Monday, June 28, 2010


 my childhood home

There are myriad ways to go home again; the only impossible thing is to be a child again, to turn the clock hands backward until adulthood falls away. Home is a concept of the mind and heart as well as a physical place and if one has had many homes, as I have, revisiting those physical places can trick the mind and pull the heart out of shape.

I was raised in an old post and beam farmhouse bought by my city-dwelling paternal grandfather in the 30s and made over to his vision of a "country estate." My mother remembered the original owner returning once for a visit and exclaiming, "Oh! You've ruined my house!"

I loved that house. I still do, sometimes so yearning to be living there again that I am reduced to aching tears. It has been sold twice in the last ten years and is now rented by a nice family. Still, if circumstances were different, it would be I who lived there, I who cooked in the blue tiled kitchen, waxed the yellow pine floors and tended my mother's old flower and vegetable gardens. That house is where my soul still lives.

a rather fuzzy shot of our hand-built log cabin in VT

After leaving home and marrying, I lived in a variety of apartments until my husband and I bought a small house in CT. A few years later, with our four children in tow, we moved to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont where, as novice back-to-the-landers, we cut our own tall fir trees for log cabin walls, cleared an overgrown acre of meadow for a vegetable garden and raised chickens and pigs for meat. The first two years were pure subsistence living. We had no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing. Finally, my city-bred husband despaired and left us for a way of life that didn't frighten him so much.

 Hollyhock Cottage - my current home

I moved back down to my old family home in 1987. My parents were gone and my sister, wanting to develop her travel agent career, invited me to stay with her, keeping house while she traveled. My youngest daughter and I moved in; the three older children were all in college and now had a spacious home to return to on school vacations. It was an idyllic time. But the house was old and in need of expensive repairs that neither my sister nor I could afford. Eventually we had to sell the house and we both moved, she to be nearer her twin sister in the west and me to a succession of smaller and smaller apartments until I ended up here in my tiny but delightful cottage.

All this reflection on home and what it means had its beginnings in this past weekend when I traveled back to Vermont to say goodbye to an old friend. At 102, she is on her last adventure, moving away from all the homes she's known toward an unknown place where she hopes to find a welcome. On prior visits, when she could still get out and about and  make lively conversation, we'd spoken of her fears and her hopes, of the many homes she'd made in all her years, of what was to become of her present home and belongings once she's gone. (An aside: she purchased her current house when she turned 96, asking with a wink, for a 30 year mortgage!)

When I left her, I met my two sons on the town green where memories of them as children were as thick as the summer foliage. They were in VT for a high school reunion and before we turned in different directions for our respective homes, we talked of the days when we called that town ours. I took the back way to the highway, revisiting the log cabin where we'd lived in another lifetime. I drove down the dirt road I'd walked along so often on my way to the neighboring farm to get milk or to a further neighbor who employed me to read and sometimes edit his latest books. I pulled the car to the side of the road and wept, releasing again the ache for all the past years when my children were small, when life was a struggle just to keep warm and have enough to eat. These crying jags don't come often and they don't last long but they are cleansing, making room again for acceptance and hope.

I am home now, trying to get ahead of the weeds in the gardens and the dust and spiders in the house. The cracks in my heart and my resolve are healing over, leaving me feeling safe again, and whole. Saying goodbye, whether to a place or a loved one, makes one vulnerable but being vulnerable in turn makes one stronger. It's a lesson worth repeating.


Brian Miller said...

defintely a lesson worth repeating. i enjoy my trips back, but it is always good to be home. welcome back.

Tabor said...

Time travel. So restoring yet so destroying. Can't be helped if you lived a full life. Only those who took the easiest path do not mind looking back, but all they see is a straight line!

Pam said...

The comment above says it well. A lovely post Pauline.I can relate to it well.

steven said...

oh pauline what a journey! what a tight thread drawn through those wide and varied experiences and the coming together of it all in the saying goodbye to an old friend about to fly away! beautiful. steven

Molly said...

My heart is hugging you Pauline, even as I dab my eyes and sniffle. It is good to remember that "Home is a concept of the mind and the heart." Even when I go back to the place I love best in the world, I feel like an outsider. I appreciate the reminder that what matters most is what's in our hearts.
Beautifully written!

Ruth said...

I really felt that homeness as I read your words. Life is powerfully poignant at times, and I too get overwhelmed with what people mean to me.

That old house sounds amazing.

herhimnbryn said...

Ah, Pauline, I send you an 'arm around your shoulder' from across the seas.
Beautifully written, full of the ache of returning, but ending in hope as you return to your garden.

Pauline said...

Brian, it was such a poignant trip. I was in tears much of the time but home is where I heal...

Tabor - "So restoring yet so destroying" is so right!

Thank you for visiting, Pam

Steven, when I set out to describe home, my words took their own road!

Ah, thank you Molly. I spent much of the weekend in tears myself

Ruth - my old homestead is my true physical home. My heart is where the rest of me dwells

HHB - thanks for the hug :)

20th Century Woman said...

I have the same sort of feeling about the house I grew up in in Andover. It has been turned into a rich man's mansion now, and the one time I went back it seemed too polished and shiny.

I lovely post, full of feeling.

I'm thinking about your grandchildren living in Andover. It is very different these days from when I was young.

Marion said...

"revisiting those physical places can trick the mind and pull the heart out of shape." How true (and beautiful) this phrase is. Sometimes, I cannot go back...I cannot face those aching tears. But sometimes, I do, just because I believe I need to release something related to that particular house and time.

Thank you so much for this post, Pauline. It had me in tears. And what a wonderful lady who bought a house when she was 96! Heh...and with a thirty year mortgage!