We spent last weekend traveling in New York and New Jersey with other members of my husband’s choral group as they performed in a convocation of choruses from around the east and midwest. After a very full weekend of singing, socializing, and sight-seeing, we traveled home on my birthday early Sunday morning. Contrary to what you might think after my last post in which I so fondly reminisced about birthday parties of my youth, I no longer care much about celebrating my birthday. Perhaps I got it all out of my system when I was younger. Now, I prefer the kind of understated recognition my son enjoyed in his childhood - a quiet day at home, some family time, maybe a nice dinner at a favorite restaurant. So I happily boarded the plane at 9:00 a.m., knowing I’d be home in time for lunch and would have the remainder of the day to myself.
It probably won’t surprise my readers if I say there is literally no other place on earth I’d rather be than in my home. It’s my sanctuary, my happy place, my salvation, all contained within the space of four walls. As we wandered shivering through the noisy, crowded, dirty streets of New York, wending our way amidst scaffolding, steering clear of the mass of bodies pushing headlong into the wind toward office, home, subway, train, my heart was beating a rapid tattoo - get home, get home, get home, it battered against my chest. I imagine my face wore the panicked expression you see on the eyes of a lost dog anxiously running down an unfamiliar street. Where is my house? Where are my people? Where is my home?
Sometimes I feel as if I need to apologize for loving home so much, for my desire to be here rather than traipsing around the world. For most of my generation, traveling is listed at the top of their ubiquitous bucket lists. There is a sensation that in order to be smart, interesting, and informed, one must be a traveler, must yearn to see and experience foreign lands. If that need doesn’t exist for me, am I therefore provincial, small-minded, and dull? If I don’t force myself out into new and different places, will my intellect atrophy like the sinew of a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair?
My love of home is long-standing and probably inbred. My mother despises travel - her mantra being “don’t take me anywhere unless I can get home to sleep in my own bed.” My grandmother and aunt were like-minded, and when I was younger I determined to be different. I scoffed at their attitudes, which I felt were based on fear and provincialism. Jim and I did some traveling, and I congratulated myself for (eventually!) learning to fly without fear, wander around in unfamiliar cities, even spend three weeks criss-crossing the United Kingdom.
But no matter where I am, every night at dark I am struck with an unassailable bout of homesickness, a heart-wrenching longing for my comfortable chair, a hot bath in my own tub, my bed, pillow, and book to lull me to sleep. With each passing year, it becomes more difficult to over this feeling, to find an acceptable balance between the longing for home and the potential benefit of having new experiences.
Right after my son’s birth, he developed severe jaundice and was having a terribly difficult time nursing. His healthy eight pound birthweight quickly dropped to six and half pounds. The head of pediatrics was called in, and after a five minute consultation diagnosed “failure to thrive.” The doctors wanted to send me home and keep Brian in the hospital. I protested, and because this was 34 years ago and insurance companies did not have the same stranglehold on medical treatment they have today, I was allowed to remain in the hospital in an attempt to maintain nursing. Finally, after a week of being in a hospital room with two other women, a week of aching to go home with my baby, I convinced the doctor to discharge us, even though Brian still hadn’t regained much of his birthweight.
“It will all be better when we get home,” I promised him. I’m upset, I can’t eat, I’m not making any milk. I just need to go home."
When we got home that day, my mother and grandmother had been at our house all day, making fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, macaroni-and-cheese and cherry pies - all those fat-filled Southern comfort foods that spell H-O-M-E. Within a day or two, the baby was nursing like a champ. Within two weeks, he had gained three pounds. Home worked its magic on both of us.
Last Sunday as our plane headed west toward Michigan I felt myself becoming more and more energized with each passing mile. Despite only three hours of fitful sleep the night before, I was wide awake and excited. Although Jim crashed on the sofa exhausted and travel weary, I arrived home with abundant energy, spent the day putting everything back in order, catching up on e-mails, planning for the week ahead, cooking dinner, enjoying a movie on television. I reveled in a hot bath in my garden tub, the warm blankets on my bed, my favorite fluffy pillow, and a book.
These days it seems that home calls to me as it never has before. Perhaps it’s because I have become so enamored of this new house, this new neighborhood, because I sigh with pure delight each time I walk in the door and know this beautiful place is my home. Perhaps it’s because I feel a need to be closer than ever to my mother, who becomes more frail with each passing day and depends on the security of my nearby presence. Perhaps it’s because I need the sense of constancy and permanence offered in daily routines, which in some ways have taken on the essence of sacred rituals. Morning coffee. Walks. Reading and writing. Bath, books, bed.
“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,” Jane Austen wrote. Whatever the reason, I will no longer apologize for my lack of interest in traveling or for my desire to be home. For me at this point in my life, there is no place like it.