Home is…?

IMG_3821

Montreal’s Habitat, a legendary bit of architecture

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve moved around a fair bit — as every child in a military family knows well, like the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — it’s sometimes challenging to decide where home really is.

I’ve now lived decades in the same one-bedroom apartment in the same building in the same suburban New York town, by far the longest I have ever lived anywhere.

When my adult midlife peers lament the final sale of their beloved childhood home, I think: “Huh.” Not me.

I’ve moved a lot and have lived in five countries. But it’s now been a long, long time since I last changed residences, absolutely worn out after changing my home location six times in seven years.

It takes time to settle in, to get to know a place and its rhythms.

And, sometimes — despite all your highest hopes and best intentions — it’s just a really poor fit.

I did not enjoy living in Montreal, even with the nicest apartment anywhere ever (fireplace, 15 foot ceilings, spacious rooms) — the winter was too cold and long and snowy and the professional possibilities far too limited. Plus incredibly high taxes and, then anyway, a disturbingly high crime rate. Our building was broken into a lot.

Same for my 1.5 years in small-town New Hampshire, before the Internet, with no family/friends/job and an exhausted/absent medical resident for a boyfriend.

 

My homes:

Vancouver

Born, lived to age two.

London

ages two to five, with my parents, while my father made films for the BBC.

 

IMG_2874

The Ex, an annual event in Toronto

 

Toronto, ages five to 30

— a gorgeous huge house with a big backyard. Parents divorced when I was seven.

— boarding school Grades 4-9 and summer camp (four of them) ages 8-17

— a downtown apartment shared with my mother.

— a second apartment in the same building, shared with my mother.

— an apartment with my father and his girlfriend.

— a house (owned), also living with with them, in a lovely neighborhood, facing a park.

— a ground-floor, back alley studio in a bad neighborhood, until a man tried to pull me out of the bathroom window while I was in the bath. Lived alone.

— a sorority house, for the summer. Shared space, very comforting!

— a top floor studio apartment near campus; alone.

— a top floor apartment in a downtown Victorian house; with boyfriend.

— the top two floors of a (rented) house; with boyfriend, then alone.

 

Cuernavaca, Mexico

— six months with my mother in a rented apartment, age 14

 

montreal 6

Montreal has some amazing  buildings!

 

Montreal, Quebec

— one year, with my mother in a rented apartment in a downtown brownstone, age 12

— 1.5 years on the top floor of a luxury 1930s-era rental building in downtown while a Montreal Gazette reporter; alone.

 

L1000099

Now that’s my kind of delivery! The Marais, one morning…

 

Paris

— eight months in a tiny student dorm room in Cite Universitaire while on an EU-funded journalism fellowship.

 

Lebanon, New Hampshire

— two years in a rented apartment on the main floor of a farmhouse, with boyfriend-later-husband.

 

20131129145522
A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

 

 

Tarrytown, New York

—  current residence; married, divorced, solo, now re-married.

 

I know people here now.

I run into D, the amiable Frenchman who helps choose stock for our local thrift shop and notice he’s still limping, months after he broke his ankle.

I chat with M, a hardware store sales associate I interviewed in 2009 for my retail book, and who works for a man whose great-grandfather started the company.

I say hello to Hassan, who hands me shards of ham and bits of candied pecans at his gourmet shop.

I bump into friends on the street and at the gym and the train station and the grocery store and at church.

When I return to Montreal and Toronto, I’m also delighted to spend time with old friends and to enjoy familiar foods and sights and sounds and all our shared cultural references that none of my American pals will ever get.

 

So I feel lucky that so many places have been my home. I feel as bien dans ma peau speaking French in Montreal and Paris as I do hablando en Mexico as I do ordering a bagel with a schmear here in New York. 

 

Will we move again?

When?

Where?

Why?

 

Where is home for you?

