No place like…

Some random thoughts inspired by the series of “Home” posts at La Belette Rouge.

For the first few years after we moved into our current home, I’d have periodic bad dreams (they weren’t intense enough to describe as “nightmares”) where we were going to have to move somewhere else. For most of my adult life, I’d dreamed of a house of my (our) own, and the year I turned forty, finally realized that dream. I’d never pictured myself settling in Los Angeles, but I really like our little WWII-era house: the huge elm tree in the front yard, the curving lath-and-plaster wall in the living room, the trees that line our street and form a canopy overhead, the park across the street where families picnic on holidays and youth soccer leagues hold games on weekend mornings, the original glass doorknobs, the oak hardwood floors we found when we pulled up the worn cranberry carpeting, the vaulted-ceilinged master bedroom that we added in the back about six years ago. But deep in my heart, there’s a Home in a place I’ve never lived, where the summers are green, the autumns are crisp, the front door is red and the place has a sense of history, stability and tradition.

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I remember a visit to my maternal grandparents’ Ohio farmhouse when I was probably about seven. My grandfather had built the house sometime between the two world wars, and the rooms were laid out so that you passed from one to the next; there were no hallways. The staircase rail was slightly crooked. The one indoor bathroom in the back had been added mid-century (prior to that the large family had used an outhouse, which still sat across the front yard by the garage). There was a huge covered porch in the front of the house off the kitchen and living room, where a porch swing was the seat of choice for most of us. My favorite thing was sitting out there on the swing during a rainstorm. In the mornings the smells of coffee and bacon would waft through the heating grate to the upstairs rooms where the kids slept, and in the evenings the adult conversations from the kitchen below rose and fell in pitch as someone told a joke or a tidbit not meant for children’s ears. These memories are vivid and strangely comforting. Even as a child I was struck by how much more this felt like “home” than the the house I’d lived in all of my conscious life.
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In 1967 when I was ten, my father was doing well financially and we moved to a bigger house in the hills where we could keep our horses. My mother poured all of her energies and no small amount of money into decorating in late 1960’s pseudo-Spanish style. People often remarked that our house ought to be featured in Sunset Magazine. It was while we lived here that my parents’ marriage and any sense of normalcy in my world began to unravel. My favorite make-believe game during those years was that our house was a luxury ocean liner, and that I was a servant to one of the rich passengers aboard.

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During a couple of extended periods from my early twenties to mid-thirties, I lived in the San Luis Obispo area. I’d originally stayed there after college, and then returned when my first (brief) marriage ended. I lived in several apartments, but the tightly-knit community of friends I had there was my home. We travelled in a pack, and often many in the group would gather at someone’s house and spend the entire weekend. It was the norm to have half a dozen or so people around, and it was in those years I really grew to associate “home” with a houseful of people cooking, eating, cleaning up, playing music, singing, talking, snogging and dancing late into the night, and then getting up and starting all over again with breakfast. The physical aspect of home receded into the background. This communal, existential life worked for a while, until it didn’t, and I started feeling the pull toward something more solid, a life more built rather than found. I have that now (a solid marriage, work, a house), but still look for reasons to create big noisy gatherings, as that’s when our house feels most like home.

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Home isn’t something I long to return to; it’s something I’m still seeking at some level. My quest is partly for a child’s vision of normalcy: turning leaves and yellow school buses in the fall, snowmen in the winter, picnics in the summer, a orderly life, a stable family with a father who comes home at night after work, a mother who fixes dinner instead of drinking and telling us we can eat cereal again. I keep thinking that finding the home of my childhood fantasies will make up for the feeling of growing up on a foundation of quicksand. The rational part of me knows I’m chasing a myth, but that doesn’t stop a pang of longing when I visit places with summer rainstorms and old houses with big, deep front porches.

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13 Comments

  1. August 24, 2009 / 2:09 pm

    Oh yes. Putting our heart somewhere, for good, and feeling safe about it. The adult task of building home however we can

  2. August 24, 2009 / 2:11 pm

    the details may vary but the essence of this posted longing belongs to too many of us….
    ma soeur introduced me to your blog about a month ago and it has become a regular stop for me.

