Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Makes A House A Home?

What makes a house a home? Webster's has many definitions for the word "home": " a place where one lives" is one. The one that I feel fits best is: "a place where one likes to be; place thought of as the center of one's affections; restful or congenial place".
I've lived in many houses in my lifetime; some rented, some owned. Ownership didn't always translate "house" into "home" for me. Some were just places to live and, when I think of them, no affection for those structures comes to mind. But there were those few that still evoke memories and impressions I hold dear.
The first was an apartment in St. Louis. We moved from there when I was only six, but vivid images of that second story home still exist. It was a brick structure at the bottom of a steep hill, and it had an enclosed staircase to our door. I remember how our dog, Rusty, resisted going all the way down those stairs when he saw snow outside. A screened back porch was where I played on warm days, holding tea parties for my dolls; my mother was always an invited guest to those. The basement was a forbidden, yet fun place to explore, and the backyard was where my friends and I invented a myriad of games and fantasies. Unique memories include the pride I felt when, foot perched on my mother's vanity bench, I learned to tie my own shoe for the first time, as well as the embarassment I endured when I locked myself in the bathroom and my dad had to climb a ladder to the window to rescue me.
My parents didn't own a house until I was in my teens. Their pride at ownership was infectious, and my room in that house is a haven of adolescent memories. The two bedroom, two bath concrete block dwelling was a palace to us; brand-new and devoid of landscaping. My parents continued to live in that home for over twenty-five years. They created gardens and added rooms, making every inch of space feel like home. When they sold it, they were able to build their ultimate dream home on a lake, a home they enjoyed the rest of their lives.
I had such a home while our children were growing up. Married over ten years at the time, my husband and I had already been homeowners once, but that place never felt like a home. We had tried to transform rooms into havens but without success. But, the day we came to look at a one-story ranch in a middle class suburb of Orlando, we instantly knew we had discovered a special place. It needed TLC but we knew just what to do, with paint, wallpaper and lots of yard work. Of course, that kind of toil is done to any house you hope to live in for awhile; that isn't what makes it a home. A home is born when every room is used to the fullest, when every nook holds a treasure that evokes a memory, where even strangers coming to visit feel instant warmth and welcome. We've always loved the English tradition of naming a house; we called ours "Ainswick West" after an estate in an Agatha Christie play I acted in. In our 18 years of residence there, our children grew from tots to adults, and we grew as a family. The Christmases celebrated, the milestones we experienced, the parties enjoyed by friends and family, the pets who shared the space with us, and so much more will never be erased in our minds. We never failed to feel comfortable when we stepped through the door, or padded along the hardwood floors to sneak a midnight snack, or surveyed all the things we did to turn that ordinary structure into our family's sanctuary.
Once our children were grown, we still had a house dream. By then, we had moved to a small, historical town in Virginia, and realized that dream by buying an old two-story house. Our name for this one was "Red Lion Manor", evoking the name of a cottage we stayed in in England. Again we transformed it to truly make it a dream come true and, once again, every room became a memory place. The dining room was used on a daily basis, the huge kitchen was the gathering place for food and conversation as well, the living room wasn't a showplace, although it was magnificent to look at with its old gilded fireplace and high windows; it was a room for family to read in or relax or wecome company. Wedding celebrations for our children were held there, there was a front porch swing where we sat every day, and our yard was a playground for our two young grandsons; they discovered the fun of fall leaves there. We only spent five years there because of economic changes, but it will be always be a memory home.
A week ago, my husband and I moved into a charming 1930's bunalow in the suburbs of Chicago, and we are experiencing that "coming home" feeling once again. Since returning to our Midwest roots 4-1/2 years ago, we have been searching for a place to call our own. The funny thing is, we don't own this one; we're renting. But we have finally found understanding landlords who are willing to let us stay here as long as we want, something we were hoping for. This place is just the right size for our needs, the layout is perfect, the yard is cared for and shaded by mature trees, and we are living our final house fancy. We found the house by accident, driving down the street in search of a main road, and the moment we saw it, I had that same feeling I experienced over thirty years ago in Orlando; this was meant to be ours. And, as we unpack and hang pictures, and pick out paint colors, I can imagine what the years to come will be like here. Children and grandchildren are a part of those images, quiet times spent with my mate of 43 years, time spent writing as I look out my perfectly placed study window at the seasonal landscape changes.
Many years have passed, many domiciles have been experienced, but the few homes I've had the pleasure to inhabit have made my life richer and my heart stronger. I can already see that this place, which we've named "Bogart's Bungalow", is going to be one of those homes.

NOTE: Having been busy with our move, as well as having no internet connection, my blog has suffered some downtime. I apologize for that, and promise consistent entries from here on.