My grandmother had a plaque on her wall that I loved. An embroidered sampler in a wood frame, with the simple words, “A house is made of brick and stone; homes are made of love alone.”
As a child I vowed that one day I would have a home of my own, and a copy of that plaque would hang on my wall. Whenever I would visit my grandparent’s country home “up the holler”, I got a warm, fuzzy feeling, and the words on the plaque seemed to sum it up for me. Their house was small and cozy and smelled of fried chicken most of the time. The yard was wide and green, surrounded by steep forested hills on either side (thus, the “hollow”) and criss-crossed by gurgling creeks where my cousins and I spent countless barefoot summer hours.
The house where I lived, by contrast, was not so warm and fuzzy. Just a plain three bedroom, one bath house. Technically, it was made of brick and yes, there was love. But there was enough dysfunction in our family situation to make it feel like nothing more than a dwelling most of the time. I mention this because the contrast between the two households was great enough to inspire my lifelong quest to determine just what it really means to have a home.
My teenage years were a whirlwind. For reasons that would take several volumes to explain, my family moved frequently. By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended eleven different schools, sometimes up to three different schools each year. Constantly being “the new kid” can leave you either really messed up, or extremely resilient. (I would like to believe I landed in the latter camp).
During that time, we lived in houses, apartments, condominiums, rustic (read- “without plumbing”) cottages, you name it. We were actually temporarily homeless at times, while we were in transition. We became very adept at packing and unpacking. Most of the time, it felt like an adventure- since we did not have time to make lasting connections with people, there was not much pain or regret over leaving one place to go to another. We began to look forward to the next place we moved to be better than the last. The next place will solve all of our problems, life will be easier, and we’ll make real friends. Even though we were usually disappointed in that regard, we knew we had each other. So despite the lack of roots, and our occasional spats, love got us through the chaos.
Years later, as I entered adulthood, I was eager to have a place of my own. One of my happiest memories is laying in a sleeping bag on the floor, the first night in my very own apartment. I had no furniture, no food in the fridge, yet I felt like a queen in a lavish palace- because it was mine. I paid for it, I was the only person who lived there, I could decorate it any way I wanted to. I could live there for as long as I chose, and no one would tell me when to move. That was the first time I can recall having the feeling I was truly “home”.
I lived in that tiny one- bedroom apartment until I married, five years later. With my husband, I somehow slipped back onto the “moving track”, though not as frequently as in my youth. We lived with his mother in her house for five years, then in a condo, then a house we bought. Later on we moved into a guest house on a horse ranch.
Finally one day we decided to move to Atlanta, Georgia (how that came about that is another story). In Georgia I was introduced to living in trailers, cabins, and eventually, million-dollar log homes.
My husband died in 2006, and we had no children, so I was once again alone. With the support of family and friends, I eventually transitioned into a new life. Within a few years, I moved into a new home which I had built to my own specifications. I also remarried and became a parent for the first time, stepmother my new husband’s son.
I can honestly say I have enjoyed some aspect of each dwelling and town that I have resided in. I was blessed, because had the love of my family and friends, no matter where I was. But I have only truly felt “at home” in a few places. What was that elusive quality that made the difference?
The day I moved into the house I now share with my husband and stepson, I heard the echo of that night long ago that I spent on the floor of my first apartment. My home is the place of my choosing. It could be a small apartment, a huge mansion, or a motorhome travelling down the highway. I believe it is not the “brick and stone”, and it is not the “love alone”. It is being comfortable with where you are living; it is living where you choose to live, and making it your own. As my example has shown, we do not always have that option. I plan to enjoy my current home as much as I can, as long as life will allow. And now, I do have that plaque on my wall!
What is your definition of “home”? Can you be “at home” completely alone, or do you have to have companionship? How much does the physical setting matter to you? I would love to hear how others define the word, “home”.