Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Going Home

I am constantly asking myself what it means to go home. It's a question that answers itself in the details of my everyday, the clatter of dishes, the broom and dustpan, the evenings huddled together on the couch. Still, it begs to be asked again. Where is "home"? How do we find it, and how do we behave once we get there?

I'm almost 40, and I never stop wanting to go home.
I'm almost 40, and I'm already there.

Home is a wood planked barn, hay dust whistling between its planks. Show me a 2x2 section, just a glimpse of the patina, and I'm there. The layers of silty history perfumed my childhood. The varnish of the basketball court, the cow feed, the rope that swung down from the eaves.

Home is a field, the one where we threw our kitchen scraps, where the small plane crashed one winter, blood soaking into the snow yet somehow, impossibly, no one died. It's where we hunted arrow-heads, sometimes finding them, very sure on the off-days that the unearthed shard of pottery once belonged to a braided women in a leather dress. I wanted to be an archaeologist, to set up a grid and dust the years from what remained, my pockets stuffed with tiny brushes and delicate scraping tools.

Home is a forest, the loamy mystery underfoot. It's skidding down too-steep hills, dodging branches and thorns. It's crawdads and folklore, shielded into solitude by the canopy over us. It's a split-rail fence where I casually leaned at the age of barely-twenty, for a snapshot with my one true love, the kid with the earring whom I couldn't wait to marry. I was made to be an explorer, but a little company wouldn't hurt.


This morning we walked to school, the same two blocks we've walked almost every day this year, dodging half-hearted raindrops. "What if we had an umbrella this big?" Silas asked, pointing up at the Maple leaves arching overhead. We picked up the first piece of junk for our annual summer junk sculpture, an indeterminate metal clip, rounded at the edges, a rivet in the center. It's a good sign of what's to come. Who knows, maybe this year's sculpture will be heavier on "industrial", lighter on crap plastic and busted cd's. A few feet down the sidewalk, we stepped over a brick, smack-dab in our path. I didn't bother wondering how it ended up there, or why. But I knew for sure it wasn't left-over from Indians, some centuries-old relic, timeworn and storied.

Walking back home, alone, I took a slightly different route, looping up the East side of the street rather than the West. Perspective is holographic. One tiny bend, and the whole shape shifts. On my normal route, I see my neighborhood in all its ranging beauty; flaking paint, chain link, tidy and grungy, spring dancing around all of us equally with the same tempo and pitch. But today, I saw how the little row we live in has become distinctly different from the rest. In the scheme of things, we appear to be the suburbanites with our gleaming vinyl siding, cookie-cutter houses made "unique" only by the shades we wear. What was once the sorest section has now become the "best". Maybe it's a bad thing. Maybe it's good. I honestly can't tell right now and I'm left worrying over the ways I'd rather hide behind something ramshackle than admit the obvious - I'm a white, middle-classer, born into privilege, holding a deed which would allow me to stay there forever.


My kids still say they miss the farm sometimes. Silas, who lived there for the most traumatic year of his life, calls it "The House With A Lot of Cats". I'm amazed his fragile psyche retained a single shred of that tumultuous year amid the hard work of learning to trust and allowing himself to love. He was always partial to the stray, who wandered in with just half a tail.

For a while, I was on track to give the kids the same experience of "home" I'd enjoyed. It's all I knew. It was the only way I could make sense of raising kids. Replicate, replicate, replicate. Yes to barns and wheat fields. Yes to white farmhouses with troublesome duct-work. Yes to large gardens and split-rail fences. No to litter, graffiti, and "bad influences".

I don't know what "home" will mean to my kids.

At eleven years old, Calvin has lived in four homes, and that's after traversing the globe with a pacifier in his mouth. It's probably not fair to even attempt a comparison.

But this matters to me. It feels like my one, true job, to give them a childhood full of...something, enough that it calls them home and keeps calling. That's all I want, for them to grow and gray and come to the striking realization that they belong distinctly to two different places - the one they build and the one that built them.


Robert, last week: "I got lost. I don't know how it happened, but my GPS was glitching and I couldn't figure out which way to go. The only place I knew how to get to was home. And I knew once I got here, I wouldn't be lost anymore."