Going home can stir up a strange mix of affection and anxiety, bringing to mind memories both fond and painful. We revisit the person, now old and gray, who did ‘those’ things, pass by the tree where ‘that’ happened, walk through the room where she said ‘that.’
"Home" - the building, the patch of earth, the institutions that formed us - can carry scars, too, just like our bodies. Whether we only occasionally travel to our literal hometown, have never left it, or visit only in the unbidden recesses of our minds, we are indelibly marked by the physical places in which we grew up. You can get together with family in a new environment, but it does not pack the same punch as being in the actual space where the history happened. There, even in solitude, memories freely populate the environment like phantoms, like rays of sunlight onto a kitchen table, like a heavy chest of old toys, like the sound of a car in the driveway.
You may have heard that our memories do not actually function like a replayed tape but instead like sketches that are continually being redrawn, taking on a narrative of their own over time. "Our memory is not like a video camera," said researcher Donna J. Bridge. "Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It's built to be current."
In the same way, our narratives of "home" continually shape us, they are not just dusty, distant relics stored at the top of the closet. They are like our favorite movie scenes, a frightening dream we cannot forget, a peek into a wavy funhouse mirror. Some people may cover over their recollection of going hungry as a child with bright memories of frolicking through sprinklers in their neighbor's front yard. Other folks were chosen to play varsity sports but can only remember disparaging words from their coach or the embarrassment of changing in the locker room. Still others lived in five or six homes and loved the sense of adventure, but today lack one close friend from those unrooted years. Regardless of our past, we constantly tell stories to ourselves and those close to us about where we came from, and these tales influence our trajectory forward in life.
We've all inherited a "home," and for most it is a mixture of both good and bad stories. The generation before us may wish we would carry on with the "home" that they made. But we need to spread our wings, chart our own course. Yet not too far down the path we’re faced with the unavoidable realization: What new "home" will we create? How will it affect the generation after us?
The process of writing my first book, ‘What the Bird Sees in Flight’, brought up these questions about "home." Perhaps they would be meaningful to you, too:
What about my home do I hold on to the most? How does it motivate me positively/ negatively?
Can I go home and see it/them both as they were and as they are now (even if home is not a place I can physically return to)?
What will I take from my home to pass on? What will I leave behind?
Here are some images and stories of homes I have lived in or visited. What memories or questions or ideas do they stir in you? Perhaps there's a story brewing for you to mull over or write down.
My great-grandfather was born in this house in the late 19th century in the peninsula whaling community of Kiakoura, where his dad worked as a constable. Apparently the foundation is made with whale bones. Today, earthquake damage has rendered the house a hazard to the public and it is under repair.
My great-grandparents lived in this house until they died. Now a subdivision, the land used to be their farm. When this photo was taken, this was my third time seeing the house. The first time, my great uncle lived there. He walked out to greet us with a scraggly beard, wide tie and a mischievous twinkle in his eye, giving me and my brothers knit caps.
Sometimes growing up we would go outside and look at the moon through binoculars. I could see the grey discolorations over the moon's silvery surface. The humid air was heavy and dense, the trees alive with the hum of cicadas. Other nights we would play a version of "hide and seek" with our friends, vying for the best hiding spot. When I was older, sometimes I would walk through the backyard at night by myself and feel lonely, knowing my childhood was past but not quite feeling ready for adulthood.
My wife lived in this apartment complex before we were engaged. We had some joyful times of hosting games nights, birthday parties, an Easter lunch and lastly our engagement party. Unfortunately, a nefarious rat began to target haunt the apartment, trying get into her bedroom almost every night despite our best efforts to exterminate it. My friend and I camped out one night to try to see where the rat was coming from. We fell asleep and never noticed the rat's movements. We quickly decided it was time for her to move out of the apartment.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in the middle house on this street near downtown Atlanta. Just a block over is the church, Ebenezer Baptist, where his father preached, and where King would one day serve as pastor himself. His funeral took place on the same street, with two mules carrying the casket and thousands of of people in attendance. I visited this site the first weekend I moved to Atlanta and was immediately connected to the history and life of the City through this site.
My brother and I wanted to find a path to the top of this mesa overlooking the town of Golden. Expensive houses lined this dead-end road, where I parked and started walking up the hill to get a picture at the highest elevation possible. Briars, rocks, and the steep slope kept me from going any higher, as well as our schedule for the day.
On our honeymoon, we borrowed bikes and pedaled north to Phillip Simmon's blacksmith workshop in downtown Charleston. I had read about Mr. Simmon's contribution to his city and throughout the Lowcountry as an artisan, his iron gates and other metal works in parks, buildings, museums and beyond. A few months later, at an event where the former mayor of Charleston was speaking, I had a chance to talk to the mayor about his late friend Phillip Simmons, and how my wife and I had visited his workshop.
In the Georgia summer heat, we walked around the community of brick duplexes, inspecting roads, sidewalks and abandoned units while discussing the future. Alongside the property managers, land developers, architects, construction workers and engineers, we formed a team of professionals working to develop a plan to improve and expand the neighborhood. I stopped to talk to a man traveling down the street in a wheelchair. He grinned and told me his name. I can't remember what he told me about his experience, but I was thankful to meet someone who lived there.
We visited my wife's family in New York in blustery, dreary January. The water towers like nosy neighbors peered down on us from the brick tenements as we bundled up and walked over to the New York Historical Society to see a Harry Potter exhibit.
When we lived in this duplex north of Midtown, we loved seeing sunsets and the tops of trees out the window, perched at the top of a "hill" while overlooking our neighbors across the street. Even still, on Saturday mornings I'd make sure to have the blinds closed, self-conscious about doing a workout in the living room without a shirt on.