Saturday, September 03, 2005

Life as a house


I recently flew to Montreal to be there when my parents moved out of their home and into a nearby condo. The primary goal of this trip was to help them through the process. My father, as I've written about online and in print, has not been well. So being there was one of those things a kid simply does because being anywhere else just wouldn't seem logical. Not after all they did to help me get where I am today.

A quiet, secondary goal of mine was to somehow record how I felt as the home where they raised me and my siblings - I have an older sister and an older brother - was emptied and left behind. Every time I was there, I found myself taking pictures of everything I could think of.

I didn't just shoot rooms, though. For example, I shot closeups of the window locks and the heating vents. Why? Because they reminded me of what it was like to be in my room on a cold winter's night. I'd double-check the locks to make sure the old-style windows were sealed as tightly as their pre-energy conservation design allowed. Then I'd wave my hand over the heating vents to make sure warm air was coming out. It was always warm, but the ritual never changed.

And so on. I captured images of all the little things in the house that stuck in my memory.

As I was doing this, I didn't feel overtly sad. It was more like really reflective. But I did want to tell the story of the house, because so much of our early lives had evolved within it. I kept wondering which picture would be the quintessential one; the one that would, in one simple frame, summarize what this house meant, and where we went from here. This picture hit me as soon as I took it.

It's the moulding in the living room. The story it tells is a simple one: in its beaten, worn-paint, imperfect form, it tells us that the house served its purpose. In just over four decades, a young couple brought home three children, raised them, then sent them off into the world. They opened the door on an ever-expanding extended family, and they always managed to find empty chairs at the dinner table for whoever dropped in. They experienced the loss of their own parents and other close friends and relatives. They became grandparents and welcomed us and our children on visits. They retired, and they experienced illness.

Even as they continued to evolve, life never stopped changing around them, and the house gradually began to reflect that with each faded stretch of wallpaper and traffic-worn passage of carpet. It was time to go.

To me, this image reflects all I felt as I left for the last time. It was time to say goodbye to a place that had been my home for so long. I haven't lived there in what seems like a lifetime, and my home is clearly the one my wife and I have built for our children. But it was all I knew for a very long while, so it only made sense for the pensive writer in me to reflect on what was, and what would come next.

Eeyore often says, "It's just a house." Maybe so. But it was my house. And it was time to close the door on it one last time.

Your turn: How do you define "home"?

36 comments:

kenju said...

Ooh, tough one! Home is definitely this house where I have raised 3 children and sent them off into the world. But home is also the last place I lived with my parents, even though they moved from that house and lived in 3 other places before they passed away.

And re your last comment: a permament ban - surely you jest!! You are much too interesting to ban, Carmi!

markus said...

that image is beautiful.

michelle sent me!

an orange said...

I lived in China this past summer and really struggled with my definition of home, having lived in the US for most of my life. I felt homesick, but I wasn't quite sure which of my previous residences I longed for.

It turned out that what I missed most were the familiar ways of life in the US as well as having family and friends nearby. So I guess that's what home means to me.

Jamie said...

Wow, you made me cry. And not just because we are getting close to dealing with this with my granparents. I was partly raised in their home, and all my best childhood memories are from that home. I'm having a hard time letting go of the object, as it doesn't feel like one.

Maybe pictures like these will help me, too?

J. Star said...

What a creative shot to catch what that home means to you! The distinctiveness of the wall covering really makes it.

Home, to me, is this: When you're on vacation, and you have that one terrible day that you sometimes have on vacation that's magnified because you're not having that terrible day at home, the thing that makes it so terrible is that you don't have your home to retreat to. You don't have that safe place away from the world where you can just go for twenty minutes. You can't go to your bedroom in your home and get in the bed for just twenty minutes and recover.

Home is knowing I have that. Home is knowing that at the end of a crummy day, I can go in my bedroom and recover.

kenju said...

Good morning, Carmi! We are still playing the meet n' greet, I see.

Anonymous said...

