Homeward

For the past five years we have lived in a garage. With a port-a-potty outside, a tiny little cook stove, and limited running water. A minimum half hour drive for a shower at the local YMCA. A wood stove for heat (meaning spending summers chopping and stacking). Just think about that for a moment before reading on. Could you do that? I have a lot of strong friends who could, and have done so.

At first it was difficult. Especially during the two years or so that I was ‘insane’. Meaning after radiation treatments to my head ended, and I endured the emotional fallout.

I found myself oddly craving a home. I studied them as I drove by, the shapes of dormers and doorways, decks with grills, curtains. My poor husband lived with stress and guilt, feeling like he could not give me a place like that.

But I wasn’t unhappy where we were. I felt ashamed when people came to visit, but then, very few did anyway, so it wasn’t bad. I learned what ‘house-pride’ meant, and became humble. And then one hot summer day a friend said to me that she’d give anything for a home where she could open up one whole wall to the breeze. I had the garage door open at the time. It made me look around differently.

We had a roof over our heads. We were toasty warm in the winter, in spite of the frosty outhouse seat. We had food on the table, and each other. Isn’t that what a home is? Protection from the elements, loved ones, safety, a fixed place in a crazy world?

Then a few months ago friends offered to sell us our old house back. Life turned into a stressful whirlwind as we decided to give up on our dream of building, and sold the property. Now we’re in transition, renting a tiny A-frame while we wait to see if the purchase goes through.

In this A-frame, we have the same furniture we had in the garage. The same…things. Of course there’s a flushing toilet and a shower, which is an upgrade. But still. It’s the same family unit, the same dogs. The A-frame is comfortable. I miss being able to hear the rain on the metal roof. I don’t get outside nearly as much as I did when I had to go into the weather for everything. Again, think about this for a moment. If we had to pee in the middle of the night, we had to put on shoes, sometimes a coat, get a flashlight, and go out into a very dark mountain night. With owls and mysterious noises in the woods. I found it fun most of the time; one friend in particular probably didn’t. You know who you are, Jenni.

Seriously though, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a home means. What makes this A-frame any different from our garage, other than a few material comforts? What will make the place we purchase any different from the garage? Well, a lot less stress and work for my husband, that’s for sure. A more comfortable space and more privacy for our son. But other than those things, what is the difference? I don’t know.

It’s nice having a kitchen. I’m thrilled to have an oven again. I’m even enjoying having a toilet to clean, though I had to buy a toilet bowl brush. Five years with no need for one. I imagine eventually the novelty will wear off. Again though, does that make a home?

I can’t answer that question and I refuse to resort to clichés such as ‘home is where your heart is’. That’s not enough.

Maybe it’s simply a light in the window when you come home from work. Space to claim. Possessions around you. All things we had in the garage. Why then did that feel like camping?

What is a home to you?

Home

Home

The cabin.

The cabin.

Is home a couch?

Is home a couch?

Or matching curtains?

Or matching curtains?

Or simply a place to lay your head?

Or simply a place to lay your head?

25 thoughts on “Homeward

  1. Yeah, I know, I wasnt very fond of the mobile potty, especially in the winter… and definitely not at all when you told me there were wolfs, coyotes or mountain lions close by! I just never had to fear those “wild” animals before when I went to use a toilet.
    And I think there is my point in the definition of your question. As much as the garage etc was your home for sure because you made it a home, I do have to say that I personally expect some modern comforts in a home. Which is for one thing a toilet that is inside, so I do not have to go outside of the safe enclosure in the middle of the night. Preferably warm.
    So I think the ‘big’ difference you are looking for here is for me the conveniences of modern living such as indoor plumbing (toilet and shower), washing machine/dryer and a working kitchen.
    Though you can make every space a home if you only want to, I think most people thrive to have more comfort then before. Where ever they were before. You start renting a tiny room or one room apartment, then maybe a bigger apartment with more bedrooms and usually in the end you will want to buy a house with lots of space, many rooms and lots of fancy conveniences.
    I know you are not like this and not all people are. People like us are happy with less, happy with simple things. You more then me. If you had nothing you appreciate more the little things in life. I know thats a saying but it is true for sure. I am happy to have a queen bed, a TV in my room and a shower/tub at the moment. I have easy and safe access to indoor plumbing, washer/dryer, a kitchen and a stocked fridge and pantry. I have electricity, heat and warm water any time I want it. You get used to it and only realize how important it became for you when it is taken away. Like on the East coast where people had days without power. They surely will appreciate it when it came back to them!
    So to end my string of thoughts. My definition would be to have modern conveniences inside the house to use whenever I want and need them. Though that in itself doesnt make it a home. It will be a home when you put all your things in it, make it yours and feel comfortable and safe in it AND make/have memories in it.
    Does that answer your question?
    🙂

