Home isn’t where you’re from; it’s not a place, it’s a feeling. Cecelia Ahern
Home, like the throat chakra, is superimposed over the isthmus of the butterfly shaped thyroid gland—which regulates hormones and metabolism. It’s our epicenter. JH
Home is a word that hints at what it is. It’s a holiday salutation you repeat three times, a sacred mantra, and a personal pronoun. A home is a castle, lair, money pit, sanctuary, and the place where when you go there, according to Robert Frost, they have to take you in. I’ve tried to ‘omm’ in on what the word means to me about as many times as I’ve switched dwellings. That number approaches a three digit figure.
At first I thought it might be easier to define what’s not home, i.e., the womb; somewhere over the rainbow; a place for our stuff (nice try Mr. Carlin); the range; a nest; the green, green grass of; or something sweet. Nope, not even if it’s made of gingerbread. So what is it? To Scarlet’s father, it was the land, to writer Thomas Wolfe it was the one place you can never go to again. To a crime writer, it’s where the killer is—waiting for you. Boo! Anne LaMott said when you’ve lost your home, you’re in ‘a place of great unknowing.’ It’s a terrible thing—not knowing what home is.
I live next to a lake in the Smoky Mountain foothills that connects to other lakes and rivers and eventually meanders to the Gulf of Mexico. What I seemed to be lacking was a way to connect girl me to elder me; a link between the places I’ve lived and places I’ve called home. I lacked the locus pocusness of it all—knowledge of the place where magic happened and happens. Donne said no man (or woman) is an island. Yet here I was, feeling like a broken ismuth, floating atop a salty sea of uncertainty.
Years ago I wrote an article about leaving home The Road That Led to Roam (published earlier in this blog). It explored the girl I left behind when I left home at 18. I learned a road can’t take you home, not even a country road. My autumn years find me living in a county called Loudon named for a Scottish Lord that took part in the Jacobite uprising. I’ve often thought if I didn’t live here, I’d like to live near Glasgow, Scotland, where my great-grandparents lived for a generation but didn’t call it home. Nor did they return to Eire; they migrated to America. These are the same ancestors that claimed a connection (like 1000s of others) to the Stuart royal family. Major General John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudoun and my county’s namesake, once hunted Bonnie Prince Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of King James II. Loudoun, Scotland, the seat of the Campbell family, lies 31 miles below Glasgow.
Alas, the Prince was defeated at the Battle of Cullodeen. His father James II was deposed when Parliament invited Dutch Protestant William II and wife Mary to assume the British throne. The Prince abandoned the Jacobite cause and his native land, hopped a French frigate, and died in Rome in 1788. Lord Loudoun became commander in chief (of Brit forces) and Governor of VA in 1756; he was a despised man. Despite his unpopularity, several counties were named after him, including the one where I live now and one where I lived twenty years ago, Loudoun County, VA. I looked up the origins of the name, it’s a combo of law and dun. The rough translation is Firehill. A similar word Lugudunon means Stronghold of Lugh. I live at Cailleach Bhur Caer (hag’s fortress) on a (Native American named) street that roughly translates to ‘fire gone out’ in Choctow. The Cailleach is credited with saving Lugh when he was an infant.
Should I take these near coincidences as a sign that (to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet) I’ve found me a home? Probably not as his home was a boat. In my 40s, I wrote a (contest) essay about what a particularly lovely home in the woods meant to me for the chance to win that very house. I presumed I poured my heart out. But not only did I not win, there weren’t enough applicants and the house was sold privately; contest entry fees were refunded. I reread that brief essay recently and realized I hadn’t a clue regarding the difference between a house and a home. Megan Daum wrote a clever book about home ownership, My Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House. Her title summarizes the premise of my essay. Wishful thinking doesn’t a home make.
Part of the problem might be I’ve had too many one night standards. I’ve been house fickle and home foolish. I dreamed about living in a house like Scarlet’s Tara, Elvis’ Graceland, and Hemingway’s balcony’ed Key West residence. To that end, after many years of hard work, I bought a plantation in the South and lived in a cigar maker’s cottage in the Keys. A lover of horror flicks and books, I even searched for houses like King’s Red Rose or Marasco’s Burnt Offering manse (houses that kill their spouses). My current house is one gable short of Hawthorne’s famous house.
Inevitably, I would get the Goldilocks feeling this wasn’t THE right house. I’d start to cheat and take long trips to other states, other lands. Then I’d commit the ultimate indiscretion and invite a real estate agent and appraiser over. Have boxes, can pack like a pro could have been my motto since age five. I personally crayoned and crudely decoupag’ed boxes to hold my toys and books, and filled cigar boxes with treats and games for my siblings when we were in moving mode. In my 20’s, exiting a marriage, I took inventory and realized I was following Ben Franklin’s adage ‘a house isn’t a home unless it contains food and fire for mind as well as body.’ I boxed and loaded four rooms of basics, including 100s of books, two sets of dishes, contents of countless drawers, and a growing collection of artwork, plus my daughter’s belongings in one day/night.
