One phenomenon of living in the U.S. that has struck me is how mobile its people are. In particular, I am amazed at how often people move from one home to another.
In the U.S. there is a strong sense that changing homes is a forward motion, a progression. In Italy, particularly in the south, a large percentage of the population has a university degree, but it is very difficult to find any job, let alone one that pays enough. As a result, many young people live with their parents for years and years, often even after getting married and having children of their own.
Still, no matter where it happens, for many people, changing homes goes hand in hand with entering new phases of their lives.
When my mother met the man who would be her husband she was 15 years old and living on a small farm that her father rented. She was the eldest of seven children. After they married three years later, my mother and father lived with her family in that cramped house.
A couple of years later, my mother moved to her second – and last – home when my dad himself became a tenant farmer. There, she gave birth to and raised three children. And there she has remained. My mother has never lived alone, and she’s been having a rough time since my father’s passing.
My older sister has lived in three homes in her life. First, in our family home. Second, in a tiny apartment after she married; her first child was born during that time. Third, in a place of her own after she and her husband had put together enough for a down payment. They went on to have three more children.
My little sister has lived in four homes during her life. The family home, of course, then, immediately after marrying, she moved to the U.S. with her husband and spent three years in the basement of her in-laws’ house. Eventually, her husband landed a good job and they were able to buy their first house. They had their children while there. After a few years, my brother-in-law went into business for himself, and he and my sister upgraded to a bigger, fancier house in a more exclusive part of town.
My wife has called so many places home that she has lost count. After she was born in her country, her family moved to the U.S. and lived in at least four different states. In each of those states, the family changed cities and neighborhoods numerous times. Throughout her college and post-graduate years, my wife changed her residence several more times.
But once she began working, she stayed put in one apartment for more than 15 years. Then she bought her first house. She had been living there for several years when we met. “I never realized how much I needed to have my own home,” she told me. “And the first few years, I would look around and say to myself, ‘this is really mine, I did it.’” She doubts that she would have moved if she had not met me.
My roots are deep and long. I always assumed that I would have only one home. The house where I was born, where I grew up (except for my years in Rome), where my father died – that is where I expected to see my mother through her old age and where one day I would also pass away.
I did stay with my little sister and her family in the U.S. for a brief time after the earthquake of ‘81. But I considered myself a guest in their house, always with the intention of returning home to Italy. And I did.
Yet, circumstances changed and my wife and I are in our second home together. Every now and then we wonder if we should move to a small condo when we get older, but we are both reluctant to uproot ourselves again.
This virus that has gripped our world lately has forced us all into suspended animation. Wherever we were when it struck is where we are stuck.
At the start of the year I attended the wedding of a young couple. They were excited to start their new life together and were on the verge of buying their first house. Then their jobs dried up, and they can’t even think about taking on a mortgage. They are stuck in the bride’s old bedroom in her mother’s house, stuck in time, moving neither forward nor backward, not knowing when the nightmare will end. They won’t even consider starting a family.
God help all of us who have, want, or need a home.