Friday, November 27, 2009

Home for the Holiday

Aidan posted on Wednesday about the importance of place and, since then, I have been thinking about the idea of home.

Husband, the wee ones, and I spent yesterday at home.  Our home.  Home for the holiday.  Here in the Midwest.  600 miles west of - and a cultural world away from - the Connecticut town where I grew up.  It's taken me awhile to call this place that name: home.  But yesterday, watching the parade, eating our nontraditional Thanksgiving fare, and sharing desserts with our friends and fellow transplants, it struck me that home isn't really about location; it's about place.  The practical place.  Where your stuff is.  The emotional  place.  Where your people are.  The existential place.  Where you do your living.  And we are here.  This place is home.  For now.

And I thought about a passage in American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld's account of a first lady who bears a more than passing resemblance to Laura Bush.

I read American Wife last fall, about a year into our Midwestern sojourn.  Up to that point, I still felt like a stranger in this place.  (I love that the word "extra" is in the Spanish word for stranger: extranjera.  I felt just like that, an extra in somebody else's story.)  I missed the quaintness, the charm of New England, the energy and variety of New York.  I missed people, yes, but also the feeling of place that I had in those locations.  The feeling of home.  But Sittenfeld gave me an image of a Midwest to which I hadn't given full credit before.  In the voice of narrator Alice Blackwell, Sittenfeld writes
Then we were back in Wisconsin, a place that in late summer is thrillingly beautiful.  When I was young, this was knowledge shared by everyone around me; as an adult, I've never stopped being surprised by how few of the people with whom I interact have any true sense of the states between Pennsylvania and Colorado...Admittedly, the area possesses a dowdiness I personally have always found comforting, but to think of Wisconsin specifically or the Midwest as a whole as anything other than beautiful is to ignore the extraordinary power of the land.  The lushness of the grass and trees in August, the roll of the hills (far less of the Midwest is flat than outsiders seem to imagine), that rich smell of soil, the evening sunlight over a field of wheat, or the crickets chirping at dusk on a residential street: All of it, it has always made me feel at peace.  There is room to breathe, there is a realness of place.  The seasons are extreme, but they pass and return, pass and return, and the world seems far steadier than it does from the vantage point of a coastal city...It is quietly lovely, not preening with the need to have its attributes remarked on.  It is the place I am calmest and most myself.
Maybe it is merely an indication of the sway that books hold in my life, but reading Sittenfeld's words about the Midwest (no, we don't live in Wisconsin, but still...) helped me to look upon it in a more accepting way.  I saw the power of the land, indeed, but also the power of the choice to live and grow and keep growing up in a place in such a way that that place becomes a home.

My brilliant and beloved friend H moved from a Northeastern city to her own set of cornfields right around the time that Husband and I relocated here.  From her, I picked up a saying whose wisdom I have been hard pressed to follow up to this point: "Bloom where you're planted."

I will try, H.  I will try to put down roots in this rich soil and make this house, this place, a home.

Where is home to you?  Does it exist as a point on a map or is it a state of being?


  1. Any chance that's an H I know?
    That book is going on my list. Have heard it's great, and your recommendation carries a lot of weight.

  2. I definitely feel like this house where I live now, the house where I brought both of my kids home from the hospital when they were born, is "home". I breathe a breath of fresh air when I walk into it when we've been away. BUT, I'm not sure I see my kids here for the long haul... the yard is too small, the street is too busy, we haven't made friends close by. So I have a hard time saying this is my home because I don't know if my roots have started growing here. I look forward to the time when I can say, "this is it. this is my home." There is such comfort that will go along with that.

  3. Here's a recent post of mine on 'Home' -

    I'm working through many of the same things. I'm a lifetime Midwestern girl, but we currently live in the Twin Cities. It's said that Minneapolis is the country's small New York. It's true, it's so busy and artsy and full of amazing restaurants and night life and beautiful buildings. But the thing is, we don't take advantage of that very much at this stage in our lives.

