My parents retired from their professional careers in 1994. They took a year to fix up their suburban New York house, sell it and move to California. This was the house in which I grew up. We moved out of a fourth floor walkup in the Bronx and into this brand new home in Rockland County when I was six years old. Except for four years in college and a stint in graduate school, I lived there until I was well past the age of thirty. For all that time, the downstairs family room had my mother’s framed embroidery displayed proudly on the wall: “To know how sweet a home may be, just lock the door but keep the key.”
By the mid-nineties, my sisters were both married and had moved west to Silicon Valley with their engineer husbands. They started having babies and my parents decided they wanted to be a part of the lives of their grandchildren.
When they retired, I happened to be working in the composition room of a publisher of dozens of local real estate magazines. You know, the ones with all the pictures of houses and the highly abbreviated captions: 4 BR, 2½ BA, EIK, FDR, motivated seller!
I felt a pang in my heart the day I saw a grainy black and white photo of my childhood home in one of our paper bound books that had just come hot off the press.
And that’s when I decided to quit my job and move to California, too.
I camped out on my sister’s couch for about four months until she kicked me out. Then I moved in with my other sister. Turned out Silicon Valley was not exactly the Promised Land for those of us without engineering degrees.
My parents had placed all their belongings in storage. They were living in a hotel while they looked at houses all over the Central Valley. Should they buy an existing house or have one custom built the way they did thirty years earlier? “We’re homeless!” they told me.
I hadn’t thought about this story in years, but it came back to me a couple of months ago when I learned that I’d be laid off from my job and that we’d have to relocate. One of my employees asked me whether my wife and I were going to “move back home.”
Like my parents twenty years ago, my first thought was “We’re homeless!”
But instead I carefully chose my words and said “there really isn’t any place that I could honestly call home.”
We moved to the desert from Fresno more than three years ago, but we certainly weren’t going back there. In any event, we lived there for only four years, so I wouldn’t consider it home by any means. Before that we were in Modesto, which is where my wife and I were married. As a single guy, I moved all around New England and back and forth to New York.
My wife and I had an interesting discussion about this. “I guess I would call California home,” she told me. This makes sense, as she was born here in the Golden State and has never lived anywhere else.
Does this mean that I should call New York home? Michelle W’s Daily Prompt post asked “when you’re away from home, what person, thing or place do you miss the most?” Thus, to answer my own question, I would need to decide whether there is any person, thing or place that I miss in New York. I can honestly say that there is not.
I haven’t seen my childhood home in 18 years now, although I can mentally map every inch of it. But I wouldn’t want to go back there. A few years ago, I found a picture of it on Google Maps’ Street View. I didn’t even recognize it. It had been painted a different color and tall trees had been planted in front. I had to check twice to make sure it was the same place I had lived in for three decades.
I have no desire to return to that locale, which is a good thing, because my memories no longer jibe with reality. As they say, you can’t go home again.
Did I say home? Maybe New York really is my home. I have few relatives on the east coast and therefore have little incentive to visit. It’s been so many years since I’ve been back there. I keep telling myself that one day I will go back, if only to show the old stomping grounds to my wife. And it is with dread in my heart that I know the day is likely to come when I will have to return for a funeral.
We have a family plot in that colossal cemetery that goes on for miles out by LaGuardia Airport in Queens. Do those graves mean that this my real home? I remember the Hebrew and English names carved so carefully into the granite and how we always left little pebbles atop the polished headstones, as if to say “we were here.”
So, at least for today, I would have to say, as my wife does, that California is my home. It’s where I hang my hat. It’s what my driver’s license says and where I get my mail. But in a real sense, I am “in California” but not “of California.” On the other hand, I hail from New York but have no longer have any current ties there.
I am reminded of the abandoned dog who shows up unwelcomed on a stranger’s front porch. The owner steps out the front door and claps his hands to chase the dog away. “Go home!”
And where exactly would that be?