35. Where Is Home?

When my wife and I married, we spent the first few months in the house that she had proudly bought for herself. She sold that house and we bought another one many miles away, closer to my younger sister and her family. We have been in this house now for nearly two decades.

The other day, I surprised my wife when I said that I have never really felt at home in this house. Mind you, she has not filled the house with cat pillows, pink lacy curtains, or portraits of cherubic children. Italian seascapes and landmarks, as well as scenes from other places we have visited are represented on our walls. A finely-made Italian tablecloth covers our dining room table. Our china cabinet displays Italian porcelain and Murano glass along with U.S.-made dishware and knickknacks.

When I thought about what I had said, I concluded that the only place I truly feel at home is in my mother’s house. That’s where I was born and raised. That’s where I lived with my parents up until my fateful vacation in the U.S., when I met the woman I married. The house is where my father died during my first visit back with my wife, and where we held the wake.

My old bedroom is where the woman who cares for my 90-year-old mother at night now sleeps. For years, the kitchen and sitting area were one and the same. Nowadays, there is a separate living room, thanks to reconfiguration and renovations by my older sister.

The house in which I grew up is part of a three-unit set-up. My aunts and uncles who lived in the other two units are gone; my mother, who was a few years older than them, is the sole survivor. She forgets that sometimes and slips away from her caregiver to try to visit her deceased sisters-in-law; she often falls because the ground is on a decline too steep for her and her compromised balance.

Despite these changes, I feel like I belong when I am on my mother’s land and in her house. I like to stroll under the walnut and hazelnut trees, seeing rabbits running to hide. From the balcony in my mother’s bedroom, I can see over the terracotta rooftops, above the trees and vegetable patches, miles out towards the blue and green mountains. There were much fewer houses and many more fruit and nut trees as recently as 25 years ago. 25 years? Good grief, my life is slipping away.

There is one place I visited just a few years ago that I thought would be perfect for me: Hawaii, which we visited for an anniversary. The greenery, the deep blue skies and sparkling blue waters, the birds of bright green and blue, the comfortable temperature, the enormous banyan trees – I figured I could add a good 10 or 15 years to my life if I lived on one of the Hawaiian islands. I was heartbroken when my wife said we could not afford to retire there, mostly because of the price of real estate.

I have mentioned previously how attached my wife is to the U.S., to which she immigrated as a toddler. But she tells me that the Republic of Ireland was the one other place where she felt she could live. Years ago, she had toured the country by car with a friend. They eschewed hotels in favor of bed-and-breakfasts, enjoying the chance to stay in actual Irish homes. She and her friend found the local people friendly and curious about their lives in the U.S.

What astonished my wife about Ireland was the longing for it that she felt when she returned to the U.S. “For months, I was homesick for Ireland,” my wife said. Her friend reported the same sentiment.

My wife does not know if that feeling stemmed from the natural beauty of the country and its affable, unpretentious people or from an old, genetic connection due to the little bit of Irish blood that flows through her veins. (Her friend is 100 percent Irish-American.)

I guess home is anywhere that pulls you in, that tugs at your heart, that makes you feel that you belong or could belong there. And it’s not so bad to miss a place. It means that you appreciate having had the chance to experience it first-hand.

Balcony view – Southern Italy courtesy of “Anton”

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