Friday, May 8, 2009

Of Houses and Homes

I used to ask my students to close their eyes and imagine a place that they walked into - perhaps for the first time - and instantly felt at home. The vast majority of them would name their parents house or their grandparents house, sometimes a beloved oft-visited vacation home - rarely did they mention someplace that was shiny and new.

Now I've heard that:

Home is where the heart is.

Home is where you hang your hat.

Home is just another word for you.

I get all of that. I do. But I think there's more to it.

An example: My favorite aunt, Aunt Jennie, lived in the same suburban split level all my life. Growing up they lived about five hours away from us and I just lived for those visits to her home. I loved it there. Looking back, I couldn't tell you why. It's nothing I can put my finger on. It was just a place that made me happy. A place where people who made me happy lived.

When I was in grad school I lived much closer to her than I did to my own mom - about an hour away. I went to her house almost every weekend to study because I would get distracted in my apartment, but I could concentrate at her house. Plus she cooked for me. Once when I was sick, I bundled myself up and drove my sick self up to her house because any difficulty the ride imposed upon me would be more than balanced out by the TLC I would receive once I got there. It was not a bad decision.

A few years ago my cousin, her son, bought a beautiful HUGE house. As she was getting on in years and recently widowed, he built a wing on his house for her. It is beautiful and has about as much square footage as her whole house did. It was an amazingly loving gesture. The last time I visited her in the old place was nice - bittersweet, of course - but I was happy for her. By all of the things we measure standards by, she was trading up. Bigger, newer - you know what society values as well as I do. She was going to be livin' large.

So it took me by surprise when, as we were all packed up and ready to leave - hugs all around - I just couldn't walk out the door. I couldn't walk out that door knowing it was the last time. I was overwhelmed. Tom and the girls started packing up the car and I just sat on the steps - bewildered - overwhelmingly sad and totally surprised by my own emotions. Aunt Jennie sat down next to me. I've probably got a good 6 or 7 inches on her, but she sat down next to me and put her arm around me. I instinctively buried my head in her shoulder and sobbed. I felt guilty even as I was doing it. This was HER home. She shouldn't have been comforting me, I should have been comforting her. She didn't speak, except to say, "I know, Tam, it's ok. I know." I didn't speak at all. I didn't have any words.

I had never lived there, but it was home. And I'd never see it again.

Tom used to get annoyed - well, probably more hurt than annoyed - with me when I referred to going to my parents house as going home. But it is. My parents house is small and humble - nothing too special, certainly not in comparison to the McMansions springing up all over the place. But it makes me feel so recharged when I spend some time there - even just a very little bit of time. Recharged. Grounded. Loved. Home.

My mother always referred to her mother's house as home. "Going up home".

My grandmother referred to her mother's house as home - long after her mother had passed away, when she asked one of us to drive her to their town to visit relatives she would say, "Can you drive me down home sometime this weekend?" So even without her mother, that place was still home.

Dad's was always "The Homestead". Now the homestead conjures up images of a big sprawling ranch to me. If it does the same for you, erase that image right now. Dad's homestead - where his parents raised nine children - was a two bedroom house set up on a small hill. That's right. Nine children. Two bedrooms. The parents had a room, the girls shared a room, and the boys slept in the attic. This sounds like a nightmare to me! It sounds like home to Dad.

Because home is more than a house - and I think it's also more than the people who inhabit the house. I still love my Aunt Jennie. I still love visiting her and spending time with her in her big ole sprawling house. But it's not home.

I think it's perhaps a complicated equation involving a place and people and perhaps even time. Home has a feel and a smell and a sound. Home is a multi-sensory experience. Home cannot be forced or manufactured; home just needs to be.

Maybe I'm overthinking it (what? me? no!).

It is what it is and you know it when you feel it. What feels like home to you?


Pam said...

This is such a thoughtful and "true" post. I know exactly what you mean. I grew up in the town I now live in, but I spent the first 14 1/2 years of my married life living in AZ. And I ALWAYS refered to RI as HOME! I never felt "right" in AZ. I felt like a fish out of water. When we moved back to RI it just felt "right". There is a word in spanish, I think it is "querencia" that means just what your post is about. Where you feel most at home. RI is my querencia. I get it!

Bass Is Life said...

Home. That's a tough one for me. We moved around so much, we never really had a "home". The closest I came to it was the house in Northfield, NJ. But that was shattered when Mom and Rick moved out and I stayed there to finish my senior year in HS, living with another family in my house.

Mamaw and Papaw's house (the old one in Ohio as well as the newer one in PA) always felt very homey to me. Maybe it was the food.

It might be that South Jersey is home, but I somehow doubt it is anymore. Things change.

I wonder if the kids consider our house a home. I don't really. Nor do I consider Ohio home. I guess, for me, home really is where the heart is: I carry around some of it and you carry around the rest. And it's only complete when we're together.

Alex the Girl said...

