Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Home, Sweet Home"

I am sixty-three years old now and I still miss my childhood home.  I'm told that, as we get older, we begin to regain the clarity of our childhood.  As we retire from the daily rigors of job and raising family I guess we have more time for reflection.  And so I find myself thinking more and more about my childhood home and how difficult it was to leave it. 

My "childhood home" is a bit of a generic one.  We followed the low rent districts; whenever my mom came across a house with a lower rent we tended to pack up and move.  If a lower rent meant an extra five pound bag of flour...or a few more pounds of meat per month, we packed up and moved.  No, "home" to me was not the physical layout of a house, but rather what constituted the tight circle of love and familial security that my mom established for us where ever we lived.

Oh, we never really had economic security.  We were always one paycheck away from being homeless.  Perhaps the most dire, and the most tenuous was the few months we resided in a one-room dirt floor shed.  We bathed in a wash tub and guarded the secret of our residency; the shed was so bad that we feared the county health department would show up and evict us...and perhaps place us children in foster homes.  I know for a fact that my mom feared this possibility above all.  I once wrote a story called "Mrs. Norman and the Water Biscuits" that related of a time when a miraculous event indeed saved us from that very fate.

"Home": I don't believe I've heard too many words more dear to the heart.  The word incorporates all of the warm memories of family love, of shared experiences, both good and bad, of that first place that is the center of your world.  Home is that place that provides shelter and unconditional love for you while you are preparing to venture out into an uncertain world.  Once you do take those first tentative steps to the world outside it is that lovely ache in your heart as you take that last long look over your shoulder toward "home"

I first left home when I went into the Air Force.  I can still remember the initial stages of leaving; an excitement about new adventures, followed by anxiety and uncertainty as I took those first independent meanderings into my new world.  In my new environs I was fortunate that that my mom provided sufficient guidance to stand on my own.  I would never have guessed that on that September night in 1967 I was leaving my home and would spend the next twenty-two years serving in varied locales as much as ten thousand miles from that small town I left so many years ago.

On many occasions during my career I said goodbye to the home I made with my wife.  On at least three occasions I hugged and kissed my babies at Christmas time, knowing many seasons would turn before I saw them again. 

How does one survive that?  You learn to live with memories.  You take long walks through the back of your mind to so clearly imagine "home" that you can mentally walk through every room in that house back home.  You can imagine your wife sleeping in the bed too large for one.   If you try hard enough you can call back the last touch, the last hug and kiss from a child.  You can "re-wind" that old memory tape and play back a game of Daddy Horsey or Red Light Green Light, or just watching an old Disney film together.  You can remember, and laugh, when you recall the kid's reaction to your superficial enthusiasm for a "Nova" documentary instead of "The Muppet Movie".

I'm home for good now, but it is not the home of my childhood...or the homes I made for my wife and babies.  The children have homes of their own which I pray will be as warm and as reaffirming as mine were.

I sometimes wonder, in the era of I-Phones and GPS and Mobile gaming and social networking, if home is as sacred to the younger generation.  When those today, who carry around in their hand, more technology than the Lunar Lander had, do they feel the need for love, shelter from the world and feel the sacred nature of "home".

I wonder.

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