Yesterday morning, I went for a walk after taking my boy to school in the morning. I had my ipod plugged into my head, which makes exercise so much more enjoyable. A song came up in the shuffle by a Chilean folk band I discovered a few years ago by chance on TV: Illapu. The song is called "Vuelvo Para Vivir," which means "I return to live." During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the band members were exiled for 7 years from their country for their liberal viewpoints. This song is about their return to Chile, after being away so long from the land they love. They talk about their return to the ocean, the desert, the familiar buildings--their HOME. They lived in France for a time, and then in Mexico, but clearly it never felt like HOME. It made me think about how happy I am to be home now, so if you were driving past around 9:30 that morning, I was the silly fool who was crying behind her sunglasses.
Home. It's such an interesting word. It is so much more than a building. It is so much more than any old house. It encompasses a wider scope than can be physically measured. It has an ineffable, intangeable quality that we can find only in our memories, and in our hearts.
I was lucky. As a kid, I grew up in a great family, and our two story house was our home. Our warm, yellow kitchen, our tv room in colours of brown, and rusty 1970's orange. Our "good living room," with the red, green and gold shag carpet, and the gold velvet furniture. My room that I shared with my sister. My brother's room, my parents' room. Our dog, cat, geese, ducks, rabbits, hamster, guppies and budgies (not ALL at one time, but a lot of them). That was our home. Over the years we had flea infestations, large black ants running around from time to time and mice. And then, the final straw for my Mom: RATS. Mom decided either the rats went, or she went. So, my Dad did what he had to do. He got a big stick, and locked himself in the basement work shop with my pre-teen brother, who got to hold the paper bag. With a carpet knife, he carefully cut into the fibreglass insulation on the walls. HELLO RATS! I won't go into more details, for the faint of heart, but let's just say my mild mannered Dad now always just smiles at that story, shrugs and says that he had to do what he had to do.
Home was our place where we had noisy Sunday dinners, noisy birthday parties, noisy get-togethers. Even when my brother, sister, and I moved out, that was our central location, where we all came to sit in the kitchen while our Mom worked endlessly.
It was a good place to be, and perhaps this is why I didn't move out until I was 28. The Man and I had been dating for 8 years. We'd met at university. I lived in the smaller city, and he lived in suburban hell, but stayed in one of those small rooms rented out for students in a grubby house. When we were all finished school, and it was more than time for me to be on my own, I decided to make the big leap and move to suburban hell to be with him. I don't know how I had the courage to do it in a way. I must have been bolstered by youth, determination and love. That last Christmas season in my town, as I drove the quiet winter streets one night, I remember feeling very sad. These wouldn't be "my" streets any longer. This wouldn't be "my" city any longer. But I was determined, and so I went. And when I was gone, my Mother cried.
We had bought a house in the big(ger) city--a little townhome that was fully attached to one neighbour, and attached to the other by our garage. It was a small house--1100 square feet, with a postage stamp of a back yard. The back yard looked over EVERYONE else's back yard in the neighbourhood. They were all sectioned off by this utilitarian wooden fence that attracted an inordinate number of wasps every summer. The tree-less yards were sunbaked in summer; the good grass would die off, and the weeds would flourish. The small, square design of the yards trapped the heat like crazy. I took a temperature reading once, and on a hot summer day, the back yard was actually 5 degrees hotter than the front yard. The soil was terrible; rock hard clay, filled with leftover crud from the builders. I tried building, and subsequently abandoned a flower garden.
The carpet was completely trampled down when we moved in, and since we never replaced it in the 9 years we lived there, it became even uglier. The kitchen was too small to fit a table in, unless we gave up storage. As soon as we were able to open our windows in the spring, our sleep was disturbed by a constant line of airplanes cruising overhead. We lived under the flight path, half an hour's drive from a major airport after all.
The house was small and cramped, but I loved it. It was our little "shoe box." I painted the tiny kitchen a bright, warm yellow. The carpet was beyond hope, so I never cared if anyone I loved spilled anything on it. The back yard was an oven, but there was this crazy awning I could roll down, and hide from the sun under. There were no trees, but I was able to grow the most beautiful pots of assorted flowers. We got an unbelievable breeze through our bedroom window.
