I have been thinking a lot about home lately. I have called a lot of places "home." If I am counting correctly, including my college residences, I have lived in 12 different spaces. Houses, apartments, dorm rooms - home is where you "hang your hat," right?
We moved around quite a bit as I was growing up, and I had a lot of practice saying "goodbye" to people and places I would never see again. As a kid, it was hard to leave my friends, but I had the resilience of the very young and bounced back quickly after each move. I learned that it doesn't do much good to be sentimental because "it is what it is" and life goes on. "Home" was defined more by my family and our belongings than the physical structures in which we lived. As a result, very few places in my life were consistent. Only one place, in fact, remained the same - my grandparents' house.
There is not a place in even my most distant memories that my grandparents' house doesn't inhabit. As a child, I spent hours with my sister and cousin playing in and around their house. We played house, we played school, we found and captured fierce-looking bugs, we conquered our fears of dark places in their terrifying and awesome cellar, we rode and demolished our big wheels, we wrapped ourselves in old sheets and became kings and queens (and servants, with apologies to my little sister). Over the years we logged hundreds of hours in the swing. Some of the best (and funniest) stories from my childhood happened at Granny's house.
Just before I started college, my parents and sister moved from 3 hours away to over 19 hours away. I did not see them for the first four months of school and then only occasionally after that (it was too expensive to be flying back and forth). Were it not for my grandparents (who lived an hour away), I probably would not have made it through that first year of college. I spent nearly every weekend at their house doing laundry, eating my Granny's gourmet country cooking, and getting my family "fix." As a young woman trying to navigate the strange no-man's-land between childhood and adulthood, I often felt adrift with no clear direction. I felt at odds with myself, my parents, and the world in general. My grandparents became an anchor in the storm. I remember walking into their house, taking a deep breath, and feeling the weight fall from my shoulders. I was instantly comforted by the memories that surrounded me and the unconditional love I received from both of them.
There is so much about their house that is precious to me - the way the ancient floorboards creak beneath the carpet, the sound of the ticking mantel clock, the stock-pile of paper products in the upper bedroom, the family photos that litter every flat surface in the house, the smell that is unique only to Granny's house and so very hard to describe. It's a combination of baby powder, clorox bleach, sweet onions, years of furniture polish, and the way old books smell. I can close my eyes and smell it even now. I hope I can always recall that smell.
My grandfather had a stroke back in February and has been staying in the local Veteran's Home for the past 7 months. Granny visited him as often as possible, and Grandfather worked with a focused determination to regain his strength. They both endured circumstances that were less than ideal. Last week they were finally able to move into a brand new assisted living facility. While I'm sure they are sad about leaving the house they have lived in for 50+ years, they couldn't be happier to be back together again. After 67 years of marriage, their home is in each other, not the space in which they live.
It turns out I am more sentimental than I thought. I will miss that house. Of all the places I've said "goodbye" to, this has been the hardest. I can't imagine another family living there; it feels like an invasion of sorts. But in reality, it's just a house without my grandparents living there. The "home" that I love so much has moved to a new residence and I am so grateful for their continued care and quality of life. "Home" is not a place, afterall. To me, it is the unconditional love of family. It is safety and comfort. It is the collection of memories and experiences that make me who I am. It is the stories from my childhood that I tell my own children. It is the old traditions we carry on and the new traditions we begin. A place may be special, but it is really only a dot on the map. It is ultimately the people in those precious places that make them "home."