As a child, I never expected that I would want to call anywhere other than exactly where I was, “home.” I was perfectly content with my butternut tree backyard, my sunshine yellow bedroom, my little town of 400 and 4H.
When we moved to join a new school district, I never really transferred my feeling of rooted-ness to the new house. It was a lovely and comfortable and my parents let me transform my bedroom into a Victorian facsimile, but the soul I felt in my childhood home didn’t seem to want to come and stay in Morton.
“Home” became the farm. In fact, I think the farm always had been my home, governed as it was by my grandmother’s fierce love, my grandfather’s stories and instruction, my parents’ absolute carefree and comforted demeanor when we visited. It just took me a little bit of life to figure out that the farm wasn’t only running around in the barns, taking strawberries from the garden, and climbing the mulberry trees. It was a philosophical and moral settlement. A bulwark against anything that ailed you.
After the loss of my grandparents, there came the sad realization that in all actuality, the farm house was just a house. It could crumble and fall like any other, despite the fact that it was built by my great-grandfather on land cultivated through three generations. At first, this was a devastating realization. I felt semi-orphaned and homeless. Like I had been forced into nomadic living through some cruel twist of fate. Where had my home base gone?
But it turns out that the safety and comfort and fierce love that I felt at the farm seems to have developed some magic, migratory property. By setting the house free from dilapidation, reducing the acreage, we have released the spirit of the farm, of my grandparents. It will remain in the land, and it will sanctify the eventual summer home that is planned to go on farm’s original foundation, but the spirit is now unhinged from a permanent existence in the Midwest and can travel with the family wherever we go.
I’ve felt safe and at home in London. Working on research, conquering a new city, and feeling independent and useful and brave…it all makes me feel like I’m doing the farm proud. And I’m not so sure it was entirely coincidental that in my first big research trip after my grandparents’ passing, I stayed in a hotel across from the British Museum, which just so happened to have on exhibit the wonders of the North American Prairie.
I’ve felt safe and at home in Chicago, on occasion. The city itself does little for me–I find the hard-edged lines of the buildings and the constant sirens rather intrusive. But my apartment, full of 1920s built ins and wooden floors often smells like the farm, especially in the summer when the humidity heats up the fixtures and releases their dusty histories. And every time I am with my group of friends from undergraduate, for our biweekly “grill nights” or cabin outings or concerts, I feel like I am with family. Plus, Chicago allowed me the opportunity to go back to choir, and continue the musical tradition started with my grandpa.
But I think above all, I have felt safe and at home in the Pacific Northwest.
One of my brothers moved out here about seven years ago to start work for Microsoft, which gave me a reason to come visit. I remember being fascinated by how fresh the air was, how green the trees, and how enormous the mountains. I’d never seen anything like it. Then the summer before my PhD, he took me on a grand tour of the Pacific Northwest as a graduation present. We started in Lincoln City, OR and drove 101 all the way up to Port Angeles, WA where we hopped a car ferry for Canada and took high tea in the Empress Hotel.
I was hooked. I had fallen in love with the landscape and the rain, the clouds and their occasional smatterings of sunlight. I knew, somehow, that I was meant to live by the ocean. Something about it’s cold grey power and its utter expansiveness lifts away my concerns and carries them out to sea. I love bundling up against the seeping cold and tasting salt in the air.
I also grew closer to my extended family that had transplanted to the West Coast years ago. My Aunt who lives out here is basically the spitting image of my mother–they sound the same, hug the same, and exude the same sort of warmth. My brother had taken to calling her “Oregon mom” and joining her family for Christmas. And on a return trip, I got to do the same, and basically gained another set of siblings in my cousins.
Then my parents retired to the 101 coast line, as well, and my youngest brother moved with them. They’re still looking for a permanent retirement homestead, but their rental property in the meantime is lovely.
Right now I’m sitting in the guest room at a Shaker style desk, gorgeous in its simplicity, and watching the thirty foot ocean waves out of the picture windows. It’s raining on the cedars and pine that clamber down toward the shore, and the town is quiet in the winter season.
And I feel like I am home for the holidays.