01 September 2008

What is home?

What is home? Where the heart is? What heart is that – with your husband or partner, friends or family? Perhaps home is truly where you grew up, if you grew up in one place, although your parents or siblings are likely somewhere else and your childhood home is now a condo complex or a mall. I wonder if the whole concept of home is an economic construct, especially in this country, to support a consumerist economy where home means residence, with all the latest must-have stuff. A man I know makes his home on the street, by choice, largely because he’s easily frightened and claustrophobic, and his home he says is his guitar, a constant companion, which makes the sweet music one might associate with contentment. Home may traditionally be defined as native habitat, or perhaps a launch pad, and in cyberspace, the place to begin, like the home page, although home base is also the place one aims to land. A dictionary suggests home is simply an environment offering security and happiness, or a place of refuge. For those fleeing war, plague or poverty, home is their beloved country or the culture they cling to. What about the workplace as that home away from home? Surely we have multiple homes.

My first home was a tiny apartment where I shared a bedroom with my parents – my little bed pushed into a corner diagonally across from my parents’ not much larger one. In the dark of night, but before they came to bed, I listened to the distant omnipresent tremor of New York City and the regular punctuation of a subway train. Is home a series of sounds? Smells? I walk the streets of that city sometimes and the scents emanating from every bakery and restaurant remind me of the cacophony of pungent aromas wafting from apartment windows to greet a throng of street kids charging home to dinner. Is home merely environs that feel familiar? Or is home the place where you simply surround yourself with the familiar – my books are always first out of the box, and those few knick-knacks I retain only because they trigger sweet memories. Is home the place where you store memory? My parents moved from that tiny apartment when I turned twelve to a bigger apartment in a slightly more upscale neighborhood where my mother felt a sense of upward mobility and I slept in a little bedroom all alone, longing longed for the distant rumbling of a train. We lived there three years but I never felt at home there. As a young adult in Manhattan, I was awakened repeatedly by the sounds of drunks tossed from 2nd Avenue bars and the harsh blare of sirens, until I kept a promise to my new husband to move to our first of three houses in a picture-perfect suburb, sleeping to the sounds of leaves rustling on giant maple trees. One might say my home remained East Coast, or more specifically, the tri-state area, but in that pristine bedroom community I never felt completely at home until now when I go back to visit, and only because so many dear friends remain there.

Like the pioneers of old, when my husband was gone and my kids grown and flown, I migrated West, and soon after I relocated to Laguna Beach, my older daughter, who makes her home in London, visited me and said she was struck by the sense of home, she said, because our stuff was there. Stuff is easy to take with you. She, who in her short life has made homes for herself in New Orleans, Austin and Barcelona, forgave me moving away from her childhood home because, she said, home is where I am. So now I hang my hat in a beach town where I sometimes awaken to the sound of the surf, dulled by day by traffic along Pacific Coast Highway, and I feel at home, perhaps because I chose this place as where I want to be at this moment in my life. Is that all home is – the place that fits at this moment in your life? Works for me.

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