When I was in kindergarten, our teacher posed a question to our class of rambunctious five year olds: What is a home? I recall many kids raising their hands, describing a house, a yard, a mom, a dad, maybe grandparents, a dog. One kid said, "where your toys are." Another said, "A house you own."
I thought about the downstairs apartment where my family lived, my mom, my dad, my baby brothers and me. We didn't own it; there was a landlord who came around to collect the rent and cut the grass. Our apartment was the entire downstairs of the old house, painted slate blue, with white windows and a dark red door. My mom was always there, it seemed, since she didn't know how to drive. My dad wasn't always there with us, since his job as a trucker had him out on the road for days at a time.
There was an elderly lady who lived upstairs in one apartment. She would take me on excursions downtown to buy nylons at the local dress shop. The two of us would stop in a diner afterwards, where she bought me pineapple sundaes and gave me a nickel for helping her decide which color stockings to buy, though there really wasn't much choice, since I really couldn't tell the difference between "nude" and "taupe". She smelled like vanilla and wore headscarves tied neatly below her chin.
In the apartment next to hers lived a young couple, barely out of their teens. The young wife would play Bobby Darrin and the Beatles 45s while we baked cookies together and danced around in her living room. I thought she was terribly sophisticated. She showed me pictures of Paris in a scrapbook, and told me it was her dream to go there someday.
Was this a home? I thought to myself. My family and these two strangers above us? Then, it hit me. I shyly raised my hand. "A home is where the people who love you are."
I remember the teacher beaming down at me. "That's right," she said. "Home is where love is."
She drew a house on the board, with a big heart in the middle of it. For a moment, all the kids got quiet, as though they had to think long and hard about that, before commencing their normal routine of eating paste and toppling over blocks. Looking back, that seemed a little abstract for five year olds.
I've lived in a number of places in my life. From that apartment house in Middletown, Ohio, to my parents fulfillment of the American dream, a three bedroom tract house in the suburbs of Dayton. As an adult, I've lived in dorm rooms and shared apartments in New York and Chicago. In Austin, Texas, I shared a house with my brothers' rock and roll band, aptly named "Sourlawn", then rented a small house on a dead end street where I could hear freight trains rumble by in the middle of the night. Frank and I lived in a big house with a pool overlooking the Austin skyline for a time, then moved west to California and a tiny corporate apartment. We've made our home in a modest townhome in Palo Alto since then, full of paper and books and artifacts of our travels.
I remember all of these places fondly, with all the laughter and tears, joy and heartache that comes along with life. I have been proud to call these places home, whether I lived alone or with family or friends or total strangers at times. I was thinking about these places recently and was reminded of one of my favorite songs, by singer-songwriter Sally Fingerett. Her message is about tolerance and understanding of families of all kinds, and the refrain is:
Home is where the heart is
No matter how the heart lives
Inside your heart where love is
That's where you've got to make yourself
I have boxes and piles and scrapbooks full of photos of the places I've lived. I have a few pictures of the houses and apartments, but mostly, the pictures are of people. Even so, there are some images that are missing and reside in my memory alone. I sometimes wish that I had better records of the places I have called home over the years, more photos or recordings, but I will have to make due with what I have, and the knowledge that wherever I go, as long as I'm with people I love, I will always be at home.
If you have photos or videos that need to be digitized, check out LiveOn Rewind. Use the code HOLIDAYREWIND now for 30% off your purchase!
If you have oldThank you to LiveOn for sponsoring this blog post. Please LiveOn to learn more about sharing and preserving your most important memories. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective. Although story ideas were provided, all thoughts and opinions are my own.