    • I’m not so concerned about comforts, the material things. Obviously. In some ways the garage was an improvement from the way I lived there back in the late 80s when I hauled water in a bucket from the creek and melted snow on the wood stove. I’m beginning to think ‘home’ is more of a yearning, the person you want to be with, maybe the person you want to be, being at peace or at ‘home’ with yourself. Letting go of things, realizing they aren’t important.

  2. I’ve had a bit of an “ah-ha” about what home is, recently, too. We had some work done on our kitchen and family room (the old kitchen was difficult and the family room made me so uncomfortable I rarely went in). That meant every single thing that was movable in both places had to come out. It felt like we were moving — very stressful (something you can appreciate!). For a while, we didn’t even have running water downstairs (breakfast was a sincere challenge). When we were finally able to start putting things back into the new spaces, it was wonderful …but, it didn’t feel like home until I re-hung the glass raindrops and faceted crystal ball back in the kitchen window! How very odd!

    Then something else happened I never expected. I’ve had, in my garage since last year, boxes of things from my parents house (both my parents passed a year ago); stuff my mother loved, little things my dad had, even a few pieces of furniture I remember from my grandparents’ farm. As I started finding new homes within my home for them I started to feel a connection I’d lost so many years ago that I can barely remember it ever existed. It was like finding solid footing, or a place out of the wind.

    We humans are such complicated creatures. It’s like we are houses ourselves, with multiple rooms and multiple doors, each with its own lock and key.

    • Yes! The memories associated with mementos are so important. It’s why I love to decorate my Christmas tree, because each piece reminds me of someone I loved who is gone. When I pull those things out, those loved ones are close by again. Similar to what Jani says here. The space becomes a home when we are surrounded by our memories and connections. And that was missing in the garage, where we were just…protected from the weather I guess. I’m not saying home is connected to things, but to memory, connection, the people important to us I guess. Good response Susan.

  3. Appreciate the post and the replies, beautiful words.
    Home for me is the small community I live in and the nearby landscape. I feel less invested in the physical house that I occupy and more in the overall geographic location. On long weekends instead of buckling down to a much needed house project I tend to climb in a car and set out to touch some of the locations that bind me to this place.
    My house decor consists of a haphazard array of things found in our family wanders and much of my physical home could use repair or a coat of paint, things I hope to get to one day. But I notice that it’s clear today, I should probably go up Rd 62 and see what it looks like in February.

    • And that was a good lesson for me, too. That home isn’t confined to the physical structure, but to the tribe. I heard a music group the other day called ‘Rivertribe’ and I thought, that’s us. River tribe, mountain tribe, again as with other responses here, being surrounded by others. And of course for me, I need to be around trees. Montana feels like home because of generations of family, history, memories again. I always feel a soul-recognition there, and feel welcomed. But when we come home again and I am among the trees, it’s completely different.

  4. There are certain creature comforts I’ve learned I get a bit cranky without. I get equally (though differently) irritable if we’re living someplace very cluttered, or where I can’t walk to run errands or see the outside easily from every room.

    I find that with a change of living situation, certain adjustments become permanent, while others are more temporary than even we understand. Our current apartment, for instance, is of a smallness I would never have considered before we started traveling. On the other hand, clutter is the kind of thing that makes me exhale and say, “Wow, I didn’t realize I felt so cramped,” as soon as I’m out of it — I’ll think I don’t mind, and only figure out afterward that I did.

    Once, when we were in a hotel I didn’t like, I complained to Erik, and he replied, “I’m happy; this is the only room in the world with you in it.” It’s true that while I really like a comfy, pleasant space, and will always look for it (and for ways to make mine more so), if I am safe and comfortable enough, and have Erik and, perhaps, my laptop, I feel at home.

    But maybe the “safe and comfortable” is what you’re asking about. For me, that means: a bed where I can relax (bright lights, chill, noise, or clutter/dust/dirt inhibit relaxation), a table and chair for working and eating, a sense of refuge (we’re not going to be invaded by neighbors or bugs or the smell of smoke, or have to spend all our time fighting the weather or temperature or faulty appliances), a toilet and some sort of shower or bath, and a place where I can make food and then clean up after myself. And light and air. The big thing for me is that home needs to not feel stressful. I can be happy in lots of different situations, but if something is so awkward that it makes me annoyed every time I use it, then it’s lowering my overall sense of well-being, and not serving it.