Hello Carmi,
Thank you for your message on Lou's diary blog (and thank you to have refered it on your blog). Sure, you can help me to let discover this bog and Lou's story to the english web community because I don't have many time to do it and it's very difficult. My life is a little bit crazy and 24 ours a day is too short for me ! (between Lou, my job (director of cinematography), the blog (in 3 languages) etc. ).
So, if you can talk about us, it would be greate !
Thanks a lot.

Luc

Yaeli said...

I think home is where the memories are. You can have more than one home becuase it's not just the place that you hang your hat, and it's not just the place where when you go there they have to take you in... It's not any singular cliche or saying. It's a combination of them all. It's a place where you feel comfortable and supported and safe... and the more of those place a person has the better off they may be.

:o) I was going to stop by anyway on my daily blogroll run... but Michele sent me before I got to do that! :o)

dena said...

I've often wondered how I will feel when my parents move from the house I was raised in. It's always been home to my two older chidren. When I was a single parent, they spent lots of time with my parents, and truly consider that their home. But if my parents were to move into a condo, as I'm semi-pressuring them to do, I think we'd still all consider my parents' home, "Home", and all the other places we've lived just places to drop our heads at the end of the day.

colleen said...

Hi Carmi, I had a post earlier this week aksing...do you feel at home where you live. The comments were very interesting...about 4 yes, 4 no, and a few mixed. I myself am torn between 2 places...the pennisula town I grew up in and the mountains of Virgina where I now live. It's the love of the mountains (green space) and the ocean I grapple with. My childhood home was taken by eminent domain. I still dream about it and get choked up when I think of it.

colleen said...

PS What a great idea taking pictures of the house and things in it. I wish I had done that. I do have one of it up in flames.

panthergirl said...

I love the photo. And I agree that it is difficult to leave a house behind, even when it's "just a house". My parents moved from my childhood home when I was 20, and I had never lived anywhere else. I really wish I had taken more pictures (other than the childhood ones I have).

Ironically, I have lived in SO many different places since, and have never felt very connected to any of them.

Here via michele today, and also send my thoughts to you re: your dad.

FTS said...

"As I was doing this, I didn't feel overtly sad. It was more like really reflective. "

I think that pretty well sums up an excellent post.

I have visited your blog before as you are on one of my blogrolls, but this time I'm here because Michele sent me.

FTS said...

Oh -- and I loved the Kevin Kline movie you used for your title, by the way.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Ah but isn't just a house, it's a home.

A home to me is where memories are made, a house is just a building.

Here via Michele's...and thank you for visiting me :)

J Anderson said...

Nice pic. Michele sent me.

Heather said...

It is obvious from this post that you will miss the house but realize it is your parents that made it a home for you.

I loved the picture. Such a wonderful tribute to your home.

Star said...

Home is currently the house we have lived in for 28 years. It is where my family comes back to, to gather together. But it's the family, and not the house that makes it home. My parent's home was not very welcoming and it didn't take long after I left it to feel like a guest there. You obviously have very good memories of your parent's house.

Minerva said...

What a beautiful, reflective post...I felt that...

How gorgeous...

As for home? Home for me is safety...

I so identified with this..When we left one house, the only memory I have is of matching the wallpaper down the joins in my bedroom before I went to sleep... I haven't thought of that for years...

Minerva

JustLinda said...

Hi, got here from Michele's game.

Kind of eerie that I would land here, at your post on your blog. Just two weeks ago, my siblings and parents and I went out to "celebrate" them closing the sale on our house - the one we grew up in, the one they owned for 40 years. It's so weird that I'll never step foot in it again.

I recently moved my own family. We were in one home for 15 years and we were busting out of it. Too many new little girls to find space for. So my two oldest (20 and 22) grew up in one home and my three little girls will mostly grow up in another.

I hope I do as good a job with my kids as my parents did with us. I'll miss that house but truth is the important parts from it are committed to memory and held in pictures. That's enough...

Dawn said...

Home is where the love is at.