The greatest treasure though, was the front step, which faced to the East. We had a stone path leading up to our front step, which was situated in just such a way to catch all the warmth and cheer of the morning sun. Even in the winter, on the coldest, most bitter day, if there was no wind, it would always be 20 degrees C in the sun on my front step. I could sit there with a sweater on, letting it sink into my bones, even though the snow would be heaped 2 feet high, less then 3 feet to my right. When we moved, I was very tempted to write a little letter to the new lady of the house, and tell her what a wonderful, secret spot that was. In the spring, I'd check my little front garden for new buds, and forget-me-nots. The lavender always bloomed around Canada Day, and the chrysanthemum heralded the end of summer with its riot of pink blooms.
Before we got married, we had the greatest party. We filled that cramped house with The Man's family--come all the way from England, and even Australia for our wedding. We all took turns singing, at the top of our lungs, stomping feet, and dancing until very, very late one Tuesday night. My neighbour on the fully attached side was not impressed.
We brought our beautiful son home. We brought our beautiful daughter home almost precisely 3 years later. We filled the house with diapers, a play pen, a "jolly jumper," a "mega saucer," building blocks, sippy cups. The house was no longer tidy for long, or even frequently. Now it was our family home. We put up our Christmas trees there. We had our friends and family there for dinner and various parties.
The strange thing was, those 9 years were very, very lonely. I gave up my job to be home full time with my son. He was not the easiest baby to deal with, though exceedingly beautiful. We would go for long walks around the marsh near our house, and sometimes not run into a single person during a week day. We would be at the park around the corner from our home; I pushing Jack on the swing, and not a soul would be around. Most of the people, especially the yuppies, were not very friendly. They all had lots of money for clothes, and they were very fit. Sometimes, even though I'm not what I'd consider "fat," I'd be out for a walk on the path behind our house, and feel like one of the heaviest people in the neighbourhood. I lived there for 9 years and never learned who 95% of my neighbours were. So, it was a conundrum: the city did not feel like home, but I always felt safe and comforted in my house.
After 9 years, I was ready to give up. I was ready to resign myself to the fact that I would probably never get the chance to move back "home." Before I left, I had told myself, and my Mom that I had a "five year plan," whereby I would move back home after five years. Well, that came and went, and I was still in a city that never felt like home. A city that was constantly expanding and building so green spaces disappeared in favour of NEW, NEW, NEW.
And then, some strange turns of events: first, my husband lost the job he'd had for 13 1/2 years--two days before Jack's birthday. That was February. The Man applied to so many jobs, and had various interviews, but nothing was panning out for us. Okay, I told myself, don't panic. We have enough money to live on until November. And then, in May, my Polish Grandma died. I was crushed. Strange to think she'd never give me mild hell for calling long distance to thank her for a present or wish her happy birthday again. Her house sat empty. And then one day my Dad said; "you should consider buying Grandma's house." In July The Man finally got hired by a company for whom he could work from home if he wanted to. Hmm...could I possibly have an opportunity to move back home???
On my mother's advice, we came to look at Grandma's house to see if we liked it enough to want to live in it. It was like a museum--untouched as the last day Grandma had lived in it. I can remember walking through it, so quiet with the wall to wall pink carpet. There was a lot of furniture. There were bouquets of fake flowers EVERYWHERE. There were curtains EVERYWHERE. The upstairs--almost creepily vacant. Then I stepped out into a cool dusk in the long back yard, where it was dark, and quiet. No airplanes. No endless hum of cars in the distance. Just the winds, and leaves. It felt like home. My home.
And so I returned, and while I missed that little house in suburban hell, I was home. I was back in my city, with my crummy pot-holed streets, and run down buildings, where seemingly EVERYONE besides my own family smoked. I enrolled my son in MY elementary school; the kindergarten classroom virtually untouched somehow since I had been a shy little girl sitting quietly for circle time. My sister and brother--10 minutes to the South. My Mom and Dad, 2 minutes to the North, and me, in my home, where I could look out my front window and see this marvellous street which I hope will be my view until I die.
Home. Home is a word that means so much. I'm so happy to be home. Those lonely years are done. I miss a few things about suburban hell though. I miss the friendly people from India. In sad moments, I remember peeking through my bedroom window at night, where I could look through the back yard and into the kitchen of my Indian neighbours. Often the kitchen there would be filled with women, cooking and laughing together. I longed for that kind of togetherness. I miss the only woman who became a real friend in the last year and a half I lived there--my Sri Lanken friend, who was beautiful in a very different way from what we're accustomed to, and who had no problem speaking her mind despite her broken English. We walked together with our toddler girls nearly every morning. When I told her I was leaving, she hugged me, told me she'd miss me, and she had tears in her eyes. But I was going home.
And really, there is no place like home. If only my Mom were still here.