On Home

After the funeral ended we spent a couple hours at my grandmother’s house, reminiscing about family gossip that predated my mother.  I sat on the couch and mostly listened, glancing around the room and imagining hosting tea parties there with friends in sundresses that matched the floral pattern of the couch or the pristine white of the carpet.  We, of course, were eating ice cream bars, which is a much more appropriate activity for Minnesotans in the winter.

Finally we each took our turns hugging Grandma and saying our goodbyes.  Back in the car, as the last of the small store fronts of Atwater faded into snowy cornfields, my Uncle Jim asked a question.

“Debbie,” he said, addressing his wife, “Do you feel like you’re leaving home?”

There was a pause and no one said anything.

“Does a part of you still feel like Atwater is home?”

Another few moments passed and finally Debbie responded, “I haven’t lived here for so long.”

I think it seemed like a strange question to all of us.  Of course the small town that she grew up in was no longer home.  Her childhood home has been used to raise her nieces and nephews.  She and Jim raised their children in Florida for a few years and then suburban Minnesota.  The rural Minnesotan town where she spent her childhood was years away from being her home.

But then I started thinking about all of the places I have lived and the question got interesting.

What is home, really?  When do the homes we grow up in stop being home?

I called my first dorm room home, but not my second.  I’ve called work lodgings home before, but, again, not always.  I remember last year when Alexis and I both realized that we had started calling our apartment home and the slightly squealy conversation we had about how good it felt to not just have an apartment, but a home.  And I still call my childhood home “home” and I feel nostalgic and comfortable and “at home” whenever I’m here…but I realized just yesterday as Debbie answered Jim’s question that I don’t consider it home anymore.

So what is home?

The places that have been home, even if only for briefly, stay special even when they’re not ours any more.  People go out of their way to  drive past homes that used to be theirs, only to say that it had once been home, although it was a different color/had better trees then/looked nicer in general).  I think it’s the malleable nature of home that is so confusing.  Home is many places in one’s lifetime but only one at a time and I think it’s something very different for everyone.  Although I fantasize about living by myself (quite frequently, thankyouverymuch), I don’t think I could ever call a place where I lived alone my home.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of people who could never imagine sharing their home with anyone else.  A home can barely have four walls or it can have dozens of rooms.  It can be clean or filthy, virtually empty or overflowing with things.

Every answer that I have started typing so far sounds sappy and contrived, despite my meaning all of them sincerely.  So maybe I need someone to fill in the blanks for me?  Home is where the people who you love are?  Home is where your stuff is?  Home is where you most want to be?  Home is the place where you can let your guard down?  Home is where your dog lives.

Speaking of which, I need a dog.