On Sunday afternoon, we got back from an 8 day trip out to Boston where we helped our son settle into his new abode and, more specifically, helped him change his new, empty house into a home. Because he'd downsized a lot over the last few years (to increase his own mobility as he moved from apartment to apartment), he had almost no furniture, so we spent much of the week hitting antique stores, consignment galleries, garage (tag) sales, and estate/moving sales. By the time we left, I like to think that we had made great strides in creating his new home.
Greg and I have established homes 11 times since we got married almost 36 years ago. Just in the last year, I've helped both kids establish new homes. This was the 6th time we've helped our daughter establish a new home and the 4th time we've helped our son establish a new home. That's a lot of homemaking, any way you slice it.
The process has started me thinking a lot recently about what makes a house or apartment into a "home."
In 1926, H. L. Mencken wrote, "A home is not a mere transient shelter; its essence lies in its permanence, in its capacity for accretion and solidification, in its quality of representing, in all its details, the personalities of the people who live in it."
I like that image of a home representing the personality of the person who lives in it. It probably explains, too, why so many of the "McMansions" that I go into at estate sales don't seem like homes to me: the furniture and decorations are all new and shiny and fresh...but there's no personality to them. No history. No soul. People bought a big, fancy house and put big, fancy furniture in it. When it came time to move on, they left it all behind. That's not a home. That's a hotel.
"It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fer 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything."
- Edgar Albert Guest (1916)
The above is the first stanza of the poem "Home" by Edgar Guest. The poem (and the poet) have been both beloved and mocked for decades. Despite the hokey grammar, I find that I resonate with the ideas in the poem, especially with the line, "It ain't home t'ye...Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything."
This sentiment jibes with the feeling I get when we move - a new place doesn't become "home" until we get "our stuff" delivered and start getting it unpacked and put away. I begin to feel like I'm home when we sleep in our own beds, when we eat at our own kitchen table, and when we can browse our own book shelves to find something interesting to look through. Maybe that identification of home with the furniture and other items in it is somehow specific to me because I've moved so many times in my life. Perhaps if I'd grown up in the same house all my life, my concept of home would be more tied to the building or to the land or to the community, rather than to our "stuff."
T.S. Eliot wrote, "Home is where one starts from." I would add, "And home is where one feels relaxed and sheltered in returning." As the old song says, "Be it ever so humble, There's no place like home!"
What makes "home" to you?