Sunday, January 06, 2008

Home Is.......?

* ……Home: Middle English “hoom,” “hom,” from Old English “ham”---village, country, dwelling, home; akin to Old High German “heim” homeland, dwelling, house……………..

I’ve been thinking a lot about “home” and what a powerful influence a place, or memories of a place, can wield, even long after you no longer live there. I have such a place. My biggest regret is that my children don’t.

I took my sister-in-law to the airport one morning last week. She was going home to New York, where she has lived all but the first six years of her life. She lives in the house she moved into when she moved out of her parents’ house. Her twenty one year old daughter has never lived anywhere else. No question for them where “home” is.

In the afternoon I made another trip to the airport, this time with the OC, who was returning to the frozen north. Was he going “home,” or was he, once again, leaving “home?”

*…..the house and grounds with their appurtenances habitually occupied by a family……

The OC has a lifetime of experience of leaving home. Because of Stalin, and war, his parents left their Ukrainian homeland before he was born. When he and his sister were six months old their parents left Germany, their birthplace, for South America. Within a few days their father was at the American Embassy applying for papers to come to the States, because a few days were enough for him to realize he didn’t want to stay in Argentina. But it was going to be a long wait.

After six years they finally set sail for New York. Their new home. Where they didn’t speak the language. Where the woman who had been a respected schoolteacher in her own country had to scrub stairwells and shovel coal to make ends meet. Where her husband, who had attended law school for two years in Europe, worked as a waiter, and in construction, and at anything else that would keep food on the table. Proud and determined, they gradually scratched out a decent life, grateful for opportunities available in America to people who were willing to work hard. They love this country. They’re well off and want for nothing….except….. home. The older they get the more they hanker for the Ukraine of their youth. Which doesn’t exist anymore as they knew it, except in their memories. Their farmland and ancestral homes belong to the state now. Thanks Mr.Stalin.

The OC was a natural for AF life. Because, as sure as the sun rises in the east, the AF will send you to a new assignment every three years. Guaranteed. You become an expert at packing and moving. The children make forts with the boxes. But as they get older they start to realize that, as much fun as cardboard castles are, they don’t quite make up for what you lose in the moves. Friends, for instance. Teachers and classmates who know you and your brothers and sisters, and maybe even your parents. Familiar places. Favourite haunts. As soon as you find friends, familiar faces and favourite haunts in the new place, you’ll know it must be time to be moving on….

Before Liz went to college she filled out a newcomers’ questionnaire for the university’s freshman guide. We lived in Stuttgart at the time and she had just graduated from the American school there. So she wrote “Stuttgart” in the “hometown” slot. As anyone who’s been in a military family stationed overseas knows, APO, NY [Army Post Office, New York] is the bottom line for your address if you’re stationed in Europe. This is so that friends and family don’t have to pay overseas postage to stay in touch…….. The questionnaire was posted and promptly forgotten…..until the freshman guide arrived in the mail. Liz’s hometown was listed, by the geniuses who had put the guide together, as Apo, NY, a town nobody could find on the map!

Liz has hunkered down in a heartland town and issued fair warning that she is not moving until her boys are out of college. And probably not even then. For her, home is stabililty, continuity, familiarity. If I’d had a clue way back then, I’d have dug in my heels too.

*……………the family environment to which one is emotionally attached………..

But I didn’t have a clue. I’d lived in the same town and the same house until I was twenty two. I thought it was boring. I wanted to travel, to see the world, to have grand adventures. So? I traveled, I saw places I never expected to see when I was poring over my stamp album and dreaming of the places my stamps came from. Now I understand the saying “Be careful what you wish for!” I didn’t see ahead to all the times I’d be yanking my little saplings out of soil they were thriving in and transplanting them into strange dirt in faraway places. And then, just as they started to develop new roots, yanking them up again….. And again…... And again. Why is it that only hindsight is 20-20?

*………the refuge or usual haunt of an animal……………………….

We’ve called many places home in the past thirty plus years. Germany and Belgium were my favourites, maybe because they were most like home. There’s that word again. Home. For me, home is the place that holds your heart; the place that constantly pulls you back. The place I plotted to escape to whenever the marital bliss indicator was teetering at zero. Even though, if I had to spend a winter there, the rain and the cold would kick my butt and send me whimpering back to Florida!

After we’d been married a year I flew home for a visit, all the way from the arid Mojave. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed “home” until we came in sight of the west coast of Ireland. How my breath caught and my heart lurched when the first little islands off the coast hove into view, all glistening green and indescribably beautiful in the early morning sun! Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was sobbing. Life had gone blythely on without me, but, in that moment, I knew I would never have such a feeling of belonging, of being home, as I did here.

I wish I could have given my children that connection to a special place, to home. Home for one son is where his children are. Another feels more at home in England. For our younger daughter home is where her horses and dogs are. And the Bean is still, for now, hanging "at home" with me.

