Friday, December 01, 2006


Last night, my family discussed the meaning of "home." Is it where ever your family is? Is it defined by your greater sense of connection to your community? Is it the house where you live that provides a sense of emotional shelter beyond the actual roof and walls? It's probably a combination of all of these. Some of us develop ties to a town and envision spending the rest of our lives in one spot--the "home is where the heart is" types. And some of us keep those strings loosely tied so we can come and go more easily (the "home is where you hang your hat" types). When you're with your family, you can blend the two types, I suppose.

When my husband and I first married, we moved from our parents' homes in the Midwest to our own place in New Jersey. We rented the upstairs half of an old house in Ridgewood. It was owned by a nursing home that rented the first floor to an older woman who needed assistance but wasn't quite ready for the home. It was a nice nursing home, actually--Richard Nixon toured it when he was considering a place for his wife, Pat, who was very ill. I may be wrong, but I think she had Alzheimer's.

Anyway, we lived upstairs from this woman named Vivian. Vivian's children rarely came to visit, and when they did, they never stayed more than a few minutes. She was a heavy smoker and liked to drink, just a bit. Just a bit in the morning, and just a bit in the afternoon, and just a bit in the evenings. I don't recall a time of meeting her at the door when she did not have a glass of wine in her hand.

We had a cat named Franklin Roosevelt, and Franklin would occasionally escape the upstairs to explore Vivian's pad. She had a door but didn't always close it all the way. One day when Franklin was missing, I knocked on her door and asked if I could look around her apartment for my cat, and with wine and cigarette in hand, she let me in but was not happy to have "that animal" in her house. I found Franklin under her bed, and just as I pulled him out, he let out a big sneeze right in my face. It must have been the smoke. Vivian was repulsed.

We decided to do something nice for Vivian, so we invited her up for dinner one evening--roast duck, veggies, and cake. As she sat down, she announced that it was her birthday, and she was so honored to be invited into our home. It seemed to me that her kids should have done something for her birthday, so maybe she was making that up. Regardless, it was a lovely evening, sitting at that rickety table in a room with handmade cotton curtains and a hand-me-down dresser that I painted and used as a buffet. It was home, for a while at least. But it was a home without roots.

It seems that "home," for me anyway, is not so easily defined.


dive said...

Home … That's a doozy, Robyn.
I've never been back to where I was born and I move around all over the place.
I suppose "home" is either this little blue planet or the squishy stuff inside my head, depending on my mood.

Sassy Sundry said...

I love her name, Vivian. Perfect name for such a boozy, smoky woman.

I'll be reading Maryann tonight. I've learned not to read her at work.

Robyn said...

Dive, my parents sold the house I grew up in and moved to another state, so I rarely go back to my home town. Odd though, almost all of my dreams take place in that house, no matter who is in the story--328 S. 17th Street. Weird.

Sassy, Vivian was a snob but she was a load of fun.

dive said...

That IS odd … Something about that house has hard-wired itself into your brain. Spooky.
And thanks to you I've had "Home" by Sheryl Crow running through my head all afternoon (which is nice … I like that one).

RICH said...

home to me is where I feel safe and comfortable. I've had a difficult time really feeling "at home" even though I've always lived in the same city all my life. I do dream of living other places someday so I guess I'm still searching for that real place to call home. - good question.

You guys were luck that Vivian didn't set the house on fire with all her smoking and boozing and being in poor health.

Robyn said...

Rich, I lived in this town for ten years before I really felt like it was home. When we first moved here, I felt like an outsider and I was very lonely, but once I got involved--playing my horn in groups and meeting people and making friends, it finally felt like the place I was supposed to be.