When I think of “home,” I think of family. I think of the various places we’ve lived, the houses within whose walls we dwelled, the character of the communities we’ve been a part of, that have become a part of us – and yet, I know that when you try to go back home, it’s never the same. Home is where we are together, here and now. It isn’t a place or the four walls and a roof that shelter us. “Home” is created and recreated and blended in the imagination in ways that make it nearly impossible to literally “go back home” after an absence. It is never quite as we imagine it, in hindsight.
What is it that you call “home”?
This is home, here and now. The version in my imagination has attics, basements, and crawlspaces. It’s an impossible amalgamation of all the places that have mattered to me. It is a little like the Winchester House, or Sherlock’s Mind Palace, in that it has marvelous and mysterious spaces that might seem impractical or useless to anyone else. The second floor may be twice the size of the first, and the basement’s made of clear, tough Lucite that lets me see all the plant roots and creepy crawlers tunneling around it.
Am I the only person who thought Harry Potter’s room under the stairs at the Dursleys’ was quite the cozy little nook for reading and napping? I used to play hide and seek in just such a closet in my grandparents’ house in Ohio! I tried to make it even smaller, building a wall with suitcases and blankets! My room at home was a converted attic – much larger and comfier than Harry’s tiny room! – and my room at my grandparents’ house had a walk-in closet that was more of a hallway to a hidden attic. The hidden attic, it turned out, had another hidden attic behind it – no one could find me when I hid inside it (except my father, because he showed me where it was)! My uncle found a third hidden crawlspace in it, and showed me, shortly before my grandmother died and the house was sold. There was another, larger, attic, as well, and several separate crawlspaces behind various closets – but those were creepy, dark, and dusty and I never dared venture into them. I remain convinced another family could have lived there and we might never have noticed had I not been the curious sort of child who loved to explore those spaces over and over again.
This, too, is “home.” Some small part of me lives within the highest branches of a good climbing tree. I told myself and my husband that our children would need a tree to climb, but I’ve spent more time in its branches than they have.
We planted this one (above) shortly after buying our first house, and it put down roots as we did. Its imaginary ancestor was a sweetgum tree in the big backyard of my grandparents’ house in Ohio. Thanks to Google, I know that tree still exists (in the photo below, it’s the one closest to the house, in front of the bay window). Its seed balls were tiny, hard, spike-covered maces to lob at intrusive boys. The fork at the top proved to be my first serious, personal challenge when I managed to throw a leg over it, then realized I was stuck. It was a choice: call for help, or risk life and limb and get myself unstuck. I knew that if I called for help, it was unlikely I’d ever be allowed to climb that high again.
Getting down was an act of sheer folly and courage, and I’m happy to be here to confess it now.
I know there are children there to love it, because there’s a big yellow playground set in the yard, too, where it can be seen from the kitchen window. Sometimes, I question the wisdom of looking, because it would break a tiny little chunk of my heart to know that my Climbing Tree isn’t immortal. I told someone, once, that I tend to put people and things I haven’t seen in a long time into a sort of Schroedinger’s Box in my mind. I don’t know if they’re still among us or not, but so long as they’re in the box, I can choose to believe that they are. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to look in the box.
Just this once, a little peek didn’t hurt.
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