Where is Home?

“How long are you home for?”

I’ve heard this question many times, every year, sometimes several times a year, for decades.

It always causes me to pause, to wonder.

house in snow(1)I grew up on an island in the far north of the UK. On it, we had the most northerly house, beach and post office. We had long summer days, and non-existent nights. In the winter, darkness came with us to school. It crept in through the windows before the last bell of the school day and met us at the doorway as we headed home.

I grew up on an island in the Atlantic. On Sundays, we traipsed westward through heathery hills, carrying bags filled with sandwiches and thermos flasks, along paths forged by sheep. We passed through a green valley to the rocky beach where, over a century before, our ancestors had fished the dangerous waters in boats that were far too small for the purpose.

Men died trying to make a living from the sea.

Women died in childbirth. Children died from coughing blood, from wasting away.

We climbed the steep slopes from the valley, slopes where our ancestors had grown hay, cabbage, potatoes and turnips. The land still bore the scars of their toils: the straight lines of furrows dug in the steep hillsides, but long since gone fallow. The stones of their houses had been beaten by the wind, and were sliding back into the land they came from. The air still carried the sounds of our ancestors’ cries, echoing through the seagulls’ wail, whistling down the valleys as my father told their stories.

As he spoke, I saw families trudging through the hillsides, carrying their few possessions with them, leaving these hills forever. Their landlord wanted the hills for sheep to graze on, and the tenants had to leave.

Our great-great-grandmother was heavily pregnant when she walked for miles through the moors to sleep in someone else’s barn. Our great-grandmother was a toddler, trudging along beside her. Our great-great-grandfather tied up his fishing boat and followed them, helping his elderly mother climb the steep slopes.

I grew up on an island in the North Sea. At the top of the island, where Britain’s most northerly lighthouse flashes its warnings to passing ships, the waters of the Atlantic wash against those of the North Sea. With no ceremony or salute, their waves break into each other, merging into one. Waves that lap the shores of Newfoundland in Canada, swirl past Greenland on their way to Shetland and keep going until they splash into Norway’s fiords.

And on these visits to the island where I grew up, I am reminded both of the continuousness of life, and of its frailty. My father, who told the stories of our ancestors, joined them over two years ago. The house where he was born, and where I grew up, is visible from his grave with its red roses: plastic roses to withstand the hurricane force winds that blast the island several times each winter.

Those winds are blowing now as I write, whistling around the sloping ceilings of my old bedroom. Memories blow in with the wind, and blow away again. Memories of lying awake in my grandparents’ spare room, hearing the wind howl. It must have howled round this house then too, but I don’t remember it.

Memories too of playing hide and seek in cornfields, climbing our wind-blasted tree, playing follow the leader along the top of dry-stone dykes. Of sitting by the coal fire, watching flames dance and leap.

I left the islands when I was nineteen, and it’s unlikely I will ever live here again. I sit on the ferry from one island to another and I remember my student days, coming home, feeling grown-up, cool, bringing innovation. Those days are gone, and returning reminds me (as if I needed reminding) that I am no longer young. Returning also reminds me my father is gone, in a way that feels more final somehow. His absence is more obvious than when I am not here, when I phone or Skype. His absence is everywhere here. In his shed, in an empty chair, in the car he used to drive that now waits for visits from my sisters or me.

Life is frail. Life in the smaller sense, the lives of individuals.

Yet, this island also reminds me of life in its bigger sense; in the valleys and the hills, I feel ancestors around me, can almost see them walking through their lives centuries ago. We help clear up my aunt’s old house and find a velvet suit stacked with bags of old sheets in a disused room. She remembers it belonged to her great-aunt, is probably a hundred years old.

Life goes on, will always go on.

And I wonder again, where is home? Is it where I grew up, where I feel some sense of roots, even though I know I will never live here again? Or is it where I live now? Is it where we might move to in a few years time?

Or is it somewhere else?snow & sun

As write I realise home isn’t any place. It’s within me. It’s being fully alive. I take home with me, wherever I go.

So the answer to that question, “How long are you home for?” is – always.

I’m always home.

 

Comments

  1. hey ,that was really amazing post. whatever you have written is absolute truth. i lost my dad when i was studying 8th grade. i din’t cry though everyone was crying,some people felt i don’t like my dad. actually am the closest one to my dad being youngest in my family, i felt happy when he died coz being honest and upright government official and a good human will make your life too stressful and you have to go through a lot all your life.finally he has found some peace far away from all these excessive responsibilities and i was ready to take his role as responsible son.

    when you love someone ,you will expect only good things for them whether its death or survival. but after his departure,life is not same.whenever a festival came every year,the whole hearted celebration was missing coz family is incomplete with his absence. after some time, you may go ahead with life but that magnitude of happiness will never return. our home is just memories that will stay with us forever and we can never bring back that happiness again.

    am not a stalker or some bad guy or some bully.you need not worry about my comments.