Since the OC is unlikely to suggest moving to Ireland any time soon, my next best ideal “home” would be a village, anywhere, like the one we lived in in Belgium. The market square would be within walking distance of our house, with a butcher and baker and chocolate maker! Friends I’ve made and left through the years would live in, or near, our village. What fun it would be to introduce them to each other. Imagine the picnics we’d have in our flower filled garden! Jan would be there. And Pauline and Silvana. And MaryBeth and Julia, and Joy, and Heide, and Becky………I’d have two special guest houses. One, roomy enough to sleep the children and the grandchildren, those already here and those who may yet be born. And one for Rise, for when she and GB could be coaxed away from their Bolthole-by-the-Sea.

Maybe it’s not home I’m thinking of but heaven!

Home for now is here, in Florida, and a very comfy home it is. With no snow to shovel or blizzards to shiver in. I’m not writing this in the spirit of bitching or bellyaching. More of a waking daydream. Without husband, children or grandchildren to fuss over, my mind tends to wander, and wonder……Is it still home if nobody’s there?

*.……..focus of domestic affections [~ is where the heart is]………………

At the end of the day, no matter where I hang my hat or lay my head, home is a place I carry with me in my heart.

*....from Webster's Dictionary.


Thimbleanna said...

Wow Molly -- love this post. It's a subject I think of often and we find ourselves in the position of your daughter -- we moved a lot as children and tried to stay put for the children to have roots. But they, like you, think it boring and long to spread their wings. Maybe it alters every generation? I do think it's true as you get older, you long for home. I especially see that in my father -- he's across the country from his home and I know he longs to return to finish his days there. But none of us are there, so in a sense he has two homes. Thanks for a beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

I shared a similar experience to your Liz. A military father meant constant moving. I made certain that my children went to ONE school. I am envious of the fact that they still have memories of pre-school, reinforced by those years of walking past the same building.

I may have created a daughter with a wanderlust, though...

Stomper Girl said...

Well, I just revisited my 'home'-town over Christmas and on the whole I felt nothing special at all about being there. I tried imagining me and the boys living there which induced a sense of claustrophobic panic. On the other hand I feel strangely moved when I think of the terrible bushfire that swept through there causing much devastation 4 years ago. So I dunno. It's a funny business, this 'home' thing.

meggie said...

What a bittersweet post this is. I know that feeling to a certain extent. Our children feel 'homeless'. I always wished we had lived in an old 'homestead', & had no changing of schools, no changing of addresses...
It does no good to wish now, but I always felt so sorry for the brilliant young woman who worked as a cleaner for our Hotel, in Oz. She had been an accountant in her homeland. She became a 'lowly' cleaner in Oz. She was a lovely, intelligent, clever, enchanting woman, who gave much for her husband & her children's freedom.

Our next 'cleaner' was an Air Force wife. With a seething resentment for the gypsy life she & her children had to endure. Often in substandard housing. She left him. I could never blame her.

Ali Honey said...

I have lived in only a few places. My first 17.5 years in the same country house.
At the moment I have lived here 29 years and 10 months. ( so this is certainy home - I've lived here longest ) all my homes have been in New Zealand. As long as I have greenery ( grass and trees) around me, I think I would be happy to make anywhere home.

I think my offspring still think of this as home....well some of their gear is STILL here....but they are only 34 and 37 so it's early days!

Always keep homes and memories alive in your heart and mind - then you can visit as often as you wish.

Lily said...

I had just put on mascara then read this post and now I have to go wipe off the streaks. You said it very nicely. Move to OHIO!

riseoutofme said...

Home is most definitely where the heart is ... not bricks and mortar or furniture and belongings ...

Oh to be a Bedouin ...

fifi said...

Have been pondering this lately, having lived in the same place for 14 years, wishing the horizons were broader (more often)

My life till then was spent wandering: I always thought it would be great to stay put. Now I'm not so sure...

Eastcoastdweller said...

Oh, does this ever tug at my heart-strings, Molly!

I'm an AF brat too -- almost born in the Philippines, shuttled around a half-dozen other places, no hometown to speak of. My high school reunions mean nothing to me -- I only went to the school from which I graduated for one year.

I've spent longer than that inside the DMV.

I hear of parents wringing their hands because their little darlings can't bear to go to a school across town after some redistricting decision, and I feel NO sympathy. Try going to a new school in another country and then you have grounds for complaint.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Just beautiful. I think everyone can relate to the yearning for home, maybe those who never had it most of all.

I moved many times while raising my children alone. They never had the security of one home forever, as my brother's children did, which I regret.

But they have all learned to adjust to new people and changing circumstances better than most. Home for me is no longer the town where I grew up, but my loved ones. When they are with me, I am home.

This was a gorgeous post, and now if you will excuse me, I must read it again.

Tanya Brown said...

This was a marvelous, moving post. I didn't know what to say when I first read it, so now I'll simply say this: thank you.