Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Home, Part 1

"Start at the beginning. And when you get to the end, stop." - The Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland

With homelessness looming in front of me, I have lately been thinking about the concept of home - the word, the place, the emotion. Following in the blogging footsteps of Lane, I'm going to attempt a series of posts, to see if I can sort out my thoughts, and to see where the conversation takes us. We'll see how this goes.

I have a Home key on my computer keyboard. I've never noticed it until just now, just this minute, as I was beginning to gather my thoughts on the word. It's an interesting thought … push this key, go back to where you started. Go back to what's familiar and try again. I pressed the key, curious if such a thing were possible.

Nothing happened.

For my mom's birthday, I unpacked the remaining boxes in her new house. My parents built a beautiful house on the Coosa River, and, true to their nature, subsequently spend most of their time sitting on the back porch, hooting at the owls and smoking (Dad said recently, "We should have just bought a double-wide and built a good deck, for the time that we spend inside the house"). While enough was unpacked in the initial move-in-push to be able to wash clothes or find a book, there were still boxes lining the hallways, waiting for someone to find a place for the miscellany. So, as part of her gift, I spent a day sorting the innumerable stacks of papers and cleaning out baskets of pennies and paper clips.

Surrounded by loose piles mentally labeled "keep," "throw away," and "other," I found, among other things, little pieces of each family member's personal history. My dad's pictures from the year he spent in Vietnam, when Bob Hope performed for the soldiers on Christmas Day. A bulletin from a classical performance my mom attended with her piano instructor when she was in high school. My learner's permit. My pictures from Chrysalis. My sister's trip to Europe. The trip my parents took to New Orleans in 1998, all of those old homes and older trees nothing but debris now. The year my sister spent in the dorm, one picture after another of smiling girls, strangers to themselves and each other. My grandmother's pictures, inherited after her death, her memories of our lives, pictures I'd never seen, though I remember when they were taken. My grandfather walking my aunt down the aisle on her first wedding day. Box after box of loosely connected memories. As I thumbed through them, most of the pictures had no meaning for me.

My mom wanted me to sort the pictures, give each person their own pile for their own memories, keep my grandmother's things separate from ours. Sort: generation, by individual, by age. As if our lives could be detangled that easily.

I didn't do it. I put them all in one box. My memories stacked on top of Allison's underneath my dad's, my grandmother's sitting on top of us all. I love to think about it now … our history, all mingled and messy, sitting in a box in the upstairs bedroom, labeled "Life before 2005." I love it because this is what a family is … a general sense that we're all in this together. That this is where I've been, and because I went, in a sense, you've been there too. I took you with me when I went, the hope of you or the dread of you or the silly stories of what we did when we were little, and when I came back, you were changed by the way the experience changed me. This fundamental similitude is the cord blood for each of us, the basic material of what it means to have a home, and of what we will need to continue to grow. It's all in one box, and I won't look through that box again for a long time, because I don't need to. I don’t need the pictures, or even the memories. I just need what they mean.

The home key on my computer doesn't work, but it's okay; I don't need it. I don't need it to take me back, because I don't need to start over … I just need to know it's there, need to know where I've been, so that I can have the freedom and confidence to move forward. Everyone needs a home they can leave.


Madame Rubies said...

Wow, Steph. This is an amazing piece of writing. It takes me back to my Grandma's kitchen, all her photo albums.

Ciona said...

Wow . . . home for me is this strange web of incredible joy and lingering pain. I rejoice in your recollection of home. And I mourn my frustrated view of "home."

lovelib said...

Its interesting to read this. I've never associated "home" with a house or a city. Home has always been more like family and memories. Those can be anywhere. This is cheesy, but my mom use to say "home is wherever daddy hangs his hat." She must have heard this from her mother because my dad doesn't wear a hat, but my grandfather does. We were always moving when I was growing up. I thought that after college, I would find a place that felt like home. I was wrong. Lane and I have moved 6 times in 3 years of marriage and are currently looking to move again very soon. I have known people that lived in the same house their entire lives. Sometimes I envy these people, but mostly I don't. I'm glad that home is much more than a house or a place for me. We can be at home if we are homeless. It will be nice for you and Brian that you can take home with you on the way to wherever you are going.

Liz said...

I agree with Mary. With the insane amount of moving my family did growing up, I always thought I'd be different. I'm now in my third house in two years. I guess its genetic. But what I love is that I don't need a street name and a house number to bring me home. There are certain songs, smells, stories, and people that will always be home for me. When I am walking with you or Valerie, I feel at home. When I drive through the mountains of North Carolina, I feel at home. When I hear certain Kingston Trio songs, I oddly feel at home (thanks Dad!) This is a beautiful piece of writing Stephanie, and I can't wait to see what other emotions and thoughts "home" brings for you.

Oh, and you writing about your pictures reminds me of a box that Valerie had for song long. A tattered, yellowed cigar box sat on her desk for about a year, a box full of your family's memories. I used to love to look through those pictures because, even though I didn't know any of those people, you could sense the bond of family in each snapshot.

Intellectual said...

I love sorting through old pictures. I laugh, I cry.... and I cry again. The great thing is I can go to Wal-mart and blow up some of them. I did this with a picture of my grandparents taken soon after they got married. It is my favorite picture now.