I don’t often go back into The Old Neighborhood anymore, so it surprises me that when I get into the car my iPhone automatically tells me it’s 18 minutes to Redford. My husband says I must still have the Redford address listed as “home” in Google apps. He’s probably right - I haven’t checked, and most likely I wouldn’t change it anyway. It’s not because I still think of Redford as Home - I don’t. But it’s a comforting reminder that it WAS home for almost four decades - longer than anywhere else I’ll ever live.
When I do make the 18 minute drive due east down the road from my present home in Northville, I always make the loop around the block so I can drive by our old house and my mother’s house. A lot of things have changed at our house. Most noticeably there’s a tall stockade fence around the entire backyard. The new owners keep things neat and trim on the outside, although they have a lot of kitchsy lawn ornaments stuck here and there (not exactly my taste, but whatever…) There’s a swingset, a trampoline, a pool, and a couple of storage sheds in the backyard. A couple of years ago a big windstorm took out three gigantic evergreens my father in law brought as seedlings from Colorado in the late 1940’s; but the immense red maple he planted 64 years ago when my husband was a baby still flourishes.
My mother’s house has not fared as well. The new owner’s have done little to keep it up, and the patio we loved so much to sit on is filled with junk (much of it piled atop the table and chairs I left behind). They park five SUV’s on the driveway and along the side yard - I have no idea what’s inside the attached two car garage. According to neighbors I’ve kept in touch with, these new folks keep strictly to themselves. No one seems to know much about who they are or what they do.
All of which makes me wistful.
Because I’m one who loves to be home, one who chooses home over all the exotic locales in the world, I develop a deep and abiding attachment to the place I live. My mother never worked outside our home, and when asked her occupation she would always reply “Homemaker.” And that description was so apt for her - she had a special knack for making our house beautiful but comfortable, of making people who entered feel welcome, of creating an atmosphere of serenity and safety. Christie Purifoy’s lovely new book Placemaker is devoted to this concept. “If keeping a home and a place well makes sense,” she writes, “it is only in the way that love makes sense. When we love someone, we serve them, we care for them, and, on our better days at least, we do not count the cost.”
Home is sanctuary for me, and on days when anxiety about life in general runs high, I am grateful to settle in to this place I now call home. I try to keep it well, try to maintain it as a place of refuge. Perhaps if anything I do that TOO well, because so often it’s hard for me to leave - especially in winter when the energy required to brave the gloom and chill is just too much.
A few winters ago we rented a house in Florida for six weeks. That was the longest period of time I had ever been away from home, and despite the parade of sunny warm days, I suffered from terrible homesickness. My four year old grandson was visiting us during part of that time, and the two of us fell into a conversation about it.
“Do you ever feel homesick when you’re traveling?” I asked him.
He looked puzzled. “What does that mean?”
“It means you feel sad because you miss being home,” I explained.
“No way!” he answered immediately. “That’s just silly.”
There is definitely a different concept of home in the 21st century. In generations past, it was a mark of pride to pass on the Family Home. Usually it was the law of primogeniture - the eldest son would inherit the homestead and its land after mother and father had died in their bed. Now most parents have sold their original home well before they reach old age - downsized into a smaller place or moved to a warmer climate when they retire. Many will move yet again before they die, into a retirement community or assisted living. Some will spend their last days in nursing care or hospice, far away from their children and grandchildren who have scattered the world in a variety of homes of their own.
In the early 1950’s, my father in law built the home we would live in for the first 36 years of our married lives. It was the only home my husband ever knew. His parents passed it on to us when we got married and they began dividing their time between a home in Northern Michigan and a condo in Florida. We actually thought we would live there forever, maybe even pass it on to our son. But children have their own ideas about what they want, neighborhoods and communities change. “Time grows colder, children get older,” as the song goes. “I’m getting older too.” Moving here was a good decision for us. We feel very comfortable in this house and this community. We feel like we belong.
When we first moved to Northville and I was traveling the 18 minutes to Redford just about every day to visit my mom, I drove past our old house all the time. It wasn’t reflex - I made a conscious decision each time to turn my car in that direction. I liked to imagine I might see my son’s first car, a 1993 black Pontiac Grand Prix parked in the driveway. Or that Magic and Molly might be peering out the front window, watching for me to arrive. I enjoyed seeing the familiar progress of the trees as they leafed out in spring and changed color in the fall.
But since my mom died three years ago there are only two things that take me back to the old neighborhood. One is the veterinarian’s office - we are very attached to all the staff there - and the other is the library. (The library in Redford is far superior to the library in Northville, disparate economics not withstanding.) I take that loop around the block, more out of habit than anything else, and pay a quick homage to both of those places that were “home” to me for so long.
But now I drive back up the street and west toward home with a sense of peace instead of sadness. This is home now, this is the place I long for when I travel, the place I don’t want to leave on cold wintry days. It’s the place I make - comfortable, safe, nourishing, inviting.