For most people, their home is part of their self-definition, which is why we do things like decorate our houses and take care of our lawns. These plots of land serve little real purpose, but they are part of a public face people put on, displaying their home as an extension of themselves. It’s hardly rare, though, in today’s society, to accumulate several different homes over the course of a lifetime. So how does that affect our conception of ourselves?
For better or worse, the place where we grew up usually retains an iconic status. I think it is human nature to want to have a place to belong, we also want to be special, and defining yourself as someone who once lived somewhere more interesting. Isn’t the first thing we ask someone when we meet them, after hearing their name, “where are you from”, or the much more interestingly-phrased “where’s home for you?” My answer for “where are you from?” is Dix Hills, New York, yet I was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, the daughter of a First Lieutenant. Dad was to be promoted to Captain when I was just a baby, but when he completed his full military obligation, and received his Honorable Discharge, he became actively involved as a Real Estate Developer. It moved us around quite a bit and when I turned 12, we finally settled in Dix Hills, having moved approximately every 2.5 years.
But “where’s home for you?” is a little harder to answer. I have lived in Arizona for over 22 years now. I guess I must like it and I have learned to survive the scorching desert heat. Phoenix is a great place to live. It’s a bustling city in the middle of the desert and, yes, it does get hot, but you will find gardens of lush blooms, well-maintained highways, professional sports, and day trips to a great variety of places. Skyscrapers, historic landmarks, rusty cars, and potholes simply don’t exist. And, we are in our own time zone as Arizona does not subscribe to daylight savings time. I do like that!
But, if home is where the heart is, then by its most literal definition, my home should be wherever I am. Yet, I can call an array of other cities and states home too. If I’m going to visit my sister, I’m going home to New Jersey, where I lived prior to moving to Arizona. If I’m returning to Chicago, I’m also going home. If I am heading upstate NY, well I lived there too, and you get the picture. The truth is, the location of your heart, as well as the rest of your body, does affect who you are. The differences may seem trivial, but they can lead to lifestyle changes that are significant.
Memories, also, are cued by the physical environment. When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there. The rest of the time, different places are kept largely separated in our minds. The more connections our brain makes to something, the more likely our everyday thoughts are to lead us there. But connections made in one place can be isolated from those made in another, so we may not think as often about things that happened for the few years we lived someplace else. Looking back, many of my homes feel more like places borrowed than places possessed, and while I sometimes sift through memories of my time there, in the scope of a lifetime, I was only a tourist.
Prior to the loss of my mom, a friend of mine sent me a picture of the place I shyly called home. He was visiting New York and found himself in a little town called Commack, just next door to Dix Hills. He always remembered the street I grew up on, “Wagon Wheel Lane”. What a great name, for a lovely area and a pretty house surrounded by an acre of lush woods. His timing was eerie. It was June 17th, nine days before the death of my mother. It had been many years since we had seen, or even spoken to one another. He had absolutely no idea of what was occurring in my immediate world and the impact this photo had.
Of course the picture opened up a whole world of emotions for me. The very last home where we lived as a family. I knew from that moment, the answer to the question I pondered quite often, home is the house I grew up in, not where I live now. I can’t possibly live everywhere I once labeled home, but I can frame those places in my heart. I can’t be connected with my home in the intense way of the very last house I shared with my mom, dad and my sister. Nostalgia is the overriding reason for this – childhood dwellings are entwined with fond memories. It is the small details that stay with us, from endearing memories, a particular song or the smell of mom’s pot roast dinner. And and it is these little quirks that really make a house a true home, even after we have moved on and into a new property.
No one is ever free from their social or physical environment. And whether or not we are always aware of it, a home is a home because it blurs the line between the self and the surroundings. It’s the line we try to draw between who we are and where we are. Our homes tell a story as we are likely to try and recreate a sense of positive nostalgia in our current homes, often subconsciously, from our childhood homes. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘If these walls could talk’, and our homes actually do tell a story if you look closely enough.