Jun 1, 2017
What sort of images does home conjure up for you? Is it where you currently live or where you grew up? How much is it based on length of time and how much on your memories and the people you shared your home with?
Home usually seems to mean “where I grew up, where my roots are, where my family lives.” When adults say “I’m going home,” it may mean “I’m going to my residence now”; but chances are it means that “I’m taking a trip to visit my family.”
For older adults who have relocated, home often means “where we lived and reared our children. And for the widowed—that previous life as half a couple—where we lived with our spouse.
A prominent local couple—in their 80s with failing health—gave up their penthouse on the water to move to a retirement center. She said to me, “It’s not home but…” Her daughter was indignant. “They deserve to be in a place they call home at the end of their lives. They didn’t plan ahead—they could have gone anywhere—and now they don’t have options.”
I think we all need a place we call home, a place of special memories, where we can return again and again. I wish I had been more intentional in fostering the sense of home when the children were growing up, and I especially wish I had emphasized coming home after Lev died. Instead, I wanted to avoid the empty chair, the presence of Lev’s absence. I have never found the balance—how to celebrate the memories here without remaining stuck in the past. It is too easy to long for an Option A that is no longer available instead of making the best of Option B.
When we first married, Lev often said glibly, “Home is where I hang my hat.” But what he really meant was “I don’t have a place I can really call home.” I can easily count eight homes in three states—and there may have been others short-term during World War II—but I can also count years of boarding schools. He never spent much time at home with his parents.
The children and I made it home for Lev, and that is where he wanted to be—not so much a place as the people he loved most.
I have never been sure where home is either. I grew up in southwest Arkansas, which always seemed like God’s country to me, with its hills, creeks, pine trees and red dirt. When I’m on the road and I see my first pine tree in East Texas, I know I’m back in God’s country. But Texarkana was never home. My dad was transferred there from New Orleans when I was six. My parents never intended to stay after retirement. They never put down roots. New Orleans was home. That’s where I was born—my hometown, where all Mama’s large family had lived for 100 years.
I have frequently said that Corpus Christi can never really be home, because this flat, semi-arid, semi-tropical landscape is so alien. Texas can never be my home state, despite 58 years here, because I never studied Texas history and I don’t know the lyrics of “Texas, Our Texas.” But this is where all the memories of Lev are, where we reared our children, where my parents moved in retirement.
So where is home? I stepped foot on Nantucket in summer 2013, and I knew I had found my soul’s home. I found a peace, serenity and joy in solitude there that I have experienced nowhere else. I felt a connection to my Puritan ancestors, who arrived in Massachusetts almost 400 years. It is the place where I am happiest. By my fourth summer, when I rented a house and stayed for two months, friends started asking, “Would you ever move there?” “No…because Corpus Christi is where my friends are, my memories of Lev, my daughter and two grandchildren. Corpus Christi is my heart’s home.”
I am discovering that I have four places that I call home. Last fall when I visited New Orleans with a group, I said, “This is my hometown.” I found myself eagerly looking for landmarks as we drove in from the airport. As we toured the city, I was flooded with memories of first seeing those sites as a young child. Yes, New Orleans is my family home. But I have never had any special attachment to Louisiana. I would never identify myself as a Louisianan.
I surprised myself last month when I took a driving trip across eastern Oklahoma and then down through Arkansas—a swing through the Ozarks to Little Rock to Texarkana. As soon as I crossed the Red River from Texas into Oklahoma, I started watching for red dirt and pine trees. Back in the Ozarks for the first time in almost 50 years, I had flashbacks of my family’s first vacation there, the summer after we moved to Texarkana. I still think it is one of the most beautiful sections of our country.
In Little Rock I remembered school trips, so a childhood friend drove me past significant landmarks, the Capitol and Central High School. And even though my memories of Texarkana are not particularly happy—I always felt like a misfit there—as I crossed the Red River again, my reaction was similar to what I had felt in New Orleans. I was eager to see familiar sites. When I saw the freeway exit to the street where my high school was located, I took it. I spent an hour finding the modest houses where I grew up, my schools, my church, Union Station and the iconic post office that straddles State Line Avenue. I realized that I am an Arkansan. This is my geographic home. I respond to the land. I cheer for the Razorbacks. I can still “Whooo Pigs!” This is the place that formed me. Yes—despite the dark underbelly of segregation when I was growing up—God’s country.
I envy those who have a sure sense of home—a place where generations of family have lived, a place full of memories and where memories are still being made, a place where the children and grandchildren want to return. But what place and experience would I eliminate? Lev and Corpus Christi would not be in my life without Texarkana, and Nantucket would not be in my life with Lev and Corpus Christi. New Orleans is woven all the way through my life. I am the product of all the above.
What does home mean to you?
How important is home?
Does your family have a place called home? Tell us about it.