This is a great post with a lot of thought put into it. You have great memories...hold onto them and never let them get away from you.

Michele sent me tonight.

netchick said...

Wow, great post!

Michele sent me...

I wish I had taken more photos of my various homes of the past. To me, my home is where my comfort-things are: My soft duvet, my books, my overstuffed chair. There's nothing quite like walking through the front door after being away for a while.

Thumper said...

Home for me isn't a place; when you move every 3 years, you just don't get attached. For me home is a feeling, it's the people and the feelings. I've felt at home places without family, and not at home where there was family. For me it's the atmosphere and the energy of a place, but not the place itself.

Dlynne said...

Wow - that was great. I have two brothers and one sister, one thing I remember about the house I grew up in was the wood burning stove we used for heat in the winter. On really cold nights when we kids would go to bed daddy would get a towel and warm it up in front of the heater and come in and wrap our feet up. He did this four different times. Yes, I know it sounds "hokey", but it is something I remember about the home I grew up in.......

patricia said...

I lived in the house I grew up in, from the age of 4, up until the age of 21. The house was put up for sale because that year my parents divorced. It was messy, ugly, gut-wrenching. Leaving my home under those circumstances was a heart-breaking experience that I will never forget. The house itself was nothing special to look at, but all my memories were there, good and bad. My parents were very skilled gardeners, and we had beautiful peach, apple and pear trees, as well as a rich vegetable garden, strawberry patches, grape vines and the most luscious roses and a wide variety of flowers and bushes. I have only walked down that street I grew up on a few times since then; I can't do it anymore; it's just unbearable to see what the new owners have done to the place. For quite a while after that move, I was rudderless. It took a long time to heal. But I have many memories of my childhood home that I can go back to whenever I want; pictures in my own mind. Home is not just a physical location. Ultimately it's an emotional and spiritual place, deep within ourselves, and the connections we make with our family and friends. I have a new home now, in the relationship I have with my husband, his family and my family.

Wonderful post.

sharbean said...

I loved this post. I often think of what it will be like when my parents sell their house. I think time makes a house a home.

PresentStorm said...

That was truly beautiful :) I still find it amazing how you veiw the world around you .You are such an inspiration .

I of course veiw the home my husband and I have made for ourselves but my parents and grandparents house have always felt like home to me as well .

Pieces of Me said...

Hey...Life as a house is an awesome movie...home is definitely where my heart is..which is definitely with my family...as long as they are with me I am HOME! Great post TTYL BTW thanks for stopping by my blog ;-)

Morah Mommy said...

Home is where your loved ones are. Home is you and our 3 children.

Although I only knew that house for 21 years, it was still hard to say goodbye to it.

I have to admit that at the time you took the pictures, you were driving me absolutely crazy. We now have pictures of every little area in that house! :)

Janet said...

I guess I have a sappy sentimental side. When tv shows go off the air I feel sad bc in some ways they feel like home. So when I leave a place I've actually known? It's a disaster.

Tabor said...

What a cool idea. My childhood home was just sold last month, an old farmhouse in Colorado. Wish I had had your insight and done the same thing! I was helping my mother through the hospice journey and it would have been restorative.

E said...

This is a beautiful post. It really hit home for me...my husband's parents are going through a similar move and you have articulated much of how he's feeling right now. He's already asleep, but I am going to point him to this entry tomorrow. I think he'll appreciate it a lot!

Ms Mac said...

For me, since I got married and left my parents' home (yes, the old fashioned way) home has been in many places but it has always been where my husband and boys are.

Weary Hag said...

Just stopping in via Judy's blog (Kenju)
I've only read this and your most recent post, but I wanted to say that this was a lovely piece about your childhood home. I can SO relate to simple things bringing back such fond memories.
If not for our memories, what really would we have?

Beautiful writing.

Raehan said...

Lovely, Carmi.

Erin said...

What a beautiful entry. Thank you for directing me to it, Carmi. I was just telling one of my little brothers how on moving day, I'll want to take pictures of every nook and cranny of that house!