If home was a place, I mused, then perhaps mine came with me, like a turtle shell condo, a VW bus. I wondered what I’d left of myself at all the places where I once lived. There were remains of sloughed off skin, nitrogen rich shedded hair, a faded velvet chair, dozens of obscure bios and pulp fiction, and I confess, a less than pristine oven and fridge that time I left before he returned. Location—we all know that thrice repeated real estate mantra. It seems racist. What color is your house, in what neighborhood? What’s the square footage and its age? However, the power of place has clout. It’s an accumulation of emotion stored in craggy mountains and streams strong enough to etch bedrock. You can feel the energy, connections between paths that became roads, amber fields of grain that became row houses… You can sense the vitality that’s been harnessed. These places call to those that have wandered off—return and rehab me, plant some trees, for pities sake.
In grappling with the notion of what home is, I explored the psychology and technology of hominess. Long ago, Hestia, the Greek goddess of domesticity and the hearth, kept the home fires burning. Roman Lares guarded the home, hearth, and its surroundings. We hung horseshoes above the doorway, lit incense, and buried a shoe—or an ancestor’s skull for added protection. Now we have digitized security surveillance that spy on us as well as on intruders, and neighbors with power lens. Our ancient protectors have fled—did we take them for granted? As a result, old growth forests have been cleared and shopping malls and microware towers erected next door, never mind those pesky zoning and environmental laws.
Jung equated a house to the self. From foundation to attic, his house of the self contained levels of consciousness. So the old woman that lived in a shoe had just two levels of consciousness and not an iota of emptynestrogen. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater had three Freudian levels: the id, the ego, and the superego. Today, we can 3D print an eco-friendly shell of a house and add a solar paneled roof, unlock the door, run the dishwasher, and turn on lights even if we’re 1,000 miles away. Technology provides a superficial version of comfort, joy—and security. I’ve had a few futuristic nightscares about a house with apps for everything—it measures your weight and heart rate, orders organic food you don’t want, and won’t let you binge watch your favorite movies until you’ve done 150 squat thrusts. The mirror, like the one in Snow White, talks back to you, and your virtual assistant insists on teaching you a foreign language…
When I think of home as a place where I come and go freely, and appreciate its authenticity as Hodel did when she sang Far from the Home I Love (Fiddler on the Roof), I’m closer to understanding the notion of home. It would be horrible to lose that freedom. When I read Alan Dugan’s Love Song, a poem about building a house neither plumb nor square, which will never be right until he’s found a love, a wife—I nod—and respectfully disagree. Why not bring back the Lares and the gnomes, the ruby slippers and the zen koans? Let’s sweep the hearth and smudge the home, be it ever so humble, may everyone have a grand place to rest their (living) bones.
As I begin to feel homeward bound about the dynamic, elusive meaning of home, I make sounds halfway between an ahhh and awe; occasionally I make the omm sound. I want to hum a line from Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is? I struggle to form a growing knowing into words, and think perhaps I should keep this budding understanding secret, locked in an underground bunker or a safe room. But I’m not homephobic—literally or figuratively. How can I explain the secret handshake, the metanoia of this ancient concept?
I’ve taken the long way home, and brought back souvenirs—heirlooms that may just be junk to family and friends. I hoard memories and collections of acquired things inside these walls. I see that while the idea of house and place have changed greatly, the idea of home hasn’t. Home implies belonging—with the operative word being ‘longing.’ Only when we know what we long for—can we summon the meaning of home. When we long for the sound rain makes on our porches tin roof, the texture of the wall we stucco’ed to hide its imperfections, or the stunning lake view we glimpse if we stand on tiptoes and gaze out the east window of the upper story bedroom, we grasp its magic.
I am home alone; it’s the place I visualize when someone says ‘go home.’ I know the way and the lay there; I even know the fae here. My home has a distinct scent: one part pine, (occasionally) one part take the trash out, one part lavender and fir, three parts dog, and two parts spice and myrrh. It’s where the blue jay whistles and the mockingbird mimics the bluebird and wren. It’s where the grass, Erma Bombeck, is greener over the neighbor’s septic tank. It’s where floorboards and bookcases groan in unison, and the back door squeeks if it isn’t oiled every spring. It’s where the expression, ‘bigger than ever and lasts a life time’ refers to the mortgage and not the house.
Home, like its sub-parts, is something special, sacred, and personal. If it’s not, it should be. Joseph Campbell said your ‘sacred space is where you find yourself over and over again.’ I’m finding my way to the epicenter, the hearth, the control panel of home. I’ll definitely be home by Isthmus.