Home place

These days I tell lots of stories about my home town. I think that I had a good time growing up in that community. If I am honest, however, I have to admit that from my early teen years, I invested a lot of energy in thinking and dreaming about how I would get out of that town. I never really had a vision of staying there. I had options for doing just that. My father would have worked hard to make room for me in his business and for me to one day take over for him, but that wasn’t my interest and he never pressured me. When I was 14, I spent the summer on my cousin’s and uncle’s ranches, 200 miles from home. It was an even smaller town, but it was an opportunity to get away from home. I repeated the process the next summer. When I was seventeen, I went to college 80 miles from home in the state’s largest city. I spent a few summers in my home town, but never lived there for longer than three months after I headed for college.

I retained my sense of home state for the four years we lived in Chicago. I thought of myself as a Montanan who was temporarily living in Chicago. We went home the first two summers and managed our church camp just up the river from the home of my birth and growing up years. There was, however, no job for us in Montana when we graduated from seminary. We received a call to serve in North Dakota. We stayed in North Dakota for seven years. It is the state where our children were born. I had more of a sense of belonging to that place. Although I would still refer to Montana as my home at times, I also referred to North Dakota as home. I remember distinctly a trip that I made to New York City, where I announced proudly at all of the meetings that I was from North Dakota. Although she lived in Montana for her school years, my wife was born in North Dakota. My father also was born in North Dakota. There were good reasons to claim that state as home. We loved the people and the community where we lived.

We stayed in Idaho for a decade. I think that both of our children developed quite a sense of belonging to that state. Our son lived there from age 4 to 14 and when we moved to South Dakota thought of Boise as home for quite a while. He was quick to move from South Dakota, going to college in Forest Grove, Oregon and then to graduate school in North Carolina. From there he moved to Washington, a state he has called home ever since. Our daughter was a bit slower to leave South Dakota, going to college in Wyoming and then Montana before returning to South Dakota for a while. She served a short term as a nanny in New Jersey and then returned to South Dakota again. Then, when she left, she really left, moving to England from there to Missouri and now lives in Japan.

I’ve been thinking about home and what home has to do with our identity. My wife and I have both lived in South Dakota and in this particular house in South Dakota longer than we have lived any other place in our lives. This is our 25th winter in this house. Today we will spend the entire day at home with a blizzard raging outside and travel limited. I could put the chains on the pickup and venture out, but I have no particular reason to do so. We are very comfortable in our home. We’ve weathered a lot of blizzards in this place. We know what to do if the electricity goes out. We have plenty of food. Yesterday I was in town for a little while. The roads were very slippery with freezing drizzle making getting around challenging. I stopped to talk to a friend through the windows of our cars and had to back down a block or so to get enough traction and momentum to make it up the hill. As soon as I had done the essential business of my day, I was back in my car and heading home. It felt good to get back home. The slippery roads didn’t matter when I didn’t need to go anyplace. I heard about and saw pictures of lots of cars in the ditch and lots of problems for the wreckers and felt blessed to be able to just be a home.

But this home will not be mine forever. We humans don’t go on forever. I watched the previous generation struggle with the sense of home. Both my mother and Susan’s father came to live in our town at the end of their lives. Susan’s parents stayed in their home as long as they could - all the way to the end of her mother’s life. That home became a bit of a burden for her father and he never did succeed in the process of cleaning it out and dealing with the possessions they had accumulated. That job was left to their daughters. My mother made a move to live near my sister when she was still healthy and active. She succeeded in emptying our family home. My brother was the next resident of that house. She did, however, keep her summer place. It worked well for her to spend a few months there every year for a while. That place remains in the family and there is still some sorting that needs to be done there.

We think it would be best for us to move from this house while we have our health and energy to deal with our accumulation of things. We’d like to be the ones to do the sorting and downsizing. It seems like a challenge at the moment.

So where will our next home be? That is yet to be discovered. I assume that the building will be smaller. I think it will be closer to the home of our son and his family. Whatever happens, I can no longer think of home as a single place. I’ve had many homes in many states. In a sense I belong to all of them.

The next time I am asked, “Where are you from?” I’ll have to think a bit before giving an answer. It hasn’t been a place, but rather a journey.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!