I was wondering recently how many languages differentiate between the words house and home and their respective connotations as we know them in English. A quick google search left me empty-handed save for the gang of quotes and images referring to home. Here are a few I came across:
- Home is not a place…it’s a feeling.
- Home is where your story begins
- There is nothing more important than a safe and secure home.
- We carry our homes within us which enable us to fly.
…and, of course, the most well-known lines
- There’s no place like home.
- Home is where the heart is.
I have been thinking a lot about home ever since last year when I visited one of the many homes of my youth, Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Ever since moving back to this side of the U.S. since leaving in 1994, I’d been anxious to visit Ft. Eustis again, a place where I made so many magnificent memories with my family, life-long friends, and nature. But shortly before going, I discovered through a google search that my old neighborhood had been demolished to make room for new barracks. Disappointment is an understatement but I decided on us going anyways. I still wanted to see some of my favorite places, including the James River and the historic Matthew Jones house (built in the 1720s)—both of which were a short bike-ride from my home and therefore a frequent lone destination, especially in the evenings as the sun set. I still wanted to see the DYA where my friends and I attended youth dances (1992 was a great year for hip-hop and R&B!) and my old middle school (which has since closed down). So I did. I saw everything that meant something to me. Everything except my home.
In 2007 the Babenhausen Kasern, the U.S. Army base in Germany where we were stationed from ’88-’91, was closed down and handed back to the Germans. We didn’t live on base, but between my school, dad’s work, company functions, friends, shopping at the commissary and PX, etc., we spent a good portion of our time there. And if you know me you know Germany was the best time of my life and probably had the most influence on who I grew to be as a person, my interests and such. Knowing that I can never visit and see it as I remember—bustling with American soldiers and families cherishing every moment of their fleeting time there—it bothers me. I’ve seen photos of it as it stands now, the old commissary peeking behind tall brush; my school looking all dilapidated; the beautiful, historic entrance buildings used by the French as early as World War I, unoccupied and silent. My house might not have been on base, but base was a good portion of my home.
A few years ago when I was living in Hawaii, my mom phoned me to let me know that the Arizona home my grandparents lived in when I was a kid burned down. I had lived there periodically throughout my young life, in between PCSs and when my father had to go TDY for long periods. All of my childhood memories with my grandparents—especially my grandfather who passed away, and a lot of memories with my mom, were in that house. In that home. It was also haunted, which obviously influenced my love for the paranormal and macabre. (Side note: my house in Germany was haunted too!). It saddens me to know it no longer exists.
Moving from place to place as I (and all miltary kids) did is one thing. You make new friends, acclimate to new schools, and your parents do all they can to make your temporary house a home. And that home stays with you forever, no matter where you go next or how much the next home is more homelier than the one before. But knowing three of your homes no longer exist—at all or as they were—is entirely different. It feels like a small death. A gap between your memories and the ghosts they are now.
This has all made me reflect on the value of home. While I have loved and valued living in different places throughout my life, the loss of those places have left me feeling unanchored. I ask myself what is it like to have a true childhood home? Where you could write on the walls and have a secret hiding spot under a floor plank. Where generations of your family have stepped foot and you are always welcome to return. What does it feel like to be tethered? I used to consider Arizona home, as that is where I was born and most of my extended family still reside. But ever since my grandmother moved from Arizona to live with my family in Texas, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. I consider Texas home cause that is where I lived the longest and where my parents still live. My dad retired from the Army there and is nearing his 2nd retirement, but even they are unsure of where they want to settle. I wonder will I ever find my place?
So I think about my own children now. I hear my girls talking nostalgia about our old Texas house which we recently sold. It was their home for most of their life until we moved to Hawaii. And now that we live in Maryland, they pine for Hawaii but also beg us not to move somewhere new anytime soon. I wonder if we’ve done them a disservice by having left Texas at all—where they were comfortable, safe, close to their grandparents and uncle—all for our idea of well-roundedness (i.e. well-traveled). I know it’s useless to dwell on should’ves and would’ves, but it can’t hurt to reflect on your philosophies as a parent every now and then I suppose.
What do you do when home feels like everywhere but nowhere at all?
Is home where your story began? Or is it where the heart is?