    • Aha, a sense of refuge and a place of comfort. I think you just nailed it on the head. Air, light, space to move, I think those would follow. But the sense of refuge – when you said that, I could feel it.

  5. Lisa, I just read “Homeward’. My first reaction was tears. Home was any where Daddy and Mom were. If they came to Wenatchee and sat in my living room my house became HOME. When Mom picked me up at the bus station in Everett the bus station was HOME. I know they are still with me and my Spirit is home with theirs. I tend to think of home as synonymous with house. I am sure that Charlie is a little confused by this. I will tell him we are going home and he says “to my house?” and I say no to gramma’s house. Gramma does not live in a house, she lives in an apartment. He deals with it.
    We used to go live in the wilderness for a month every summer and that lets me realize how the “adventure” of it could wear thin after much longer than a month. I visited you often at the “land” and never thought it would be a place that you would be ashamed of. I feel sad that you were.
    So, with no Mom and Daddy now where is my HOME. I am grateful for the comfort and warmth of my apartment. I am grateful to be surrounded by my children, grandchildren and friends, but home is not there. Home is the space within me that is filled with my soul and the Spirit of the Universe. As I type this I realize that I do not go there as often as I need to, running away from HOME and running into the world.
    Thank you for this post, an invitation to spend some time at HOME. Love you jani

    • Ah, a wonderful answer. Didn’t I tell you recently that you are a teacher? Home is internal. Obvious, but one we forget. The shame with the place was the house pride I had to learn to let go of. Not having a table for friends to sit around, a ‘nice’ space, neat and not cluttered, a place without firewood debris and dog hair and cold concrete. I needed that lesson, that those who came to visit didn’t come to see the space.

  6. Just read “Homeward”. For me home is where the people and animals I love and care for are. Home isn’t one specific place for me.

    • These responses are starting to pull out a theme for me, as in home is the emotional comfort, those we love (people and pets), memories, and emotional connections. And with that, we wouldn’t be tied to one specific spot, but carry that home with us. And when I think of photos of your adorable Boxer, I can understand why animals are on your list!

  7. The word I keep seeing in these responses is “comfort(able)”. I think comfort lies not in the physical alone, but mainly in the emotional realm. While you were physically comfortable enough in the garage, you were not emotionally comfortable.
    I’ve lived in many places, but home will always be the log cabin my parents built for us. It had fewer physical comforts, but was the place I most felt protected and loved. Whenever I return, I am filled with memories of family, friends, our animals, and experiences that taught me.
    I also have called a temporary camp tent home. I think it meant that this is the place I belong for now. I’m safe here. I’m building memories. This is fun, I’m comfortable. I’m home.
    For now, I’m in a house that is way to large for us. I can’t keep up with all the work. I’m missing my children, so I am not as emotionally comfortable here. It doesn’t feel like home.

    • I’m beginning to think, like you mention here, that memories and connections to the past have a great deal to do with home, as well as comfort. Like you also said, comfort in the emotional realm. Lovely answer Jodi, and miss you!

  8. oh my! I have to say that when I read this in the middle of my pre-work nap I , too, teared-up a bit. I remember the day some 20 years ago in Texas that I felt the pull of two places, Texas and Washington. I thought to even my own surprise “I will never feel at home again, until I am dead!” I remember there was a time when I didn’t think of Texas as home, then I had Charlie! something about having a child there that made it home. we weren’t transplants! I felt like I had some roots there.
    I never stopped yearning for Washington, though. As far as a building to be home there was nothing like the shack of a house we lived in. I liked the wildness of the backyard and the fact that there was a forest behind the place. the disrepair did get troublesome when I found myself a widow there, but mostly I found refuge in the yard. but the mountains….I couldn’t stop thinking of them.
    Now I live in Washington. I have a sturdy house of similar vintage to the house in Texas. I think that maybe what attracted me to it. the miles that kept me from my siblings are still there, although fewer. I see them little more than I did before, other than Jani, who lives down the road. Sometimes Washington seems like home and sometimes I think I just ran away from home again and I yearn for Texas. maybe I was right about home being illusive to me….
    I went back to sleep thinking of what I would say…knowing I should sleep. I chanted “home home home” and then it became ” ohm ohm ohm” and then I think I understood…..and fell asleep.