    We've gone through some really hard things as a family in the last couple of years and we realized that we really just wanted to be near family. They happen to be in small town Minnesota. So we're moving and I'm terrified, but at the same time, I'm excited. Because I grew up there and I long for that feeling of peace, the smell of soil, the open space, the turning of the ground. But mostly, I long for that sense of community that is tricky to navigate and yet a sure thing...the kind that means that if you need something, everyone comes together and provides it as much as they can. (that's how it is in this particular town anyway)

    I'm rambling.

    I don't even know what my point is :)

  4. "Bloom where you're planted." Brilliant! I love that.

    I agree, home is a feeling, a connection--it's not just a place. I always feel most at home in the kitchen (big surprise), sipping a glass of wine, listening to music, hearing the din of my girls in the background.

  5. Lindsey - Yes, indeed, an H we both know and love. The source of many of my favorite axioms.

    Becca - I think we're in the same place: the power of raising children in a house helps make it a home. But I'm not sure either if this is the place I see all of us growing old.

    Heather - I like how you give home the context of community. I don't have that here yet, or at least not really. It's starting to grow, but I still feel like my real community is in the home I grew up in and the homes I chose earlier in my life.

    KitchWitch - I think I would feel very much at home in your kitchen, or maybe in my own with the same scene you set. But something tells me the food I'd cook up wouldn't quite be on a par with yours!

  6. Thank you so much for continuing this conversation. Where is home? What is home? Who is home? These are huge questions. Impossibly vast questions. Yet the answers (however transient or elusive) are crucial to who we are as people and as parents. For me, this home question is very interesting because I am now raising my kids a mere block from where I was raised, in the very same neighborhood of the very same city. I often wonder how this will affect me, if I will ever be able to differentiate my childhood from theirs. I wonder if this commingling of childhoods will ultimately be a good thing or an unfortunate thing. For me, this raises further questions about the actual and metaphorical distance we have (and don't have) from our family of origin.

  7. Home. The saying goes "home is where the heart is." Yet, I don't always feel at home, even when I am with my kids and hubby.

    We recently moved to a new apartment. I feel more at home here then I ever did at our old place. We lived there for close to 2 years (the longest place of residence in my life as a student), made many many friends, but the place did not feel like "home."

    Home for me is a place that I feel comfortable sleeping in. A place that I love to come back to. A place that is my own. I don't know when I will have a more permanent residence, but "bloom where you are planted" is something that I also try to embrace. My home is transitory, but it begins with comfort.

  8. Growing up, we moved around. A lot. In the same general area, but to different towns. So, I've grown up wanting to give my family one place to grow up in, one place to put down roots, and right now we're waiting for that plan to come to fruition, but rather than move every time the lease is up, we're staying in our tiny place until we can find a home for us. Who knows where that will be.
    I have a plaque in my kitchen that says "Home is where they love you" and that is so true. No matter where you roam, your home is with loved ones, your family. Even though we lived in so many houses growing up, each place did feel a little bit like home. I can think of one or two in particular that felt more so than others.
    I'm rambling. I had a point, and then I lost it. I think it takes such courage to make a move like you did, and ultimately it's a huge adjustment. I'm happy you've come to terms with it :)

  9. What a beautiful post. And once again, TKW steals my thoughts -- I love the quote, "Bloom where you are planted." I moved around quite a bit in my youth and had to learn the value of that quote the hard way. When I didn't connect or even try to connect I always felt out of place. I'm not living in the state of my birth now but this is definitely HOME. More home than anyplace else. Because I've made amazing connections with the area and most of all, the people.

  10. Aidan - It's funny; I often fantasize about raising my kids in the very house where I grew up. There's a certain safety and comfort in that space. And life was easier then. So I feel myself drawn to recreating that for my kids. But in reality it would obviously be fraught.

    Ambrosia - I can well relate to that feeling of impermanence that comes with all the moving associated with being a student. Husband was in grad school for eight years and one or both us moved each one of those years. Do you feel more settled now that you have kids?

    Corinne - I had the opposite experience of you. I lived in the same house from the day I was born until the day I went to college. But I think we're both seeking the same thing: a permanent place to feel rooted with our families.

    Jane - It's all about connecting, isn't it? I also resisted connection upon first moving here. But the more I try to connect, the happier I am. Have you read Howard's End? One of my favorites. The key line from that book is "Only connect." How true, how true.


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