Travelling all over Gods green earth for almost a year, I’ve met a lot of people. As soon as I utter my first word – they have me at ‘Hello’– it’s easy to tell I have an accent and I am not from here (wherever here is), so it is inevitable that I get asked time and time again, “So, where is home?”
And just in case they think I am American (some even ask me outright), I put my haughtiness in check, stand a little taller, raise my chin a little higher and proudly say, “I am from Canada”. Don’t get me wrong – I think Americans are great, but I prefer people to know that I am Canadian – it’s an identity thing.
“Really … which part?”
“Newfoundland – the province furthest East – next stop is Ireland.”
And as most people have no concept of where Newfoundland is, yet are eager to find out, I continue on to explain our proximity to Vancouver (the complete opposite end of Canada) or Montreal (I’m pretty certain everyone I meet has a relative in Montreal). And if my audience is still with me, I go on to describe the snow, the icebergs, our never ending winters, the fact we are on an island in the Atlantic, partridge berries, moose, and the ferry system…and so on.
Ever the tourism ambassador for Newfoundland and Labrador, I take out my iPhone and provide a visual – allowing them to slide through photos of Signal Hill from the mouth of the harbour, massive icebergs in Bonavista Bay, the ice wall at Middle Cove Beach, my VW Golf buried in a snow drift, the infamous rainbow coloured houses of downtown St. John’s (aka Jellybean Row), the harbour at Woody Point, Fogo Island …. You get the picture – and so do those I share them with. If I’ve done my job well, they see the beauty and the majesty of all that is my home province of Newfoundland.
But to tell the truth, I think the term ‘home’ is relative thing. When you have been a long time away from your place of residence, family and friends (which for most people is the true definition of home), you begin to question what home really means. Often it depends on the context the of how a question is being asked. I know that when I meet people for the first time and they ask ‘Where is home’, they are looking for a geographical explanation. Some way they can picture it on their mental spinning globe or world map from high school forever embedded into their brain, and stick imaginary pins into where you came from and where you are now. Like the signs in a mall with a big yellow arrow showing YOU ARE HERE.
And when they process the information, it’s always “Wow, you’re a long way from home.”
Yes, I am a long way from home. I am away from the country I was born in and the province I spent most of my life. I am away from my children and family and friends and my little house in St. John’s. And to tell the truth, I am okay with that. I have moved a lot in my lifetime. From my gypsy-like growing up in Ontario when I was a kid (I remember 5 different places before I turned 8), traipsing back to Newfoundland when mom and dad decided to go ‘home’ in ‘73 and a countless number of student lodgings in St. John’s from 1982, until I got married a few years later – mostly I think because he wanted to know where I would be located in any given week. I run out of fingers and toes when I count my address changes. Where I’ve lived since 1965? Apartments, dormitories, sheds, trailers (caravans to my UK friends), houses, cabins – bricks, mortar, wood, metal and canvas. Places I resided for a time.
For the past ten months, I’ve lived in other people’s residences – family homes, cottages and property up for sale. House sitting and caring for places others call home, toting all my worldly possessions not in storage in two suitcases. And during this time I have come to realize something very profound and very freeing – home is not a civic address. To me, home is simple – it is a feeling and it is people – a factor of the two combined.
The feeling of home – it is where I ‘feel’ loved, safe, accepted, comfortable, content, relaxed, valued. It is where I surround myself with what gives me joy and pleasure. Favourite books and magazines on my desk or strewn about the house – Conde Naste, Vogue and Alice Munro. Music playing in whatever room I’m in or loud enough to be heard from every room, where I can sing my heart out to ‘Smooth’ by Rob Thomas & Santana, Bill Withers ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ (I know, I know, I know, I know…). Notebooks and pens in every nook and cranny, because brilliants ideas can strike at any time and anywhere. Food that I’ve prepared – simple and delicious and comforting with its smells reaching every corner and wafting out the front door. Pictures of mysterious women or serene seascapes. And always something red, because it happens to be my favourite colour. My home is the embodiment of me and all I love and hold dear.
