Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What is Home?

   The other day, I read Jean Zimmerman’s book, Made From Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth. It was a good book and I enjoyed it, but she spent a fair amount of time at the beginning talking about the idea of “home” and what it means.  She really emphasized the idea that “home” is the place you return to in some way, either through actually going to a particular place, or by having a bunch of stuff that brings you back in memory.  As I was reading all of this I was wondering about how many people actually experience this kind of thing.  It certainly is not at all like anything I have ever experienced.
    For me, home has never been a place I go back to, it is something I carry with me as I go from place to place and it is something I created as an adult.  There simply is no place for me to return to, even if I wanted to do this.  My home growing up was not a place where I felt comfortable or relaxed.  I was a misfit there and constantly on guard.  I had to observe, analyze, figure out the “rules” (which could change without warning), and behave accordingly.  I acted in ways that were culturally appropriate for corporate suburbia, whether or not that behavior had anything to do with who I was or what I thought was right.  There were times when I could take a break from this constant self-surveillance and those were the times I spent at my grandmother’s house without my parents being around.  These times were few and far between, because my grandmother and I lived 1000 miles apart.  Still, it was important for me to know there was somewhere I could go and be valued for who I was. She died some years ago, her property was sold, the buildings torn down and a new housing development is going up in that spot.  There is nothing for me to return to there, even if I wanted to do so.
   As an adult, I came to understand how important having a peaceful home was and I set about creating that, although in the beginning, this was largely unconscious on my part.  When people commented on what a peaceful home we have, I was pleased.  A few months ago, during my usual Thursday shift as soup kitchen cook, the substitute pot washer told me that she really appreciated my peaceful and organized kitchen.  That made me happy, too.  I am not sure it was always so--I think the vibe might not have been so peaceful in the beginning! When I first started I was nervous about various things.  Now I have been cooking there for a year and I am completely comfortable with it.  It is like being in my own kitchen. 
   The thing is that we have moved from place to place.  I have no roots.  I cannot “go back” home.  Instead, I take home with me and recreate it wherever I am.  That doesn’t mean it always looks exactly the same in each place and circumstance.  I have made “home” in apartments and houses, motel rooms, and a tent.  The fact that we are not rooted in one place also means that we don’t have a lot of stuff and what we do have is temporary.  Bill has some things from his childhood.  They are small things--the larger stuff was left behind a few moves ago.  I have a Raggedy Ann doll that my Nana made for me when I was a kid.  That’s it.  I hold things lightly.  I have no desire to surround myself with artifacts of some bygone era--to me it’s just clutter.
   In spite of the fact that I could not relate at all to her idea of what “home” is all about, I completely agreed with her on the need to value domestic labor.  I think she is absolutely right about the satisfaction that comes (for some people) from feeding people food cooked from scratch or creating a quilt or an afghan and giving it to someone you care about.  These kinds of things are part of what “home” means to me.  It’s just that I do them wherever I happen to be and that changes every few years.  I’m a domestic nomad and that suits me fine.