I found myself on Google Earth the other day, as I am wont to do on occasion. From this app on my iPad, I search places I’ve been, roads I’ve traveled. I do this for fun, wandering through streets or neighborhoods that I spent significant time in. Sometimes, I’ll go home, to my childhood street. A Google car, equipped with a 360 degree camera, has driven down and documented my little neighborhood, the streets on which I rode my bike, played baseball, basketball, football, street hockey. From the street view, I can see the houses of neighbors, some who still live there, some of whom have passed away or moved. The memories come flooding back.
My wife and I live at the end of a street that was never finished, and probably never will be. Essentially, we’re on the end of a dead end. There is just one other house accessible on our street, meaning our traffic is reduced to our two families, an occasional delivery of fast food or oil, a visitor. Once a month or so, someone will mistakenly come down our road and turn around in either driveway. This choice of residence was intentional.
We looked at many houses during the home search. Some of them we liked, some of them we didn’t even get out of the car during the open house. We knew what we were looking for, and, sparing the banal details, found what was the perfect home where we did: quiet, residential, a lot of land, not too much traffic. The choice was intentional for those reasons, but it feeds into the greater reason: it’d be a great neighborhood in which to raise children.
When I was looking through the street view of my old neighborhood, the memories struck a somber note. It made me, in a way, sad. I miss that house, my parents having since divorced and moving out. When we moved my mother out, it was a solemn occasion, but, at the time, there wasn’t a moment to have this reflection. Sure, there was a bit of nostalgia, but two things precluded our ability to really partake in the reflection that we probably all needed for closure. One, we were probably a little angry and hurt at the situation that took place between my parents, a trying and frustrating few years of which I will spare the details. The end of my parents marriage came quickly, mysteriously and with little resolution in regard to answers and clarity. This festering wound was open still, pulsing red and raw, when we moved all of the possessions from our parents old house into either our cars or the dumpster. Two – and this is personal, exclusive to me – my life was just beginning, really. I’d met my future wife, we’d begun to get serious, her spending most of her time at the one-bedroom apartment I was renting. The future – my life – was happening. And, as the sole resident of my parents home when the divorce was looming, in the midst and height of the unhappiness, I was happy, finally, to be separated from the unhappiness and posited within my own optimistic world.
My parents house would have, in another life, provided the sense of home for me, especially around the holidays, which I generally share with my wife at her parents’ home. I think about what it would be like to go home again, in the literal sense. We try to recreate these things, and when I told my wife recently that, if it were on the market when we were buying, I would have thought seriously about purchasing the home in which I grew up.
This is false, though. We can’t recreate the happiness of the past and, while I loved the neighborhood in which I grew up, the woods and the river running behind the property, I wouldn’t be able to recreate the world in which I lived during those years. And that’s what I would have been doing. I would have also been reminded of the bad times, years that I wouldn’t want to relive simply by occupying those walls again. But, when I think of home, I think about that street, and how, in a way, I feel it was unfairly stripped of a place to retreat to when it was needed most.
When we talk about home, we usually talk of a literal place with a connotation of wistfulness and memory. We can close our eyes and walk into the front (or, in my case, back) door and smell the smells, hear the sounds. There’s the old countertop, the kitchen table. There’s this person’s bedroom, there’s my bedroom. There are memories, good and bad, a celebration or argument, both monumentally important at the time, but, in the end, just a reminder of a different time, when importance was placed elsewhere, somewhere much more foreign than it’s placed now.
A home is the product of longevity, but I’m sure that even people who moved constantly hold onto that one constant, that neighborhood or collection of people that surrounded us, that connects us to the connotative “home.” Home is more than location. It’s a place in our minds that we can go back to, all the time, despite even the most negative of connotations. There’s a nostalgia connecting us to that place, making even an inch of what we know as home being a place we can recite with ease. It’s more than love, given and received.
We were allowed a freedom on my street, and maybe that era is passé, but I hope it’s not. We operated under the watchful eye of doting neighbors, we played with their children, we knew everyone by name. We knew which houses to avoid, with their deathtraps of mean dogs or crotchety old widows; We knew which houses gave out the best candy at Halloween. We knew the best hiding spots for hide-and-seek in the dark; We shared a camaraderie with our neighborhood that could never be quantified. There are millions of Americans who can say the same thing.
It makes me sad that I can’t go back to my childhood home. This will ultimately sound trite because there are losses far greater than a childhood home, but, in the season of reflection, I think of how I’d like to walk into the warm embrace of a familiarity known only to a handful of people just one last time. The Christmas parties at my parent’s house were always the best party of the year.
But in the lessons I’ve learned in these year, by the realization that we can never go back, I have a stronger desire to make our home, on the end of our little street, that place for my family. A place that connects sentiments to location, a connection made through both good times and bad times.
More than anything, though, I hope I can create a childhood, a life, a home that can survive any argument, fight, or calamity and be the place my (eventual) children will want to retreat to – whether literally or figuratively – both in happiness and sadness for the rest of their lives.
I would love to hear: what’s “home” for you? Why?