Upon hearing about my recent travel experiences and the places I am going in the next month, many people over the past few days have asked me where home is for me. I really don’t know, I tell them. It’s the easy answer, and I don’t have a better one. So, today, I’m wondering about home.
I spent the last week in northern New York visiting relatives. Sitting in my Uncle Adam’s and Aunt Tracy’s kitchen, I thought about how many weeks in the summer and/or around Christmas I have spent in northern N.Y., staying at my grandparents’, visiting my Aunt Nat’s farm, playing on the trampoline with my little cousins. I try to visit at least every summer. This short visit was wonderful, as usual, but it also felt a little different. I realized that, while I have never lived in northern N.Y. – unlike most of my cousins and relatives on my mom’s side – part of me considers it home.
I really have no idea where home is these days. I’ve been almost too many places in the last eight months, and my parents don’t live in the house we spent years living in in Germany anymore. I’d love to tell you home is where my dogs are, but they too are in Germany, and I won’t be back there for a whole year. In the States, Elon is home, in a way. But most of my relatives are in northern New York or northern Virginia – where I am now – so…
I am sitting at the kitchen table of a family I’ve known since I was eight. I’m staying at the Montgomery’s for a few days, and as always, it’s just a joy to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of this family again. The girls are growing up so fast, dear grandmother “GG” is almost 90, but Sandals, or ‘Sandy’ — their golden retriever — is still running around wagging her tail and the house I’ve spent so many days and nights in is still pretty much the same. The dryer is tumbling clothes in the other room and I can hear coffee percolating. The door opens, shouts of hello! commence. Do you know what a comfort those sounds are?
It’s just a comfort to come back to familiars in the places we once lived, even if what we come back to isn’t necessarily our own. I can’t call northern New York mine, and while most of the time I feel like a member of the Montgomery clan, I can’t really call them my own. But these places and people in them welcome me home with open arms whenever I am back, and for that, I am grateful.
Some day, these familiars will no longer be here. People are growing older, houses are being sold, friends and family are moving on. I feel like I move out/away from various places almost on a regular basis (there are currently eight boxes of my things somewhere over the Atlantic ocean), so I know how this goes. But how lucky I am to be able to come back, how lucky that I find that pieces of me never left these places. That’s how it goes, I suppose. When I am forced to leave Elon next May, I’ll get hit with this same feeling – and then I’ll really not have any idea where home is. But you know what? I’m not worried about it anymore. I feel like I’m constantly being pulled back at the same time I am moving forward, and I am becoming happy succumbing to whatever forces are at work there. I don’t have one house, village, town, city, state or even continent I can call my own. For me, home has become much more than just the physicality of a place. If I were to stay still for five years, where would home be, then? I have no idea, because I am so not ready to do that yet. Someday, though. Maybe someday.
So, then, what is home to me? Home is being picked up at the airport by family. Home is a gathering of old friends, home is familiar smells. Home is hearing welcome back. Home is the reasons I visit the places and people I do. Home is realizing – as I did while sitting at my grandma’s kitchen table looking at black-and-white photos of my mother being brought home from the hospital in 1956 – that all of this is so much bigger than me.
Around my neck is a necklace my dear friend Emily (Montgomery) mailed to me while I was in Germany. Inscribed inside a beautiful spiral, it reads, Wherever you may go, it’s your friends who make your world. There’s a reason I haven’t taken this off since I got it.
And just a moment ago, dear 89-year-old GG came into the kitchen, gave me a hug, and said, I’m so glad you’re here. Can you please stay longer?
Home is, simply, where we are most loved and love back.