As I was reading your post, it got me to thinking of the places I'd call home. My mother's home came to mind, my sister's place, but strangely enough, not my own. Odd that I can't call it my home. Perhaps because it is still under reconstruction from hurricane damage, I don't know. One of the places I did call home, believe it or not, was the small room where I went for chemo treatment. During that time of my life, it was one of the safehouses I could call home. Never felt safer. I guess I relate feeling safe with being home. Hmmm. Great post, Tammy.

Renee said...

What a great post. I moved around a lot when I was a kid and as a young adult. We now have a very modest little house with a postage stamp sized lawn. And it is defiantely our home. Walking through the front door it instantly calms you. We put a lot of work into it ourselves and it has our blood, sweat and tears. Our heart and soul. I love our little house. And I love the kids bounding up and down the stairs, the noise, the laughter, and sometimes the tears. It's really the only home all my kids know. And this is where they will have the most memories. I hate to think of losing it. Because it is truly our home.

mama-face said...

You are very very blessed. When I visit my home I can't wait to get out of there. I can't write about that on my blog cause my brother found me. sigh

I get the feeling about "homes" though. Some homes just have a welcoming warm spirit about them. I hope with all my heart my home does.

Great post as always.

mama-face said...

I am talking about my parent's home. NOT my home with my family! That is a huge difference!!

Sir Hook of Warrick aka "David K Wells" said...

A beautiful post! It captures what is so hard to explain. After my mother died when I was 17, I went off to college, my father remarried and sold the HOME. My HOME is still that small Bedford Stone house overlooking the Park at 5 Park Lane. I drive by on occasions to reconnect emotionally.

Same with my Grandmother's home, a small 5 room brick home built in the 20's. I still remember the sights, smells and sounds of that home. The ticking grandfather clock, the rattling of the registers from the gas heat furnace, the African Violets in the window sills, the smell of homemade bread baking!

My wife and I have lived in four homes now, but it is our first home, where our kids where born that is our emotional home for our family.

I believe home as you grow older is a state of mind. It's a place you can always bring to where you are.

Yoda reminds us, "You're always thinking back, thinking ahead, but never thinking about where you are now." It's nice to remember, but we must also remember where we are today and make home wherever the day takes us.

Sir Hook of Warrick

Shannon Baskind said...

Another wonderful post.

I moved around more than most people I know during my childhood. We seldom lived in a house (usually apartments), and none of them really felt like home. Some of the nicer ones felt as though I was living in someone else's home, but not mine.

Because my immediate family was the only constant, I did feel a sense of belonging and comfort, knowing they would be...wherever we lived when I got home after school. But I don't believe that's the same "sense of home" that you're post is about.

We always called our annual vacations to visit my grandparents "a trip home." My dad's mom lived in the same house he grew up in until she was too old to live alone, and I think that's the house that always felt like home to me. My mom's mother didn't always live in the same place, but still it always felt like home to be with her. Hmmm...

Thank you for bringing back all those memories. For just a little while this morning, I am home once again.

Gibby said...

I, too, call my parents' house "home." And you know what, I never even lived in the home they are in now. But the mere fact of driving from Chicago to Ohio is going "home." My hubby hates that too, since we have been together in Chicago for over 10 years now. But he lives close to his parents, so I'm not sure he gets it. Ya know?

K said...

My house finally feels like home to me. We bought it 6 years ago right when we got married.

I agree. There are so many things that go into making a home.

Anita said...

Tammy, this post has such wonderful sentimental tones and makes me feel so warm. My family has moved many times, and I haven't lived in that house that was home for nearly 30 years. We moved from TX to MO when I was 6, and my parents sold that house when I was a freshman in college, it's the house of many things, where I started school, graduated from high school. I cried the day it sold. Now TX seems like "home" though there is no house I've ever lived in, it's more about the people I love being there. Thank you for reminding me that sometimes the simplest places are home.

Grand Pooba said...

I still call my mom's house home. It just still feels like home. Even though I haven't really lived there in 10 years.

Now my mom is getting married and talking about selling our home! What? You can't do that! That's our HOME. I'm so sad about it because there are just so many memories there.

Maybe this economy will stop her from going through with it!

Fingers crossed!

Debbie said...

Home is wherever I am with my husband and kids. That is when I feel at peace.

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

What a beautiful post. Ms. Savant might call it Chicken Soup-ish. Brought an actual tear to my eye. Maybe because my parents split up pretty early in my life and any house we lived in as children has long since been sold. So, to me, home is where I am at right now. And nothing makes me happier than being here.

carma said...

beautiful post! Where we live aka suburban hell, it doesn't really feel like home to me. I could move in a heartbeat, but my husband has put so much time into the house, he is comfortable there- plus he doesn't like change much. I know I am still not living in the place I want to call home-- but I still keep up hope that we will get there someday...

Denise said...

Beautiful post Tammy! I think home is where you feel loved and safe. I think our parents home is "home" because we grew up there in our parents love and security. When the world gets overwhelming, you can go somewhere where you feel safe.

I hope your aunt was happy after her move.