“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”(Maya Angelou)
I just got back from a road trip home to Ames, New York to visit my parents. “The loveliest town of all” is how E.B. White described this once smallest incorporated village in New York State in his classic children’s book Stuart Little. In fact, the outline of the Methodist church’s steeple in our tiny hamlet appears in the distance on the dust cover of the original version copyrighted in 1945. In addition, Chapter XIII of his book is titled, “Ames Crossing”, in which on page 100 reference is made to Stuart’s visit to the “General Store” that is still there today and can be found at the west end corner of the solitary road of the village.
My parents relocated to Ames in the hot summer of 1951 to a simple wooden house that was built in 1820. According to my mother, it had a beautiful wrap-around-porch that was the selling point of the property. In the early years of their marriage, my parents were anxious to escape their tiny, hot apartment above my father’s construction company’s office in the neighboring town with their first child, my oldest sister. After the move, their family grew. I came along in 1952, and my two sisters quickly followed in 1954 and 1955. Once we arrived in Ames, we never left.
My oldest sister’s first two-wheel red bike is still in the upstairs loft of the barn, which we used as a garage and a playhouse, along with rows of juvenile wooden snow skis, scraped tennis rackets, and an old set of dusty World Book Encyclopedias that helped us through our school projects.
This week, I slept in the same bed that I crawled into nightly since junior high. I felt suspended in time, like I was treading water. While comforting in some ways, there was an uneasy feeling about it as well. As I waited for sleep to carry me into my dreams each night, I sensed the end of the footboard with my adult legs while reflecting on how my life had evolved. I moved away from home after I graduated from high school to start my own life journey. While not totally severing the family tether, I travelled far away at times, even out of the country, only to return often to share my adventures.
When sleep finally did arrive, my subconscious flitted freely throughout a variety of time zones like a butterfly traversing a meadow, stopping from time to time to rest on a flower and then taking flight once again.
For one moment, I was small and childlike and I could feel the wind on my face as I rode my blue bike down the freshly oiled side road. The wheels kicked up the gravel behind me and the strong odor of raw petroleum in my nostrils followed me home.
Next I was crammed with my three sisters in the cab of my father’s yellow Chevy pick-up watching the swirling cigarette smoke from my dad’s overflowing truck ashtray and listening to the day’s end Dow Jones stock report on the radio on our way home from school.
And then suddenly, I was jolted back to the present with a vision of my two grandchildren digging in the sand on the beach in New Jersey where we had just gone for our family vacation. My mind was randomly re-winding images back and forth in time in the dark like a family showing of assorted 8 millimeter reels of film. By morning I was slightly disoriented.
I am so fortunate that I never had to be transplanted. After almost 60 years I am still able to go home and smell the familiar smells and feel the original floorboards under my feet. The asphalt driveway is faded and crumbling a bit on the edges and the wooden house and its addition is a different color now, but my home is still there. And this summer, like so many other times, greeting me on the side porch, were my mother and father.
“Where we love is home-home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
I know that this experience will not be repeated very many more times. So I savored my recent visit and took as many mental pictures as my mind could retain. At the beginning of my stay I took off my watch, slowly meandered through the days, and was content to only be in the role of daughter. There were no adult judgments about how things perhaps should be improved and no unsolicited mature suggestions of change. I just accepted everything for what it was, home.
But then I had to leave. It was time to say goodbye and to journey on to grow some more. I couldn’t survive in the past. But a visit was fine. It would be smothering if I lingered too long. I have mastered my yesterdays as best as I could, and now there is more to learn in my tomorrows.
Just like a tree, we start out by digging our roots deep into the inviting, loving family soil and establish our home. Green and flexible, in our early lives, we are saplings that bend and sway easily as we grow and learn, leaning from side to side as our character develops. Becoming taller and stronger over the passing years, our outer layer becomes more defined and rigid, and we are more equipped to weather storms and stand up to life’s challenges. And towards the end of the cycle, slowly our fragile bark starts to crumble as the exterior of our trunk becomes frailer and we bend forward a little bit, checking on our now surfacing roots poking out through the ground.
I expect there will come a time when I will be the oldest tree in the family forest and I hope that my children and grandchildren will be able to “come home” and enjoy their visit as much as I did mine. The experience for them however will be different. The land will have been transferred to another owner and the roof of their childhood house will be protecting a new family. But our sense of “home” will always be secure in our hearts.
I know that I am lucky.
Are you lucky too? Where are you in your life journey? Can you take a moment to “go home”?
We all have a beginning and we will all have an end. And in the middle are our life and our “home”. Make the most of your time and fill it to the brim with memories and fun.May your tree of life stand tall and proud in the forest of your own family.
“Home is where one starts from.” (T.S.Elliot)