Archive for July, 2012

Vacationing and Home

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012


I vacated this past week. Packed up, stopped my mail, filled the car with gas, and drove south to the one who holds my heart. The next morning we both flew north, to Chicago for a week away. 

Vacation is supposed to be about leaving home, but for me, this trip was a return to where I grew up. When does the house you grew up in cease to be “home?” I’m trying to remember that. It might have been that first summer when I didn’t come home from school, or that first summer after graduating, when work signal led the start of my adult life. Maybe it was when mom shipped most of the things from my room to my “home” in Fargo…or it could have been when I bought furniture and made things to put on the walls of where I was living. But it doesn’t quite feel right.

Maybe it was the first house my children lived in, the first home repair experience, the first garden, the first lawn to mow…that feels closer to what home was. When we moved, it was to a duplex in Virginia. No mowing, precious little gardening, no home really. I built a house next, making parts of the foundation, the siding, paint, and porches, and a glorious garden of flowers and ground cover, and surprise pumpkins in the compost, and lots and lots of lawn to mow; six hours worth! That felt like home. The house was drawn on, marked on, chipped, and chewed variously by my daughters, our dog, and me…each mark, each improvement made it home.

Moving from there was hard, harder still as I watch it fall into ruin, trees fallen over, garden overgrown, it looks like someone’s uncared for possession, not a home. The house I live I now has felt like home at the holidays, and is soon to become home for the one who holds my heart, Bella,the Shelby, and Chloe the cat and I. I think home is the place you surround yourself with love (or mere tolerance in Chloe’s case) and the house holds the momentos of that love…a house hold….house holding love…that feels closer to what home is.

I came to this belief that the house has to hold love when the one who holds my heart and I visited the house I grew up in. It’s empty now, the garden is a bit wild, the rooms a bit smaller, and the backyard seems a miniature version of what I remember. When empty, it’s a house. I can fill it with memories of Christmas, of rotisserie chicken and ribs, of volleyball in the yard and running bases on the front sidewalk. But, I’m doing that, adding the memories, the house itself is a shell, as all houses are. Maybe we’re like hermit crabs, inhabiting shells, adding on bits, then, outgrowing, and moving out, leaving the shell for someone else to add love and build memories. That convinces me that “home” is about people, not so much about the physical shell.

So if home is not necessarily a house, can a city be a home?

That first rainy evening of vacation, the one who holds my heart and I toured my old life. Grandpas warehouse, Dads office, the school I went to, my kindergarten, and dinner at the JOB table that the “Bringer Inn” named for Dad. We drove the streets all six of us walked as children, the OBrien troop. We’d troop to the jewel store, to sun drugs, to gunthers greenhouse when our row of sweet corn was ready, and when we got older, we’d solo to the drugstore, or mister donut, or for me, kens hobby shop.

Most all of that is gone now, strangely, the donut stand remains. I wouldn’t have thought it would outlast the greenhouse. Maybe that says something about what’s important in the cholesterol culture. 

Most of the people I grew up with are out of touch now. That makes it less homelike for me. My sisters are there still, and we had a nice dinner in oak park where they got to meet my fiancée and chat about moms cooking, memories and the control my brothers fallen under…(get free…you only get one life).. On the way home we drove by Frank Lloyd Wrights house,  and a few of his other houses, all very familiar, as was seeing some of Sullivan’s work, familiar, but not home like.

We stayed downtown, and surprised Frank at the restaurant he manages one day for lunch, it was nice, friendly, with beautiful food, and a dessert gift. We walked the river, the mag mile, and watched the sunset from the 96th floor of one of two landmark towers dad did transmitter work on. I felt a familiar pride knowing he shaped the skyline of one of the great cities of the world.

We did some unfamiliar things too. Rode a water taxi, saw the fireworks over the lake, rode the ferris wheel at navy pier, visited lincoln park zoo, and ate at a sidewalk bistro in Lincoln village. We met some friends of throne who holds my heart last night. Friends she made trekking up the side of Mount Kilimanjaro. Joe and Judy were great hosts, keeping the evening lively with ideas for how I might have dealt with a person who stalked me recently…this seemed to capture many imaginations.

All in all it’s been a great vacation. We pushed ourselves a bit too hard maybe, had too much fun most nights maybe, and didn’t get a few activities done…they’ll be there for the next trip, maybe in two or three years. The Cubs might be winning then, the heat and rain might not be there, but we hope Joe, Judy, Terri and Jeff, Lori, Barb and Frank will be there, and maybe Ginny and Uncle Tom too. All those people help fill our time in that familiar setting with love, which makes it feel more homelike. 

But it’s not home really. As I write, the on who holds my heart and I are flying home. To Texas, where we are part of communities, where we build, help and contribute. Where gardens wait for our water, dogs wait for our attention, and children begin their adult lives.

My favorite youngest daughter is making a home this week in a new town, getting ready for a new job. She’s met some caring people already, had her sister’s love and care helping her move in to her home, and together they made a memory out of a late night encounter with a bat. I tried to send a bit of love to them both, but it arrived late. Still it gave my daughter and Starlene a few moments of my heart in her new home. I’ll be interested to hear her thoughts on when her place feels like home. 

The one who holds my heart’s daughter (who will become my favorite middle daughter once the wedding happens)  is making her home in the big city these days. She brought the energy of Baxter and Rebel with her. Dogs are really much more than energy, the bring love, mischief, and responsibility too. Maybe bringing responsibility to a place makes it home? Pets, plants, maintenance, community, maybe these things are part of what distinguishes home from apartment, hotel room, or rental house. Maybe accepting responsibility to be a part of a place is anther aspect of home.

I remember it’s harder not knowing where home is. During college, my comings and goings had me less rooted at home, and becoming less and less so as my friends moved and started lives around the world. I started calling the place I grew up “mom’s house” sometime just after I started working after graduation. Seeing it on this trip I realized that I had taken responsibility for making my own home, and that moms house was moms home, and with Mom gone, her home was gone too. I had a fleeting thought that it was nice to have someone else make home for me back then. Someone else take the responsibility for everything it takes to keep a home. But an important step in growing up was taking the responsibility to make a home of ones own.

We’re building home now in Texas, Lael and I. We are making preparations to make our two houses holding love into one. The energy of children will come and go from our home, and the photos, bits and pieces that emerge when they visit will find places among the bits and pieces from our parents and grandparents. Things to look back upon to remember, and things to look forward to and anticipate, the love of ones children, and one day grandchildren.

 That television show, “The Walton’s” seemed to show what home was each time the show ended. The house lights would turn off room by room as each member of each generation said good night to each other.  It was a house filled with the grounded wisdom of the elders, and the lively energy and possibility of youth…with the parents in-between, holding the present together with both hands.

It may seem trite to say, but truly, home is where the heart, the love, is.  But that is the centerpiece of home. The pictures on the fridge mailed from memory places, the handmade ornaments, artworks, and gifts all bring their hearts to my home.

With so many graduates entering the adult world this summer, it’s a good time to consider what makes a home, and to find those bits of life that will turn your apartment or rented house into a home for you. What has meaning? What will anchor you in thse moments of extreme silence when no one else is around? That’s when that picture, that table, the vase those flowers came in, all become touchstones to connect you to your elders, your children, and one day grandchildren. I look forward to having some little voice say “goodnight” to all the generations in the house some holiday, just like the Walton’s. 

Gotta go..almost home!
Be good to each other 
Help each other make home!