catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 9 :: 2014.05.02 — 2014.05.15


When home is not a house

I was five when I started school, walking there from the third place I had lived. I called it the “third place,” not the “third home,” because I was not really aware of the first two places.  Oh, I saw pictures of those places, but memory began with the third place, an apartment over the restaurant my mother ran.

Within the next few years, we would move again and again and again, and by the time I hit sixth grade, I had been in five different schools.  “Place” or “home” became something to hold on to lightly, a practical reality for me because I would lay my head on a pillow in nearly fifteen more new homes as I journeyed on through adulthood.

Edith Schaffer taught me the art of making home, not home-making. She suggested that a woman could make even a hotel room home by placing a vase or a cup with wild flowers on the table or dresser.  The point was to add oneself to the place, personalizing it to make it different from all the other rooms lined up along the halls. 

So home was not the land where the house or apartment stood; it was the atmosphere we created inside, like with the memory-laden oval oak table my father-in-law refinished for us that we carted from one abode to another for now nearly five decades.  Home is the fragrance of an Easter ham baking, a brown sugar glaze sweetening the air.  It’s the macaroni gratinee made with aged cheese and heavy cream, and the tang of asparagus roasting with fresh lemon juice.  Home is the sound of laughter and spoons tinkling along the inside of a coffee cup, of children racing from room to room searching for hidden candy.  Home is the place where the newest reader in the family reads the Christmas story before we open gifts. Home is where I wake up, and where my husband makes coffee for me in the morning, he who drinks no coffee.

But home is more than that.  From the time I could remember back in the depths of my childhood, our family loaded into the jeep or the car for our weekly Sunday drive into the mountains.  Sometimes we picnicked along a rocky stream bed or a lake hidden high up on a mountain top.  Other times we found ourselves “lost” in the mountains, and Daddy had to find a grocery store where he would buy cheese and crackers and soda, so we would not starve as we found our way out of the forested mountains. I grew up scouring that forest for the first sight of a white tailed deer or wild turkeys and the bear I never quite saw.

In a strange way, those mountains became home, and even today, when the stresses of life threaten to crowd out peace, we find ourselves, my husband and I, climbing into our car, and sometimes we take a picnic to share along a stream bed.  And then there are the other times, the ones when we wander around curvy roads deep in a mountain valley or up along the ridge where we find an old fashioned storefront restaurant, where campers buy milk and eggs and bread and firewood, and where the candy of our childhood is lined up along the front of the countertop, and once more, we feel at home and at peace.

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