Homesick

Winter day

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A gray, icy, frigid, midwinter day is probably not the best time to get too introspective, because it could dissolve into melancholy pretty easily. Ninety-eight percent of the time, winter doesn’t faze me. I’m one of those sick individuals who likes to shovel snow, not use a thrower; I love to see snow clinging to evergreens and sun shining through ice. But eventually winter gets the best of me. I’m tired of dressing for the Iditarod just to take out the trash and worrying if my 13-year-old car will start in the grocery store parking lot.  At times like that, I feel…empty. Not depressed, but tired and empty.

On her Facebook page today, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, posted this:

“HAPPINESS QUESTION: I’m sitting right at home, and yet I was just hit by an intense wave of homesickness. Does this ever happen to you?”

Yes. That’s it. Homesickness! For me it feels like a little bit of grief, and a little loneliness, a little fatigue, and a little hunger and cold that’s more spiritual than literal. Just – something missing.

It’s a need to be nurtured. Not coddled, but nurtured and reassured. Home = love + reassurance. And maybe cookies.

Sometimes, grownups get tired of being the grownups. And we want to go home for a visit. Sometimes, I see my house as “the structure I have to maintain and pay for for 30 years”…not as “home.”  Home, to me, is a little square ranch house with no basement in the ‘burbs of Cleveland…which I haven’t lived in for 20 years.  Home is also a 100-year-old bungalow that I let go about as willingly as a child would release a stuffed animal. Home is also a basement ranch with a patch of backyard, a picnic table, peonies and poppies, and tomato plants.

All of these structures are owned by strangers now. Most of the people who once lived in them…the people I called family…are gone.

The irony is we probably wouldn’t have our present home if I hadn’t let go of the 100-year-old bungalow. That was my paternal grandparents’ house. After my grandmother died, and since my dad and my uncle had predeceased my grandparents, almost everything fell to me, my brother, and our cousins. We sold the bungalow – which was physically painful for me – and from the estate, I put a down payment on the house we have now. The one my daughters call Home.

So how do we get homesick? Especially when we have a home, and we’re in it?

Home has feelings. Home is that place where you didn’t have to be in charge and it was okay to be vulnerable. Home is a place you can escape to and where everything becomes clearer. It’s where you can regroup and reminisce and recharge, so you can go back out and be responsible.

But without the people in it who love you, teach you, and encourage you, it’s just a building. It’s just a house.  And when I am homesick, I would like nothing better than to share cookies and coffee with my grandmother, or watch my grandfather doctor up a glass of buttermilk, or play catch with my dad, and just BE…until I’m ready to go back to being the grownup.

I may not have the places or most of the people anymore, but I do remember the feelings they bequeathed me. Unconditional love. Encouragement.  Safety. Peace. Work ethic. I remember laughing till my sides hurt,  and being so angry I cried and said things I couldn’t take back…but I was loved anyway.  I am homesick for those things, and someday my daughters will be homesick for those things too. And I’ll know just where they can find them. Wherever I am. Whether it’s in our home, or in their hearts.

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4 thoughts on “Homesick

  1. My husband and I went back to our childhood homes. His tenement building was torn down and a hospital built in it’s place; mine was boarded up and abandoned. Going back home isn’t always a good feeling sometimes the memories are better than the real thing … sometimes.

    Good story with warm thoughts … and … great insight !!!

    • Thanks, Isadora. I know I always hesitate to drive past the family houses, and I was in my grandparents’ neighborhood as recently as last September, but avoided driving down that street. Sometimes the memories ARE more valuable than the places themselves.

      One of my editing clients, S. Amjad Hussain, who is an op-ed columnist, wrote about returning to Peshawar, Pakistan, looking for his family home. He knew it was going to be demolished and wanted to have one last look, but it was already gone by the time he arrived. He did, however, find an architectural salvage merchant in the bazaar, and there was a set of shutters from the house. He asked the merchant for the window lock as a remembrance – Dr. Hussain called it his Aladdin’s lamp. 🙂

  2. Oh my goodness…you just explained to me while I feel the way I feel!! Sort of.

    I realize that for me, there is no “going home” except to my current home. My real home is with Tim. Yes, there are the houses in which I grew up, but the people with whom I lived in them aren’t even together any more. There was no security! There was no place to be truly vulnerable. My mother does not represent “home” any more. And even though I didn’t grow up with my Dad, he did represent “home” to me. And now even he is gone.

    I am home now. Thank God I have it.

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