My Old Home

I’ve just been snooping through Facebook. I came upon a photo album of the woman who now lives in ‘my home’. While I’m interested to see her children and her life, as I move through the shots all my attention goes to the corners of the frame where I can make out the so-familiar details of what is still, in my deepest heart, my home. I see the raised slate hearth, the jack-on-jack Roman brick wall above it (which my husband and I plotted to cover up when we first peered voyeuristically through the window into the home we knew we would buy, but later learned to love it for the mid-century finery it was), the ratty old kitchen cabinets, the aging window frames, the floor, which I hardly knew, as the owners after us had them redone. I see a post of mine below a photo in which I lightheartedly remarked that I was happy to see the salmon colored, boomerang patterned formica still on the counters, the black plastic tile behind, but saw it wasn’t met with a response. I don’t respond to a fraction of the responses of my own photos, why does my heart cringe the teensiest bit that my nostalgic remark went unnoticed? I search my home for all the details – and my heart almost sighs with relief to see the grand, stunning beams that ran the entire length of the house and that required traffic be stopped when they were brought into Evanston back in 1955… Then my heart stops. And my eyes begin to tear. She writes simply: ‘the glacier threatening to migrate off my roof’. And it hits me. This oh so familiar sight, this roof, those beams, that expanse of glass and sky beyond, it is no longer my house. It is her house. And I cry. I don’t sob, and it doesn’t last long. I don’t cry much these days. I’ve stopped crying about my husband too, for the most part. Not much, not even poverty gets me going anymore. But this, it was too much. It’s MY house, I want to say to her. But it isn’t. And what’s worse, is that I’ve created this woman in my mind to be the sort who might just not get my over-devotion to a house. Who might just think it’s a little creepy that some 6 years gone this crazy woman somewhere across the country still feels such a sense of proprietorship over what clearly is no longer her home.

In fact, the woman who lives there now seems to be a karmically just
inhabitant of that house – at least from my perspective. She is a doula, and she has two young children of her own. She is crafty, handy, motherly. Good energy. And that more than cleanses the rather dark energy of the woman who preceded her (the woman who bought it from me). And it also redeems my failed ‘birth story’. Our beloved cat, Kukla, died in our arms in that house, we were married in the house, and our son, while he wasn’t born (as intended) in our home, he was in fact first sighted there. Close to crowning, Fareed stood at the foot of the bed and said with a smile “I can see the head!”. But that’s as far as that went. After 17 hours of stalled labor, a declining baby’s heartbeat and maconium in my long broken water, it was decided that I would be one of that tiny percent of home births that end up in the hospital. I can remember squatting my way down the front steps when the delivery guy from Dave’s Italian Kitchen was arriving with our bag of dinner. “No, not now, I’m having a baby” I said as I wattled to the doc’s minivan. What happened that day is truly another story. But it weaves me right back into the web of feelings that house created in me. This house, this grand, mid-century home has now replaced the home in which I grew up as my emotional epicenter.

For many years I would dream of the house in which I grew up, 154 Maple Avenue in Wilmette. It was a beautiful Tudor house, built in the ’30s, one whose design had won architectural awards. My father was a harpsichordist, and there were two of the instruments in the ‘sunken’ living room (I still just love saying that – it’s just so, I don’t know, decadent?), leaded windows and huge stone fireplace – the place was easy to create a whole fantasy world around. Especially as a young girl on the advent of her adolescence and in the height of the Led Zeppelin years. Every young man looked like either Donovan or Robert Plant, and the golf course on which we lived, the moor. The Bahai temple was visible from all the northerly windows in the house, my bedroom included. I’m not sure where this came from, but I have a dim memory of someone, somewhere saying that anywhere with a view of the Bahai temple was the most romantic place on earth. And while perhaps this comment was meant in a more classic sense of the word and not so much a titillating nod to eroticism, I always like to cite this statement, adding quickly afterward, “and my bedroom has a view of the Bahai temple”. I was always kidding, and I thought it was cute, but it seems silly now. But the view was something. At night I would lie on my left side, and from exactly where my head lay on the pillow, I would see the entire form, glowing white against the black sky, like a giant orange juicer. The branches from the oak trees gently framed it, my translucent, psychadelic-colored butterfly decals flew up to the sky on the windows, and below was an alter-ish scene of a George Harrison poster from his “All Things Must Pass” album flanked by candles on my dark-stained bookshelf. It was perfect in its time. My room, my fantasies, my feelings, all products of the time. And well-loved memories. This home showed up in my dreams incessantly for the decade after I moved out. My parents sold it, and they too moved on. Yet even after I’d bought my first place – that in itself another stunner (on Lake Michigan, 7th floor, balcony view of Chicago) my dreams took me back to Maple Ave all the time. In different aspects, some rooms recognizable, some not, sometimes the whole house was in a different place, but always it was that house, at least in feeling. The feeling was what I sunk into and comforted myself in. I always just knew in my dreams that the lake was to the east, the temple to the north, the golf course and canal to the west, the lights of the city to the south. Those were the cardinal directions of my heart’s compass for half my life. Until I moved to Judson.

