Definition of HOME
1 a: one’s place of residence : domicile b: house
2 : the social unit formed by a family living together
3 a: a familiar or usual setting : congenial environment; also: the focus of one’s domestic attention <home is where the heart is> b: habitat
4 a place of origin <salmon returning to their home to spawn>; also: one’s own country <having troubles at home and abroad>
Two years ago today, with much the same overcast weather, the man and I were sitting at a long mahogany table signing paperwork and being handed the keys to our new house. It’s hard to believe how quickly two years can pass.
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m here, in a house, so far from home. My mom still lives in the same house that I grew up in, about 150 miles from where I live now. Whenever I go to visit my mom, I say that I’m going home. I may have my own house and life here so far away, but going back to New York is going home too. It isn’t just roots for me. It’s memories, my past, and what made me what I am. To me, home isn’t just where I live, but it is where I have been and where I have come from. There is still a nostalgia when I drive past the apartments I’ve lived in. Each one holds a piece of my history from my time in college and the memories that were made with friends from a different time in my life, to the apartment I lived in when I began my life as a professional and, for the first time, ended up living on my own, even if not by design. The time in each place changed me.
I can’t fathom a day when I won’t have the home I grew up in and that part of me to go back to. While both of my grandfathers died before I was two, my grandmothers were alive until I was in second grade. I didn’t spend much time in either house, but enough that I have snippets of memory from both places. When I was a teenager, I never thought how hard it must be for my father. When his mother, my Oma, died and my uncle inherited the house and everything in it, there was a rift created that I never understood. All I knew was that my father didn’t talk to my uncle. What I know now is that my father was cheated from his past. When my uncle decided to move in the house and keep it , it meant that my father had to drive past the house every day on his way to work, but could never go in. He couldn’t go get his favorite coffee cup or books, retrieve the cigar boxes of photographs that Oma had labeled painstakingly over the years in her German script with names and dates and tidbits of history. It meant that my father was robbed of his history. There are no happy memories tied to driving past that house and I remember very little of it. I remember the odd layout of the first floor and that the house was always darkened and smelled like a mix of smoke and coffee and old papers. And I remember the tiny kitchen with the small table by the back door that I was allowed to sit at when Oma made her afternoon tea. I always was given some tea for myself, in a glass that had three stripes on it (brown, orange and yellow) and it always made me feel so mature to get my own tea. Now I know that it was mostly milk and sugar and just a little tea, but at seven years old I felt like I was sharing in some adult magic.
I don’t have many memories from my Nana’s house either. Nana was my mom’s mother. I remember that the first time I saw mint jelly was there, and I wondered why we were having jello with pork chops. I remember that her sitting room in the back of the house had tons of natural light flooding in, and that I would sit on the floor playing with Barbie’s while mom and Nana watched TV. When Nana died, the division was less contentious. No one planned on keeping the house and my grandmother’s belongings were divided. I grew up surrounded by artifacts of my mother’s history. Family bibles and photographs were always a part of my historical conscious and whenever my mother’s brothers came to visit the dining room table conversations were about sharing memories and jokes and family stories. There was never a void in my knowledge of that side of my family, and I’m blessed to know so many of the anecdotes that make my mother who she is. Every once in a while when I’m visiting my mom and we’re out shopping or running errands, we end up in the area where she grew up and we drive past the house. There is a sadness to visiting a place that is no longer yours, but as we drive past my mom invariably tells me some piece of her history that I didn’t know before and there isn’t the same thread of pain that I imagine my father experienced.
As we’ve built our home, the man and I have filled it with things that we’ve found at estate sales, things that were Oma’s and Nana’s, and things that both our families and friends have given us to help us create this new life for ourselves. Whether it’s a plant or kitchen towels or pots or the gift cards that bought the paint we used, we are surrounded by a new history that we are creating for ourselves.
Owning and creating this home has been tumultuous and crazy and exhilarating and terrifying. I remember how busy the first few days were after we moved in. There was the constant parade of movers on our second day, and on the third there was the barrage of friends who came to help strip wall paper and wash the walls in the dining room and change locks and move boxes. And in the months, and now two years, since, we have had our first Thanksgiving here, and our first Easter. We have had our house flooded by friends for barbeques and holiday celebrations. We have laughed and cried in this house.
Whenever I go to visit my mom, I’m going home. But when I come back here to this house, I come back to the home we have made. And I am so very blessed.