For me, home is a journey
How many houses have you lived in throughout your lifetime? As for me, I couldn’t even begin the count. I know that before I was able to hold things in memory, my family of six piled into a sedan and drove from Indiana to California in the mistaken belief that plentiful jobs were available out there. I can’t even imagine the agony my parents must have faced in making the decision to drive all the way back to the Midwest with those four hungry children under seven years of age.
I remember little of the next houses we occupied in South Bend, except that one was just two blocks from a library branch. Although I never was a reader (learning 50 years later that it is a physical defect that interferes with my reading ability), I spent hours at the library looking at three-dimensional pictures through a special nonmechanical viewing device called a stereopticon. I especially loved looking at the Taj Mahal, which I will see in person next month.
After that, my family bought an apartment building. There were four units, and we all crowded into one of them. Over several years, my creative dad refashioned all into various shapes and sizes, which became five highly rentable units and a two-story home for his family.
I still remember the day a noisy power drill came into our home to cut a big hole in the floor. That allowed a stairway to the basement, where there was gobs of room to provide a large recreation room (or “wreck room” as we called it) where the ping pong table didn’t even use up all the space, a bathroom, bedroom for my only brother and a great big bedroom for us three sisters. I also remember the day in 1939 when my mother came into that room to wake us up and share the horrible news that the Germans had invaded Poland, motherland to both my parents.
That huge basement living space proved a wonderful place to spend our time during the wartime blackouts, when we had to douse all above-ground lights and hang black curtains over our basement windows so enemies wouldn’t be able to identify cities if they ever flew across the oceans to invade our country.
With both of my parents working hard at their jobs throughout the years, we eventually moved to a finer home across from a country club, where we actually became members. But it was the home and yard, not the club, I chose for my wedding reception. The home had been built for a renowned musician of Notre Dame University. Some 50 years later, as I waited to be picked up after a conference in Milwaukee, I struck up a conversation with the only other person waiting to make connections. We learned that not only had we both started out in South Bend, but as her father was the great musician, we had both lived in the same house! Several homes sustained us throughout the 28 years of our marriage, and one of my biggest surprises was to be the only one left to manage the monumental task of emptying and selling off our final home where we’d resided for nearly 20 years. It had to be done as I was heading off to live in China for a while.
There I shared one side of a duplex with a young British teacher, Sally. As revered foreign teachers, we enjoyed uncommon luxuries such as a refrigerator (about 4 feet high) and a clothes washer with an agitator but no spinner or wringer. One filled this modern miracle of a machine with a hose from the kitchen sink and emptied it with another hose to the floor drain. If one chose warmer water, it meant filling your largest pan to heat on the stove.
During my second year in China, I lived in apartments among a few other foreign teachers, and we usually took turns preparing a nice noontime meal to share. Unforgettable is the day young Peter was the cook for the first time. Oh, how he had shopped and chopped and created a sumptuous casserole, and then dropped the whole thing on the way to the dining room table. Food scraped off the concrete floor never tasted so wonderful.
Though smoking was nearly universal among Chinese students, I never allowed it inside my apartment. Thus I was astounded and infuriated one day while conducting class in my home, where I could assign groups to different rooms. After working with the foursome in my bedroom, I entered the dining room. “But, Miss Joan,” came the student’s response to my dismay, “I had to smoke! Your assignment was to play the role of the father, and the father always smokes!”
After uncountable moves since China, I’ve been in my Sonoma residence for six years now – the longest I’ve been anywhere since 1981. Keep wondering where my next home might be.