The Evolution of Home

My fantasy as a child was to have a house that was all mine, where I was safe and where all the other children and animals who needed homes would live as well (it was going to be a very, very big house). It would be a long time before I could claim that some part of my wishful thinking had become reality. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I lived in a house with a yard that I owned (with my much better half). Before that time, I lived in 7 rental properties, 9 barracks, an old school bus and a gas station undergoing a home conversion, with gas pumps as part of the landscaping.

During my elementary and middle school years, I lived in a converted office space above a main street tavern in a small town. I shared the irregular rooms with my 3 siblings and mother and stepfather. On any given night, we could look off the porch into the alley and see misdemeanors in the form of public urination.  The best place to be was wherever home wasn’t – at the park, at a friend’s house and my personal hideout, in the stacks at the public library. Whether it was the close quarters or the alcoholism or sheer dysfunction, home did not feel safe. I learned to pack light. I would compulsively do an inventory of the paltry, but sentimental items that were mine and I would always know where they were in case I had to leave on a moment’s notice – a practice put to the test in conjunction with calls to the police.

Resourceful kids are made, not born. I sought my own shelter. There were the friends’ homes with the parents that seemed too good to be true, work where the restaurant owners took me under their wing, a bike that kept me in motion and a zillion extra curricular school activities. If I look at my high school yearbook, I don’t look like the shy and awkward nobody that I imagined I was. I was in track, speech, band, choir, school plays and musicals, and editor on both the newspaper and the yearbook. I wasn’t a social butterfly or civic-minded. I was seeking places where I could feel at home and be safe.

The ability to create my own safe haven has served me well over the years. I am an expert at packing and unpacking. I can travel light, which served me well in the military. I knew how to let go of possessions that were not important. The 12 years I’ve lived in this house in suburbia is the longest period of time I’ve spent in one place. I feel very fortunate to be able to live in a house, but I still live as if I’m ready to run. My possessions are centralized in one room, with my necessities in another.  I still carry a shower bag, as if I’m living in a barracks. I’m territorial and defensive about the space I claim. My husband, who always had his own bedroom and spent his entire childhood in the same home, occasionally needs to remind me that certain rooms are “ours”.

I have had a lot of time to think about what having a home means and it has nothing to do with yards or ownership or age and everything to do with the feeling when you walk in the door – a sigh of relief, a deep exhale, a relaxing of tight shoulders, the dropping of bags, backpacks, luggage. It is sanctuary, an unburdening of the mind and body. I do not take it for granted, but I no longer lay awake at night, wondering if I’ll be living somewhere else tomorrow. While it is true that the only constant in life is change, I know what it means to be home and how to create that feeling anywhere I go. It’s the proverbial lemonade from living a life in motion.

18 thoughts on “The Evolution of Home

    1. Thanks. After reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I realized that I might have some “stuff” to unload before writing on more challenging topics or moving into a fiction arena. It’s a bit of navel-gazing which I’m hoping to outgrow!


  1. Great post! And I understand completely as my childhood was similar. I escaped into books as I didn’t have the freedom to go anywhere; my mother always said the house could fall down around me and I wouldn’t notice if I had my nose in a book. She was right.


    1. Thanks. I rarely feel self-pitying these days when there are so many tougher stories out there. It’s always good to remember where you came from if only to feel gratitude today.


  2. What an interesting and forthright story.You are so clear-eyed and calm in your recitation. I thought I wanted a white house with blue shutters and a white picket fence, and it has taken many years and an ongoing waterfall of tears to realize that was an extension of my (good) parents’ lives, not what I needed. Now I have to find a new meaning for the term “home,” one that applies to me. (And I actually quite like the idea of gas pumps as landscaping; I could do that. Maybe they could go on either side of my Easter Island head, or around the wine bottle trees.)


    1. It’s always interesting when we figure out that what we really need is not always what we thought we needed. I was not fond of the gas pumps since I was in high school at the time. Weird is never good when you’re an already awkward teenager.


  3. I love your post. For different reasons, I can relate, especially about knowing where the essentials are just in case you have to leave in a hurry…a sad reality for many in different circumstances. You articulate it very well.


  4. “I’m territorial and defensive about the space I claim. My husband, who always had his own bedroom and spent his entire childhood in the same home, occasionally needs to remind me that certain rooms are “ours”.”

    Love this! I spent most of my life, ages 8-16, at boarding school and summer camp, sharing space with 4-6 girls. Gah! I do love privacy and solitude.


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