We were sitting around a table in a borrowed house (thank you, Lynn and Phil) eating a take-out dinner (thank you, Tarpey’s) and laughing (thank you, Lord.)
My husband and I had driven from our home in Las Vegas, to Monterey, Calif., a place we once called home. My daughter and her husband and their 5-year-old, Henry, live nearby and joined us for dinner to celebrate the birthday of my oldest, who drove up from L.A.
The house where we were staying didn’t belong to us. But as I looked around that table at those people I love, and saw the smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes, this thought filled my mind and my heart and my soul: “We are home.”
What do you see if you close your eyes and picture “home”?
For me, it’s a beautiful mess of faces and places, sights and sounds, tastes and feelings and a whole lot of memories. It all began with my grandmothers.
My mother’s mother lived in a cracker box house on the main street of a small Southern town. We’d sit in a swing on her porch, she and I, watching the parade of life passing on the road: Old people driving slow, waving like friendly snails. Kids dangling off the backs of pickups. Dogs’ heads hanging out the windows.
We played a game answering questions: Where were all those people going? Had they been shopping? What did they buy? How much did they pay for it?
It wasn’t much of a game, but somehow, imagining the lives of strangers made me feel more at home.
My dad’s mother lived on a farm in the mountains, where the parade of life was Nature. Whenever I came to visit, we would walk for miles, picking berries, dodging snakes, wading barefoot in a creek, feeling the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair.
Some of us share a kinship with mountains and rivers and dirt that is as real and binding and nurturing as any connection we share with flesh and blood.
Thanks to my grandmothers, I learned to feel at home in two very different worlds. One was quiet and serene. (My older sister couldn’t stand it.) The other bustled with traffic and bristled with drama from my mother and her eight sisters.
But in both of those places, I felt wanted and safe and at peace. Most of all, I felt like myself. Home is a place where you get to be yourself _ your best self _ and to know that you belong.
It helps, of course, if you like the food. My grandmothers didn’t cook the same things in the same ways. It didn’t matter. Cornbread or biscuits, pinto beans or black-eyed peas, fried chicken or stewed venison, banana pudding or peach cobbler. It all tasted good to me.
But even the best home cooking is only as good as the people with whom you share it. I was lucky. I loved the peace and serenity of the mountains. But I also loved the “fistfight in an outhouse” pandemonium that dogged my mother and her sisters like a hound on a hunt.
Growing up in those two worlds, with the help of two very different, but equally wonderful women, taught me to be at home in any kind of weather, in the storm, as well as the calm. It was the gift of a lifetime, and I will be forever grateful.
Home isn’t the place where you sleep at night, or the address where you get your mail. It’s a place in your head and your heart and in your soul. You carry it with you wherever you go.
I have tried to teach that to my children, and I hope to teach it to my grandchildren.
I want them always to feel at home when they look into my eyes. To hear it in the laughter of family and friends. To taste it in the food they share with someone they love. But most of all, I want them to see it when they look in the mirror.
Home is a big place with room for us all. I will meet you there.