Home is…

By Caitlin Kelly

The night-time view from one of the windows at my Dad's house...
The night-time view from one of the windows at my Dad’s house…

Where is it exactly?

Is it in the city or town where you grew up?

Your parents’ home?

Your rented apartment, maybe in a foreign country?

A college dorm room?

A house shared with room-mates?

Your current residence?

On a visit now back to Ontario, where I lived ages five to 30, it’s always a question for me, even though I left long ago for Montreal, (two years), then New Hampshire (1.5 years) and New York (20+ years now.)

We’ve been staying in my father’s house, reveling in all that luxurious space, a working fireplace, a spacious and private backyard and small-town charm only an hour’s drive from Toronto.

For some people, home is a place you can always retreat to, with parents, or one parent, always eager to see you and help you and set you back on your feet after a tough time, whether divorce or job loss, sometimes both.

For others, though, estrangement is the painful and isolating norm.

I left my father’s home when I was 19 and have never lived there since.

I left my mother’s care at 14 and have never lived there since.

Independence is a learned art, one I had to acquire early, as there was no physical and little emotional space for me in either place.

My father’s late wife didn’t like me much, so my stays on their sofa were pretty short; after 3 or 4 days, it was clear I had worn out my welcome.

My mother had a large house for only a few years, but then lived in a place that took me an entire day’s flying, bus and ferry to reach, so I didn’t enjoy much time there before she moved into a small one-bedroom apartment with no room for me at all; I stayed at a motel a block away. (Today she lives in a small nursing-home room, a sad and very costly end to a highly solitary life.)

So even when my first marriage ended quickly and badly, I had no “home” to rush back to. When I lost jobs and when I needed surgery, (four times within 10 years, all orthopedic), I had to call on local friends, even my church, to come and help me with meals.

So I really enjoy house-sitting while my Dad’s off traveling again, having plenty of time surrounded by the many familiar images and objects of my childhood and adolescence, the paintings and prints and sculptures I’ve been looking at my entire life. Many of them are images he’s created, paintings of his late, beloved dogs, of his late, beloved second wife and landscapes from Nova Scotia to Tunisia.

I find it deeply comforting to see them and touch them, even if they’re only inanimate objects. It’s my past.

They tell me I’m home again.

It’s also deeply comforting to even have this home to come to, as I haven’t seen or spoken to my mother in four years. (Long story, too tedious for here.)

Home is where I make it, now with my second husband, in a suburb of New York City. We talk about where we hope to retire, never sure whether we’ll return to Canada and/or live part-time in the U.S., France, Ireland…Not sure where home will be in the next few decades, if we’re fortunate enough to stay healthy and alive.

I moved to the U.S. filled with excitement and anticipation about my new life there; today, deeply weary of toxic politics, corporate greed and stagnant wages, I’m thinking more seriously about making a home elsewhere….yet Toronto, even in only two days this week, had shootings in downtown areas and not-nice houses sell, routinely, for $1 million, far, far beyond our means, even after a lifetime of hard work and saving and no kids.

Crazy.

How about you?

Where is home for you?

9 thoughts on “Home is…

  1. “Home” is definitely a combination of people and place for me. I’ve lived in the Seattle area for most of my life. I love it. But I have not remarried and no children. Many friends have moved away, or disappeared so far into their personal lives, I never see them. I’ve lived in the condo I own for 18 years, but always alone. I’ve never thought of it as “home.” While one sibling lives in the area, and we are close, now that my folks are both gone (who also lived nearby), I’m feeling as though “home” is not “home” anymore. I love this city, this area, and everything about the Northwest, but home is where people are, and most of the people that held me here are no longer here.

    1. Exactly.

      I live in NY and enjoy my life there, but even after 20+ years have very few close friends there — which is why I keep coming back to Ontario several times a year to see people I know love me and my husband. I know some people in NY like me, some a lot, but it never feels the same.

  2. It’s an interesting question, and one we were talking about with friends this past weekend. Although our apartment here is ‘our home’, I still find myself calling the Outer Hebrides home, and I’m sure I always will. Most of us who are brought up there have a very strong sense of belonging to the place. I wrote a post about what home means to me (and to my fellow islanders) right before I moved to the U.S., and it’s still my most-read blog post ever – it seems other Hebrideans around the world feel the same way as I do!

    1. I loved that post….I also think you have a spectacularly lovely home there and you have deep deep roots…I don’t, and even in Vancouver (my birthplace and my father’s birthplace), it’s a VERY costly city and we don’t have family there…So it’s an interesting question if you’re not deeply attached.

      I now have a friend living on Skye so am more eager than ever to head there.

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