Home is not what it used to be. My husband and I are preparing for a road trip home to North Dakota, but we’re actually feeling kind of homeless.
My home is a farm in North Dakota, in a house built by my great-grandfather over one-hundred years ago. I spent my entire childhood there, from newborn through high school and beyond. The house is empty now, most of the time. My widowed mother has moved on. I’m thankful my nephew and his wife are using it on weekends and for headquarters during the planting and harvesting season, and hosting family gatherings there, thus preventing it from deterioration and collapse. But it’s not my home in the way it used to be, because my mom, the woman of the house for over sixty years, no longer lives there.
On this trip we’ll visit my brother and stay at his house across the horse pasture from my old home. That will be strange and disorienting, but I’ll make my way through the pasture to my old house, and walk through it, reminiscing. I’ll sit on the deck for awhile and look down at the spot in the trees where we had so many picnics and wiener roasts with relatives and friends. I’ll think about the enormous garden we used to have, about a quarter of a football field, and the rows of green beans I hoed, and the time my dad planted three of those long, long rows with zucchini seeds. We had enough zucchini to feed the county. And so did everybody else. As we’d be driving to town with a few bushel baskets of zucchini to give away, we’d meet people on their way to give us some of theirs.
My husband is also about to experience homelessness. His mother moved on as well, after my father-in-law died, and recently sold the home my husband lived in for most of his childhood. We’ve returned to that house as a married couple year after year, and I know it almost as well as I know my own. Now that the house is sold, we’ll spend several days preparing for the auction of the remaining household items, then turn the keys over to the new owner, and my husband will never be able set foot inside his home again.
Both of these scenarios seem deathlike to us, because they are, and we will grieve. Beyond grieving about a physical dwelling, though, we’re grieving the people and the experiences and the security that now live only in our memories. It’s an orphaned, rootless feeling.
If I could live at home again, I’d spend a lot more time appreciating the panoramic view of trees and fields at the back of the house, green in summer, gold and yellow in the fall, brown and white in the winter. I’d keep the windows wide open at night so I could hear the crickets and the comforting clank of the hog feeder, and be enthralled by the lush, glorious birdsong of meadowlarks, robins and house sparrows on summer mornings, like a hymn. I’d go out at night and look at the stars, unobscured by city lights. I’d watch for the majestic northern lights, which I’ve seen only once, and made me imagine a thousand xylophones playing all at once. I’d fill every room of the house with the purple lilacs that bloomed on two huge bushes in the yard (I’m on a hunt for lilac perfume). I’d once more be relieved and excited in that changeable time at the end of winter when there’s still a little snow on the ground, and the wind still chills your bones, and my dad would announce at supper that he’d seen the first crocus of spring in the pasture, bravely pushing its head out through the thawed and refrozen crust of snow. “Spring has sprung!” he’d say. Oh joy!
So we’re sad to be going home to what doesn’t feel so much like home anymore. But come to think of it, when we cross the border into our home state, we’ll be drowning in familiarity. We’ll drink in the wide open spaces, the endless sky, the rolling fields of grain, the hay bales dotting the ditches, and the sweet, delicious smell of alfalfa (I’d take that as perfume, too). We’ll hope for at least one storm with bone-rattling thunder and hissing lightning and pounding rain, and when it comes it’ll feel just like old times.
We’ll be home.