    1. Author

      Hi Alex, thanks very much for your comment and for adding your perspective. It sounds as if you cared very deeply for your father to the extent you considered his death from his perspective instead of your own. And I agree with what you wrote about feeing the family is incomplete. There is a gap, a sense of something missing when your father has gone. Yet, yes, awareness too that they are at peace.

      Thanks too for letting me know you aren’t a stalker! 🙂 I hadn’t been worried about your comments, but with being away I hadn’t had time to reply to your comment on my other post.

  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post about home, your family and ancestors. I really enjoyed reading about the island on which you grew up, and especially your thoughts about home. i agree with you. Home is definitely a feeling. You can feel at home anywhere – or not, even in places that may be considered “home”. It is important to appreciate and cultivate the feeling within.

    1. Author

      Norah, so glad to read you enjoyed reading about the island and my thoughts about home. I wasn’t sure if this post would resonate with others or seem too personal, but it seems people can relate, so the feedback is good!

      And yes, it’s important to cultivate the feeling within, I agree.
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Oh Yvonne, that was the most beautiful and powerful read. I am in awe of the history you shared so eloquently, and the detailed descriptions that sucked me in through every word you used to paint this profound portrait.

    This is a gift. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Home truly is a state of mind. For me – it’s also dependent on family. Where they are is my home.

    1. Author

      Liv, that’s interesting that home is also dependent on family for you. That’s definitely a strong pull – I have family living in the place where I grew up, and strong ancestral ties. My daughters feel this pull too. My husband’s family moved around a lot and the girls don’t have the same feeling about where his parents lived, because it never felt like their “home.”

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Wow. Yvonne. This was an unexpected surprise read, as in I just happened to click on your link from another’s post, from a comment you left there, but I am so glad I did.
    🙂
    I would love to write a novel based loosely on my family history in Europe, and this just gave me the inspirational push I needed to do it.
    I ask that question often, about where is home, as I live in the town I grew up in, to be near family, but I sometimes dream of picking up and just leaving, to live somewhere else. At the same time, I imagine often what my grandparent’s life was like before they came to Canada, and their parents before them.
    I like that part about the North Sea and Atlantic meeting, flowing past Newfoundland and Greenland. That just shows that we are truly all connected, you and e, from the UK to Canada, and beyond.
    Thank you for sharing this lovely piece of writing. Sharing, definitely sharing.

    1. Author

      Thanks Kerry, and good luck with your novel. It sounds an intriguing idea.
      And yes, I often think about how the ocean is a symbol for how we are all connected – and have thought about it since I was a kid looking for America across the water!
      Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. I had the same thought a while back – home isn’t a place it’s a feeling, a sense of being. Beautifully expressed.

  7. This is so beautiful Yvonne and so full of purpose and truth. Home is with us in every place, although it doesn’t often feel like that’s the case. I wonder now as your kids are older and you ask them how long they’re home for, what they feel, too. I love the imagery on your early days, how women died in childbirth and children died. It’s such a different world that way but thinking about home brings back memories and stories from before us, which is also home, in a way, I suppose.

    1. Author

      Thanks Kristi. When we go back to where I grew up, people already ask my kids how long we are home, but as yet it hasn’t come up with “actual home.” Although our elder girl started university, we have one of the top 30 universities in the world in our city, so seemed a bit pointless for her to leave home! In four or five years, when both girls will be through university, that will probably all change. I know many parents can’t wait to get rid of their kids, but I’m glad ours are still here, for now.

      And yes, it’s definitely a very different world nowadays. I often think that if I’d been born a hundred years earlier I would probably have been a “died in childbirth” statistic because it all got quite dramatic. You too maybe? And yes, the stories from the past are probably part of home for us. It’s about what’s familiar and comfortable I suppose.
      Thanks for your comment.

  8. As always, Yvonne, this is so beautiful and evocative. You express so much of what I think, too (I think we’re on a similar wavelength with this prompt). The imagery and stories you share here are just gorgeous and so real. Home is most definitely so many places and things, but I totally agree that more than anything it is something internal, something we feel.

I love getting comments and reply to every one. Tell the world (and me) what you think!