During the last month, I worked on a piece entitled Finding Home for an anthology submission. Coincidently, in that same timeframe, we met a couple and visited over three leisurely afternoons. They asked us to define home, especially given our lifestyle. It was an insightful question. I have written about this before, but at that point, I was a bit glib—my opinions less developed than they are now. Home is something I have spent a month thinking about.
Over the course of our marriage, I have called Pat at least weekly, “One more stop, and I’ll be home.” Home was a place where our life played out. It was easy then. It had a street address where people sent packages and mail. It came with bills and headaches. It also came with stability and joy.
The older I grow, the more I realize the role my childhood home–Allenwood, New Jersey–played in forming me. I eat thin crust pizza with little cheese. I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to Krispy Kreme. I think summers during high school should be spent with all your friends on the beach. I swear more than the average person. Despite rarely returning to New Jersey since I left at seventeen, I now realize I still think of it as home.
Over my adult life, I have lived in several places: East Lansing, Detroit, Kingston, Raleigh, Evergreen, Bratislava, Budapest. I enjoyed each of them, but I don’t consider any of those places as home. Today, if I tell Pat I want to ‘go home’ for a while, it’s a vague term. I mean to the United States. I want to see our children and grandchild.
So returning to the question, define home given our life? For me, home has three components: a physical place, friends, and routine.
The physical dimension of home is easy. We rent apartments, something I have mastered.
Our friends are our friends, and they are scattered everywhere. As we make new ones, the list changes, but that’s normal. Perhaps we find friends more easily now–over lunches in foreign places the conversations tend to flow.
The missing piece is a routine. This is why routine has become so important in our lives. Until I establish one, I am not home. And when I’m not home, I’m unsettled.
Unlike vacation which implies a breaking of routine, at home, I frequent the same bakery, coffee shop, super market, restaurant, bookstore, etc.. I know the workers and they know me. At an organic store in Evergreen, the clerk wrote the word “Bratislava” on a scrap of paper and pulled it out each time she saw us. “When are you moving to… Bratislava?” I loved that she cared. After all, that’s what people do when you are home.
Now, Pat and I dine at the same restaurants, shop at the same stores, buy our bread at the same bakery. When we enter our store in San Marcos, the shop owner looks up and smiles. Over the course of two months, his greeting has transitioned from “Hola” to “Hola, amigo.” When he says this, I feel as though this odd little jungle village on a volcanic lake in Guatemala is actually our home.
In the debate of tourist versus traveler, I am neither. I am just a person who moves more frequently than the average person. It is a constant cycle of finding an apartment, meeting people, and establishing routine–which is why we stay put for a few months. Once I locked into my routine, I don’t tend to deviate.
In my piece, Finding Home, I wrote about a small village, Courtmacsherry, on the southern coast of Ireland in West Cork. Oddly, I never dedicated a blog post to Courtmacsherry even though it is a place we have returned to for the last 15 years–where everyone knows us and we know them. Our new lunch friend, the one who asked the question, told me that home to him is a place where everybody knows his name (and yes, that is a deliberate Cheers reference). I love that.
The funny thing about home is, even when you are no longer thinking about a place as home, it is back waiting for you. 2016 is such an exciting year for us. Almost everyplace we will move has already served as home. This will be a year of home-comings. I can’t wait to stop by the cheese shop in Budapest and see Raymond. To drink my coffee on the Old Town square in Bratislava and stop by the Music Forum.
When I arrive in Courtmacsherry, I know each morning Padraig will stop by with a story. During the afternoon, I will shop at the tiny grocery store which is no bigger than a walk in closet. The first time I enter, the owner will greet me and we will catch up for a few minutes. Every night, we will visit the pub–ours is the Pier House. My bed, friends, and routine and bed are all waiting. The minute I step out of the car, I will be home.
Categories: How To