If you’ve ever moved away and tried to go back “home”, you’ll understand this blog. If you haven’t, but may someday, you’ll find the things I bring up to be true. I have moved a lot. Not so much as a child, but as an adult. Home has been in a few different places. My first home, in Pennsylvania where I was born and grew up, was considered home for many years. So long in fact, that when I got my wish and I returned to live there for three years, I became aware that “home” was no longer there. I left at the age of 17, scared, alone, and committed to the military. Every place I went was compared to home. I missed it a lot and nothing seemed like it. It was where I was from, where I returned on leave, and where I thought I would return to stay eventually. After meeting and marrying my husband in Michigan where we were stationed, we remained here to raise our family. We lived in several locations in Michigan over 32 years and yet, I still felt the yearnings of what I still thought of as “home” in Pennsylvania. Circumstances changed in 2009 and we moved to Pennsylvania for three years. It was quite an adjustment. I didn’t remember the area that well any longer and so much had changed. The place I grew up didn’t look the same at all. Another house had been built where my childhood home stood, the yard looked so much smaller, and the houses were closer together than I remembered. With a sinking heart, I realized that my memories were that of a child and my perception of how things had been compared to the reality of now, were starkly different. My entire universe had been right here for the first 17 years of my life and now that I had been other places and seen so much, I could see the huge difference. My parents had five acres, our home with a store attached in front, a large garage, two cottages, a yard, large field, and an orchard. As a child playing, it seemed like it took a very long time to walk the entire place. I often would lie in the grass picking buttercups and violets. There was a swing on the apple tree behind the house and climbing roses outside my bedroom window. All gone now. By the time I was 9 or 10, the cottages were empty and I used one like a playhouse. I climbed the trees in the orchard to sit in the crook of a branch to ponder life’s mysteries. The neighborhood kids played ball with us in the field and later, I learned to drive a stick shift car there in that same field. Most things only existed in my mind and in photos.
Of course, many people had died or moved away, so I only knew a few people in the old neighborhood. I drove around reminiscing. It just didn’t feel like the place I belonged anymore. My children and grandchild were in other states, my friends too far away to visit often, and I was having trouble finding my niche. It was so nice to be close to family, but everyone was busy with their own lives, rightly so, and even though we spent the first two years remodeling our house to have everything we ever wanted in a home, there just always seemed to be something missing. I think my expectations were too high and unrealistic. I began to see that home wasn’t here. So, where was it? What did home mean to me? Home was where I was happy and content. That meant a sense of familiarity and belonging, friends nearby, and my children closer. I was sorry that I didn’t realize that home wasn’t just a place. It was more than that. It was a feeling. I have not always had that feeling. Apparently, it’s based partially on memories and which of those are most important to me. We talk about how many of us would like to go back to our childhoods. To recreate days gone by. It was a time of innocence. It was a time of being blissfully ignorant of the way of the world. We remember fondly the way we pictured life then or how it felt to be young in our families. A time when we were cared for, we had few worries, and life was simple. It’s escapism at its purest form because the memories are so clear and dear to us, untarnished and protected. The reality is much harsher. When we try to go back, we see it with more cynical eyes. We see it all as it really is. It’s like meeting an old childhood friend after a very long time of not seeing them. There’s an awkwardness as you search for something you recognize of the child and confront the adult in front of you. Eventually you accept this person, realizing that the child no longer exists. Either a new friendship develops, or it doesn’t.
In that same thought pattern, home is what you accept to be home. It doesn’t have to be perfect or ideal. It might not look anything like home in the past. You don’t need a hot tub, an in ground pool, a huge garage, or a 4,000 sq. foot house to make a home. It only has to have the components you need in your life to be happy. So, while four walls do not a home make, what you put into that structure does. It’s the people, the love, the caring, and the memories you make by living life, enjoying your family, sharing the good and bad, and knowing, no matter what, you can always return as long as those things exist.