  3. Katriona
    August 24, 2009 / 2:20 pm

    What a beautiful, poignant meditation on the search for that place of certainty and warmth. And the David Byrne song is perfect. Every year as we roll toward fall, the longing for a history, a rhythm of life,and the comfort of being able to take those you love around you for granted in the best possible way, that longing steals over me, as well.You are a really good writer, Pseu.

  4. August 24, 2009 / 3:42 pm

    I’m very intrigued that you played at being a servant!

  5. August 24, 2009 / 5:12 pm

    Le Duc was just discussing a study abut parenting- the finding that parents who busily scheduled children during the eary years did not have very hjappy children by adolescence.. I believe this is because those deep, meaningful “home experiences” of which you wrote so eloquently, the smells and conversations, time spent on porch swings- that does not happen when kids are scheduled into five activities a week.

    You experienced enough of “home” to appreciate and long for it. That’s lost if we don’t “be” there.

  6. August 24, 2009 / 11:12 pm

    Lovely piece Pseu. I often see other sorts of houses that I would love to live in and make a home. But I realised when living in the UK that Melbourne, Australia really is my home, no matter which house I live in here!

  7. Denise
    August 24, 2009 / 4:14 pm

    You pulled at my heartstrings when you imagined yourself a servant to a rich passenger. And then they snapped when I watched David Byrne singing that beautiful, beautiful song.

  8. Sal
    August 24, 2009 / 4:18 pm

    This squoze my heart a little. I hate to think of you feeling still without a true home …

  9. August 25, 2009 / 12:55 am

    Sometimes, being on quicksand as a child gives you the sturdiest of legs and the strongest self-reliance.

  10. August 25, 2009 / 1:21 am

    What a lovely post, Pseu. I think your title is right, though. There really is no place like whatever that word means, we imbue it with so much hope.

  11. August 25, 2009 / 1:59 am

    Then there is the matter of “not feeling at home in the world”. Since you mentioned this topic on another post, I’ve been trying to turn up something – this concerns refugees and dissident artists – but not with enough stamina to actually find the quotes I wanted. I have refugee friends who have tried to return to their home countries after the fall of the dictatorships they fled, but either they didn’t fit in any more or their teenaged children didn’t.

    In some ways, I’m still very much in the community of friends you mention, though now I live alone (and my love interest is across the pond). Many of us have remained intensely loyal to this, even those in longlasting marriages or unmarried relationships. I’d be very much lost otherwise – there has always been too much distance from my mum – dad died when he was 15 – and I’ve never had the slightest desire to have children, or a single-family house.

    Now I live in a housing co-operative where I probably feel more “at home” than in the rented dwellings I was in before in the same neighbourhood – around Marché Jean-Talon – which is very much my “home turf”. Sure, there are slight conflicts – as would be the case in a blood family – but it has not become one of those co-operatives or condominiums that have gone toxic.

    I’d ask you to ponder how “home” can be defined in more densely-populated cities where only the most affluent live in single-family houses. How can a Parisian or Londoner envisage “home”? For some of my friends in Paris, there is very much a tie to a house in a smaller town or the countryside, as you describe in Ohio.

  12. August 25, 2009 / 2:28 am

    Thank you for these memories and reflections. The one that struck me most was the memory of your grandparents house.

    My memories of my grandparents’ house have the same comfortable feeling as yours. It was one of my favorite places on earth. It was considerably low-tech: no airconditioning, one big outside antenna to pick up 2 channels on the tv, no telephone, and only one indoor bathroom. The old outhouse still sat listing badly to the right just behind the house.

    So we had plenty of time to just sit and visit and talk and eat the homemade meals prepared by my grandmother. It felt like a true home.

  13. La Belette Rouge
    August 25, 2009 / 3:02 pm

    Deja, I LOVE this piece. I sincerely hope that you find a “Home in a place I’ve never lived, where the summers are green, the autumns are crisp, the front door is red and the place has a sense of history, stability and tradition.” And, when you do would you give me the number of your realtor.

    Chasing a myth isn’t such a bad way to love. Love, beauty, and art are also myths and yet noble pursuits.

    I am delighted to have inspired this very beautiful post. Thanks for the shout out.

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