus at His word, that which awaits the faithful in the next life will be far more impressive.

Nevertheless, I’m not so sure our heavenly home will look like the Chandler mansion, at least, not the future home I’m hoping for.

Memories of home

I’m thinking more along the lines of the home where I grew up, on the street just south of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale. The modest houses that lined the area known as Peaceful Valley were home to dozens of kids, most of whom attended the parish school, or had older siblings who did.

We spent our childhood riding bikes, playing hide-and seek and telling scary stories. We sold Easter Seals to all the neighbors, who patiently listened to our sales pitch and agreed to support our efforts. Somewhere in my memory chest lies the green and white plastic figure of Christ I received as an award for my efforts at the tender age of 9.

One of my earliest memories is playing on the swing that hung from the mulberry tree in our backyard. My father took great delight in caring for the grass, trees and flowers that he lovingly planted, a love he passed down to his five children.

In 1993, when my husband and I moved into our new home with two small children and a newborn baby, he gave us sound advice. The best thing to do, he said, was to plant trees right away. The trees would grow night and day and eventually shade the yard.

The three ash trees — one for each child at that point in our family history — are gorgeous reminders of my father’s wisdom. As they have grown strong and tall, so have our children, so has our marriage. They drop every leaf by January each year, a living example of life, death and resurrection — a monument to the reality of God’s faithfulness.

Home, they say, is where the heart is, the place where it feels right to walk around without shoes, the place where we’re loved, and we learn to love. Home is where the memories are, those things that we can’t touch but can never be taken away from us.

The trees are silent witnesses to all of it. They stand, year after year, awaiting our return, calling us to stand in their shade and remember that Christ Himself once hung from a Tree, dying in agony for love of us, so that we might one day share with Him a home beyond our wildest imagination.

The true home every human heart longs for was built by Love itself and is far grander than anything we could ever envision. The Tree points the way there.