“Home is that place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
I left. And then I came home.
In between, I lived a lot of other places. First, a college dormitory and then a couple of apartments. After that, it was a one hundred year old house built high on the Mississippi River bluffs near downtown St. Paul where I unpacked wedding gifts. Next, there was the house in Wisconsin where we started as a family of two and left as a family of four. There was a little house on the prairie where First Day of School pictures were taken on the front step. Then, another move…another house….and another… Decades of the same four Christmas stockings hung at each stop along the way.
Sometimes at night, when I can’t sleep, instead of counting sheep, I take mental, midnight tours back to these homes. I walk through them again, room by room, remembering why I loved each one. When I close my eyes, I can recall with perfect clarity each staircase, hallway, and closet. The rooms that held us, like a hug. I am a nest builder. Give me a place with four walls, any structure, and I will turn it into a home. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rest of our lives were as easily spruced up as a blank wall is by paint?
When I was growing up, to be some place else and then go “home” meant the neighborhood where I lived, the one on the dead-end street with a basketball hoop on a light pole at the end of it. The street flanked by rows of well-kept houses and neatly manicured lawns. It was my cousins and an aunt and uncle in the house on the other side of the row of lilac bushes that separated our yards. On frigid February nights, it was the sound of pucks hitting the wooden sides at the hockey rink while skating under a canopy of Northern Lights. It was neighbor moms who sewed prom dresses and hugged us and neighbor dads who taught snowmobile safety and yelled at us. It was touch football games and babysitting gigs and parents standing in doorways, calling kids home for supper.
But more than that, “home” was also the men and women who owned the businesses uptown and the teachers, doctors, and policemen who mentored and modeled and invested in all of us. They were the people who gave us our first jobs, first F’s, and first traffic tickets. Important life lessons. It was basketball and football games, teen dances in the old Arena, church youth groups and “going to the show” in a tiny movie theater called The Lyceum. Home was summer marching band and driving out to Deer Lake to plunge into the clear, cold water after parades on warm summer evenings. It was softball tournaments, wedding dances, and Rice Festival.
Home was that combination of people and experiences that only someone growing up in a small town can really appreciate or understand. Because in a small town, your parents do not raise you-the Village does. And while kids who grow up in large cities also become part of neighborhoods with caring adults they aren’t related to living in the houses on the block, I believe it is different, less intimate, and probably has less of an impact in who children in the suburbs become. Some of the best lessons taken away from the village where I was raised did not come from anyone I was directly related to.
My own two kids will have their memories of growing up in the different places where we lived. But when they think of “home” they will probably define it by the houses in the communities where they lived with their father and me and a handful of friends and their parents. Maybe they are not unusual in this.
I hope this will be enough for them. It never would have been enough for me.