Home is the people I surround myself with, those I love and who love me and accept me with all my oddities and shortcomings, yet can see the heart (and often the humour) that lies behind everything I say and do. Some are friends I’ve had forever and a day – for the longest time. Others are people you meet and may see infrequently over the span of your life or maybe never see again ,which happens often while moving/travelling from place to place. They enter your life for a short time, somehow changing you and adding something special to your life. Forever they remain in your heart and mind as being that feeling of home at a particular time and place.
Then there is family – you are born into it, give birth to it, marry into it or just decide to share your life with it. Some you choose and some you don’t and not all family members evoke a feeling of love and safety and acceptance (a friend always says you can love your family, but you damn well sure don’t have to like them), but we could each make a list of those who are most important to us. Those who envelope us in a feeling acceptance and worth whenever we are with them. They too are a piece of home.
All in all, home is a sacred space.
I’ve come to recognize that wherever I am in this world, I need to carve out for myself a sense of home, a sense of private and sacred space where I can feel that I am in a ‘right place’.
I’ve made four temporary homes in ten months. I’ve taken spaces belonging to others and have somehow made it my own by special bits I carry with me. Favourite books are scattered about house – just a few as I’m living from suitcases.
Pictures of Becky, Michael and Katie hang on the refrigerator door so that I can see their faces each time I pass. Two cards from Pat stands next to me on my desk so that when I feel the need to talk to her, I once again read the words carefully penned inside and I can hear her voice speaking them. I have a cream and blue polka dot mug from Katie, and an orange butter dish and sugar bowl from Becky. Each cup of coffee or tea and every bit of buttered toast reminds me how much we enjoy a chat over a cup of coffee or a meal together. I always set up a desk area wherever I go and a collage of pictures, postcard and notes from friends and family pasted over it always makes me smile and it often makes me cry, but it never fails to uplift me, helping me to remember places and moments and home.
They remind me of all my homes – past and present.
So here is what home is to me…
Home is what I feel when I wrap my arms around my kids – happiness, contentment, accountability and humbleness at the same time.
Home is where I want to be when my best friend might be fighting for her life and I need to tell her everything she is to me.
Home is remembering: Grandma Canning exuberantly belting out the words to hymns next to me at church; Mom’s hands idly smoothing my hair as she talks to her friend Maud; Katie finally falling asleep in my arms after nursing for hours; the smell of tree sap and freshly sawn wood on Uncle Garf’s jacket as he hugged me; Becky chatting away to her imaginary friends in the backseat of the van; drinking coffee with Pat at my kitchen table after she’d finished hours of shoveling snow or mowing the lawn.
Home is making the most of where I am at a given moment, in spite of life’s inevitable shortcomings and imperfect circumstances. It’s carving my own little niche of comfort and rest with what is around me.
Home is being with the people I’ve chosen to love and trust. Unconditionally. And because those people are scattered all over whenever I am with each of them, wherever they are, I am home.
Home can be more than one place and it changes from day to day and moment to moment.
In a few weeks’ time, I will be returning to Newfoundland. Again I will be house sitting, because my own house is rented. But this house sit is different because it encompasses so much of the homes I have already known.
Nestled along side the ocean and close to woods and beach trails, I can get my fill of brisk salty breezes, birdsong, surrounded by the scent of fir and spruce. From pictures and descriptions Bonnie has sent, I know it is homey and lived in and loved already, so I think my polka dot mug and orange sugar bowl will fit in just fine with the décor. It is close enough to St. John’s to invite family and friends for a meal and a good long chat filled with gossip and laughter. I’ll visit my parents – still close to their hometowns – and maybe enjoy a cup of tea and some toasted homemade bread as only my mother can prepare. And in catching up with the places I love and the people I cherish, I hope to add more of both to my ever changing picture of home.
My friend Jeff says it best – “Home is that feeling of contentment where you sit and relax and know that you’re in the right place. When you go outside and smell the salt water and say ‘There is no place like home’. With saying all that, family (and friends) is the #1 thing in making all this happen.”