 

My Weekly Ritual — Softball Lite — In Today's New York Times

BEIJING - AUGUST 12:  Lovieanne Jung #3 of the...
Image by Bongarts/Getty Images via @daylife

The joy of a new editor and a new section….here’s my story in today’s Times about my beloved co-ed weekly softball game. It’s been nine years and we’re still going strong, even as I now need someone to run the bases for me (my hip) and I’m still, on a good day, lead-off hitter:

It’s lite because, with an age range of 14 to over 70, we’re looking for fun, not more pressure to perform. People don’t yell or look at their BlackBerrys or answer their cellphones while on base. We’re skilled and competitive, but chill enough that we don’t obsess over the score.

Since a number of players are in their 50s and beyond, some of us have been known to limp to the diamond. My team has seen me through shoulder surgery and a foot stress fracture, so when I hobbled up recently and warned the gang that I’d need someone to run for me — I had a newly arthritic hip — everyone shrugged. “I showed up on crutches,” said Joan, a medical editor.

I can still hit to the outfield, so even unable to run, I was lead-off hitter, and Alan, a lean, swift lawyer running for me, scored a double. In Westchester County, N.Y., not known for its diversity, we’ve got a pretty good mix, with players driving or coming by train from Queens, Long Island and Harlem: five lawyers, a literary agent, a pastry chef, schoolteachers, a retired ironworker and his three adult sons, a psychiatrist, a scientist. Perhaps most fortunate, an orthopedic surgeon, one of our more competitive players.

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Even the photo than ran with the Times piece was taken by a good friend, fellow freelancer Alan Zale.

As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up playing softball, so my skills came much later in life, which is half the joy of them. I so treasure this little island of camaraderie in a sea of competitiveness.

Do you have a beloved sports team you still hang out with?

When $300,000 a Year Just Isn't Enough. Welcome to Westchester, NY

The Breakers, built 1892–1895 for Cornelius Va...
Image via Wikipedia

This is what the recession looks like to some Americans in my neck of the woods — an annual income of $300,000 a year deemed insufficient in parts of Westchester, a suburban county north of New York City stretching from the Hudson River, and its small, charming rivertowns to the palatial demesnes of Rye, Mamaroneck and Larchmont facing Long Island Sound. This bizarre but widespread worldview is ruthlessly anatomized by Anne Hull of the Washington Post; (I named her a Jedi Knight of Journalism in a recent J-Day.)

Fascinating, and not the least bit surprising, that she interviewed 36 people for the story — and none would allow the use of their name or identifying details. In the land of the rich, falling even a quarter-rung on that ladder is unconscionable and embarrassing. I moved to Westchester in 1989, into an apartment where I still live, allowing me a birds-eye view of the folkways of the wealthy: their tight-cheeked, whippet-thin ropy-armed wives, their gleaming yachts and Range Rovers and charity balls. Their obsessive and unquestioned assumptions about what one must have and what one must never give up or let slip feel as exotic and unlikely to me as some jungle tribe in loincloths and feathers. I watch how rigidly their rules apply, but remain blessedly free of them. My less-conventional mom, who lived in the uber-wealthy WASP enclave of Bedford as a girl, (now home, allegedly, to Glenn Close, George Soros and Ralph Lauren, among others) fled north to Canada at the first opportunity, marrying my Canadian father to flee it all.

I once suggested to the 28-year-old son of a Westchester friend, someone who had finally graduated from Cornell to the palpable relief of his corporate attorney father and sister, that he consider journalism as a career. He’s bright, curious, loves to write and travel and try new adventures. “Writing? You can’t make a living as a writer!” sputtered someone who overheard my preposterous suggestion. It became clear to me that day just how pitiably, amusingly bohemian my career choice really was to some of these people. In some precincts here, if you’re not making a lot of money, securely married to it and making sure others know you’re doing so, you’re obviously dim or a failure. (Luckily, and thanks to my not making $$$$$$$$, I landed in a lovely town immune to this madness.)

I do attend a church like the one mentioned in Hull’s piece, many of whose members live in enormous mansions. A former minsiter once told, me, with a sigh, “They treat me like an employee.” Why was I surprised?

This story is worth a read, if only as a piece of cultural anthropology in our worst recession in decades.