  9. dear me! I read this again (my reply) and realize how depressing it could sound…not at all…I just have been trying to answer the “home” question for sometime and have come to realize that, as others have said, home just is…a state of spirit….Namaste!!

    • I didn’t find your responses depressing at all. I never thought about the aspect of a child giving you roots to a place. I do have to say though, that for me, you’ve always belonged in the mountains. Which is why I find it interesting that you went from Texas to the dry side of the state. And I wish we saw each other more often, too.

  10. Thoughtful post. For me home is a place, usually of refuge, where I can feel safe from the woes of the world. Memories and feelings abound as I create more of them with my husband and baby. That’s home to me.

    • Very nice. I definitely see that theme of the need for refuge and connection in order for ‘place’ to become home. I love how all the comments here have taken me much further, and explained things much better, than I did in the original post.

  11. I must say Lisa, you have really cracked open a dandy subject here. I started to write my response to your post right after I read your post four days ago. I really had a good base for my ‘what is home?’ response. I was writing away, it was full of meaning and color from my soul and I joyfully and passionately tapped it out on the computer in anticipation of sharing my pearls of wisdom with everyone, blah-blah, then I forgot to hit ‘save’.
    So today, I visit here and read these awesome posts from others and I am very touched. The sentiments I attempted to capture and share in my ill fated creation are right here, in this conversation.
    The essence of home or where home is and what it means is deeply intimate and personal and all are different, no matter who you are. I think that this intimate relationship starts in the womb, where we first ‘set up house’, feel safe and are nurtured. My experiences of ‘home’ and what it means and ultimately will be, are found in the relationships I create and nurture.
    There was a time when I was about 10 years old and I ran ‘away from home’ one night. It really doesn’t matter particularly ‘why’, but what it really boiled down to, was ‘home felt hostile’ and ‘I don’t feel loved here’. So, I ran away, I set up house in our backyard inside of a makeshift plywood ‘RV’ I had lovingly built that summer. The tight space was cold and dark overnight, but I stuck it out on principle. I decided to maybe remedy the dark by crafting a window and remembering to bring a blanket next time would be good. And as I brainstormed my improvements in the chilly dawn seeping through the crack of the door, my Dad knocked and politely asking if I was there. It never occurred to me that my Dad was an expert tracker and that the grass was wet outside, so I was startled he had found me, the backyard is so large. He had made waffles, but did not ask me to come out of my space, he just offered me breakfast. I felt he respected my space, this cold box I was in and by that I felt loved, so I joined my family for waffles, but I didn’t speak much, I was still holding out on principle.
    My point here is that, no matter where I found myself, truly that was home for me like it or not, even when I “did geographicals” or moved frequently as a young adult in attempts to make things ‘different’ in my life. What changed little was my thinking, the very thoughts that created the quality of my life. Needless to say, I moved a lot in my 20’s and 30’s.
    In my 40’s I experienced a fundamental shift in my thinking as a direct result of ‘self inflicted calamities’, a crisis of perception if you will. That necessarily translated into changing the way I perceived and understood myself. It altered the relationship I had with, well, everything. I finally stopped fighting everything and everyone necessarily and gained acceptance of things I had no control over. This didn’t happen overnight.
    Now, I am moving in a few weeks. And with the prospect of my new ‘geographical’ location out on the horizon and a new house to make a home, I excitedly plan many things ahead. I am stoked about the new house!
    The difference today is I am well content to stay put right where I am.
    This new move is a ‘destination’, a new adventure and not an escape from ‘here’.
    Today, I enjoy the freedom from the ‘burden of self’, it makes ‘home’ a much nicer place to be when I am not running from it.
    Thank you Lisa, you’re an awesome lady.

    • Just as long as you don’t forget to invite me into your new destination; I’m looking forward to seeing it become a home. I’m also glad that my attempt here made you think and come up with a soul-searching response. As I said to Tasha in another response, I love how the replies here have explained things so much better than I could have. And made me think.

  12. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox
    and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    • Well that’s a pain. I’m not sure how to do that. There’s nothing on the email that allows you to ‘unsubscribe’? I’ll look into this and see what I can find out.

    • I checked with WordPress and they said there should be an ‘unsubscribe’ button at the bottom of the emails you’re receiving. If that doesn’t work let me know and I’ll dig further.

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