Dorm life was never for me. Even twenty years later, I can recall that feeling of just how much I wanted to go home. When I was a freshman in a college only a few miles from my mother's duplex, I would sometimes walk there in the afternoon. My mother would still be at work. I would fix a glass of water. I would sit on the sofa surrounded by my mother's things. I'd feel comforted.
I never did live at home again, though. I lived with my grandmother for a bit in college and I loved that. I liked how she had a routine that could be counted on. She was up early. She ate half a grapefruit. She worked the puzzles in the daily paper. She ran errands and went to meetings and walked around her neighborhood. She had a cocktail at 5. She watched the news. At 9 pm, she took a phone call from her friend Mrs. Nance.
The freedom of college never held as much appeal for me as the comfort of a routine like my grandmother's. My grandmother's house felt like a home. It was full of things that were familiar to me, things I'd been seeing in her home since I was born.
When I look back at the places I've lived in my adulthood, I can tell you the places that felt most like home to me.
The townhouse Charles and I lived in when Jacob was born. Home.
The first house we bought in Shreveport when Kate was 1 and Jacob was 5. Home.
The house we bought a few months after we moved to Birmingham. Home.
The first rent house the kids and I lived in after the divorce. Home.
There were places in between these homes. Places we lived to save money. Places that were transitions, an attempt to repair something damaged in the place before so that we could move forward.
Next step: Set up your bed. Put a lamp on a bedside table. Put the book you are currently reading on the bedside table.
Home is never a place. Home is a feeling.
Homesickness is a longing in your soul, likely for something that no longer exists. Not in physical form anyway.
I have experienced homesickness for the house I lived in when I was 12 and I know what I am longing for is my mother.
The house we live in now, the first house I bought on my own, is home. We have lived here longer than any place we've lived since Jacob was born.
Considering how often we have moved makes me realize how much upheaval there has been and how much I have attempted to temper the upheaval with things that can be counted on, with the comforts and routines of home.
Set up the books. Turn on the lamps. Hang pictures. Put a throw blanket on the sofa. Set out the things that remind you of those you love.
The past couple of days I have been cleaning the house and moving things around.
I hung several framed things that came from my dad and stepmother's home. They downsized last year and, when we drove home after a Thanksgiving visit, we brought home a trunk full of items: Framed menus from New Orleans restaurants they visited 30 years ago; a framed poster from a 1976 Shakespeare festival.
I realized these things have been stacked in a corner of my bedroom for nearly a full year. What have I been doing, I wonder. How has an entire year gone by?
But now these things are just where they belong. I like seeing them. I like how they remind me of my dad and stepmother, of their home in Indiana.
I've also been busy hanging art by my friend Chris. I look around and his work is everywhere. A dog painting in the kitchen. Three small dog paintings in the living room. A tiny platypus picture on the mantle. Four tiny platypus figures in a row. One of them, holding a tiny kitten, was sculpted especially for Kate. One of them is holding a four-leaf clover, ready for good luck. All of them have Chris's fingerprints pressed into the clay. All of them make me smile.
I am thankful for these things.
Of course, I realize the difference between a place feeling like home or not lies within me. I am thankful for the feeling that this is home, not simply a transition between one place and the next. Though it is undeniable that this is a place where things are repaired and healed, where life moves forward, where my children are transitioning from childhood into adulthood.
I am thankful that I get to share this place with Kate and Jacob. I suspect one day they will long for it the way I sometimes long for my mother's home. I hope they will figure out how to carry the feeling of home within them wherever they go.