So here I am. On a fine piece of land in rural upstate New York. Half a country away. Spent all day making plans for this little plot of land. I’m trying to love it, it has all the potential one could ever hope for, it’s got a view of the Vermont mountains, a storybook footbridge over an almost running creek, it’s got forest, open field, the steepest hill around – it has it all. But it doesn’t yet have my heart. My heart still gets its fix on the world from my home on Judson. But I’m working on it. Looking back, I see that it’s taken me a few years after each move to catch my heart up. When we moved to Judson I still dreamed (and still do often) of Lunt, that city apartment whose orientation was both the vast, inland sea to the east, and the glowing promise of Chicago spread before one to the south. And yet when I reached Judson I felt I was at home, finally. But it wasn’t final. And there’s one more house between us yet, the one in the cornfields. The home in which I’d tried to set my heart up for its midlife story until it changed once again.

I’m trying my best. I’m growing into my home. It’s slow. My intent is here, but my heart is dragging its feet. That it’s really the only home my son has known helps to make it feel more like my own true home. I think about the idea of home a lot. At least I have over the years. There are nights here in my little cottage where I half wake, and think that I see the lights of my parent’s room down the hall at Maple. Then other nights I wake and believe fully that I am at Judson, and I feel relieved to be home, before I awake more fully to slowly realize where I am. It seems my heart has not come to rest yet. I ponder all the changes in the hearts of my own parents through their journeys. My father is starting to show signs of his Alzheimer’s. It will be interesting to see where he feels he is. Already he’s believed that he’s been moved to a ‘house on the lake’. He spent his childhood in a house on a lake. The very house where I was conceived. His lake house must be imprinted deep into his heart. What makes a place feel like home? Is it the age in which we lived there? The events that happened? Do we cease to identify our souls with a home after a certain point? Where is my home? I wonder. I’ve wondered this so many times. I’ve marveled over how home can be everything to one person, and simply a nice place to pass some life to another. I’m a Taurus, I’m of the earth and I need to know where my home is. Then I will dig in and make it even more my own. Guess that’s what I’m doing now. I’m just going to enjoy being here, because it’s where I am now. And I’ll simply have to adjust if there ends up being just another home on my path, because Lord knows things change. Dear old George was good to remind us that ‘all things must pass’.

2 thoughts on “My Old Home

  1. I loved reading this. Its funny, I still think and dream of my home in Winnetka often (that will always be my home, even though it doesn’t even exist anymore.) But I probably think about your home in Wilmette more than any other of my friend’s. Not sure why. Probably because of it’s location and it was such a cool, unique house. And then of course your family’s energy was unique and permeated the place. I do have a new home that is different than my Winnetka home, but is the first place since then that shares a space in my heart. I’m sure you’ll find your home too, one day. Don’t be in a hurry, because when it happens, it will last forever. No one can deal with “forever” too many times in their life. :-)

    1. I’m so touched to hear from you – and thanks for the lovely emotional support. I do kinda feel that I can’t muster too many more ‘forevers’…
      Do you mean to tell me your old house was torn down? It certainly wouldn’t surprise me; the homes that today’s folks demand are twice the size and have all the bells and whistles. My Dad’s childhood home (a grand thing) was demolished to make way for an apartment building. These sorts of stories break my heart, but one moves on because it’s all you can do. And truly, as nothing lasts, the only meaningful thing we can take from these places are our memories. Thanks for recounting special ones in my old home…

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