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A place to call home July 20, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, family, history, journey, learn, life.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A photo from the family archives: I’m in the red snowflake hat.

“Where’s your home?” It seems a simple question. I first heard it from a man who lived in a L’Arche community.

I’ve had lots of homes. I grew up in my parents’ home, built just before I was born. I lived there for 21 years (not including time away at university). They are still living there, although my two brothers and I have moved away.

Then I moved. Three apartments in Saint John, one in Woodstock, then Oshawa, Newcastle and Orono. A house in Port Britain, then an apartment in Cobourg. We are now on our third apartment in Toronto, the best place yet.


Our current home in Toronto.

“Where’s your home?” It’s where my heart is, where my partner is, where my stuff, my memorabilia, my computer… where I can be myself. But that’s not a place so much as an idea. It’s wherever I happen to be living at the moment.

If there was one place I could call home, one place that I’m rooted in, no matter where I roam, I would have to say Saint John, where I grew up. I’ve lived in Ontario for nearly 20 years, but it’s not really my home. When people ask, I tell them I live in Toronto, but I almost always add: I’m not from here; I’m a Maritimer. Some part of my heart will always be in that rocky sea-and-forest landscape that I associate with my childhood.

Saint John 1

Saint John from the air.

One of the Maritime themes is that of people leaving — for Toronto, Calgary, other places — in order to find better jobs, better opportunities, a better life. Yet there’s a second half to that story: a lot of Maritimers come home again, or at least they yearn to return.

I left that “home” a long time ago. I’ve heard people say “you can’t go home again”. But is it true? Or is it just that everything changes, that home is never the same again?

The people I grew up with have moved away or moved on with their lives. The paths I used to walk, the stores I used to visit are gone, overgrown or redeveloped. What I think of as “home” is a place in time, so in that sense, I can’t go home. I can’t go back.

And the fact is, I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be an awkward teenager again, or return to that stage of my life when I was just beginning to discover my interests and develop a sense of myself. I like who I’ve become, my work and friends, being able to make my own way in the world.

Yet there’s something else, some part of me that feels cut off, adrift. I felt that most keenly during my most recent visit, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I was surprised to see how many people I recognized, and how many people knew me and greeted me, not as a former acquaintance, but as family. Until then, I had only thought of home as geography, a mix of woods and houses, the cool blanket of fog drifting in off the coast, the steep road we bicycled to reach the blueberry patch under the power lines…

So where is my home? Is it really a place full of memories, the childhood I’ve left behind?

I wonder if there’s more to that place than I had counted on, as if there’s a future as well as a past. How would it feel for me, the confident grown-up me, to return to this place that still pulls at my heart? Maybe all these years I’ve been living in exile, and it’s time to go home.

Where’s your home?

empty benches

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1. lavenderbay - July 20, 2008

Two disjointed thoughts:
1. Isn’t the sense of exile, from a home we don’t even remember, at the root of most religious longing?
2. If you wish to “go home again”, I would bet that Saint John will be all the readier to accept the changed you inasmuch as you can accept the changed it.
(Profound thoughts, poor verbiage. 🙂 )

2. jamesviscosi - July 20, 2008

My wife and I have lived in California for six years now, but we are and always will be New Yorkers.

3. eyegillian - July 20, 2008

Your thoughts — profound or not — are always welcome, lavenderbay! It is interesting to compare the spiritual idea of a “heavenly home” with the real connection you can experience, not only with family, but with a geographical location, an earthly home. And regarding Saint John, it’s not the changed city that I would be worried about accepting me, but the inhabitants who’ve not changed along with it.

So do you always claim your New Yorkness when people ask where you’re from, jamesviscosi? I’ll bet there are times that California feels like a different planet!

4. goodbear - July 20, 2008

my short answer is always “home is where my dog is…” but, i know that’s just my short answer.

i, like james, will always call new york home. i’d be a punk not to. new york state: learned to drive on the country roads, first kiss, first rebellion from family, colorful childhood experiences, ….roots. it’s like my stupid little plant that dies every winter. water it twice in the spring and it grows again. you can’t get rid of the roots.

i thank you for writing this post because it was so thought provoking. my home is where my true family is: the family who may not actually be related to me, but who CHOSE to make me family. many of them are in new york, and now, after a few years….some of them are here in my new, quirky town.

5. eyegillian - July 21, 2008

goodbear, you are right, this is all about roots. Your plant is a perfect metaphor for this feeling, this place full of memory and baggage that won’t wither away, that will continue to feed and/or frustrate you! I remembered when I read your comment that a term used to describe refugees and undocumented migrants is “uprooted peoples”. These days I suppose we are all uprooted, in one way or another; we certainly don’t work in the same jobs and live and die in our hometowns the way previous generations did!

And hurrah that you have found/created new family where you live now. It’s our chosen families that help to keep us sane and connected, that counteract the cold individualism of a society constantly on the move.

6. Alyson - July 22, 2008

I have lived in this village, Murrumbateman, going on 4 years. It is 30 kilometres away from the city I was born in, but I feel more at home here than I ever did in Canberra. With 38 years experience of intuition, I have found a new ‘family’ here because it is small enough to know everyone if you can be bothered, and isolated enough to necessitate seeking help locally. I’m surprised when I meet people who feel lonely here, but I understand now it’s all about the effort we make to give yourself to a place or be a part of a place. Crikey, who spiked my wine?

7. themarvelousinnature - July 22, 2008

When I was 5, my parents renovated their kitchen, and wallpapered the walls in a country-ish theme. The wallpaper border they put up had a phrase along it that said, “A house is a home where love dwells.” It seemed to me that the nouns had been switched by the designer and it really should have been “A home is a house where love dwells”, but the sentiment remained and I thought it accurate. That wallpaper was finally taken down a few years ago, after about 20 years adorning the kitchen walls.

And you know what Bon Jovi says…

“I spent 20 years trying to get out of this place
I was looking for something I couldn’t replace
I was running away from the only thing I’ve ever known

Who says you can’t go home
There’s only one place they call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy, born a rolling stone, who says you can’t go home

You take the home from the boy, but not the boy from his home
These are my streets, the only life I’ve ever known,
who says you can’t go home”

8. eyegillian - July 22, 2008

It sounds like you prefer village life to city life, Alyson; Murrumbateman sounds like a lovely place to live! (I love the sound of what (to me) are unusual place names, and Canada is rich with them as well, for example: Shubenacadie, Conception Bay, St-Louis-de-Ha!Ha!, Armpit, Claude…).

I find myself smiling when you describe a distance of 30 km from the city as being “isolated”… in this part of Canada, many people’s daily commute can be 50 km or more… each way. I’m currently living nearly 1500 km and two provinces away from the city where I was born. I guess this is a sign of how well the car culture is entrenched in North America!

And thanks for that Bon Jovi song, themarvelousinnature! I don’t think I know that one, but I’ll see if I can catch a riff on itunes. And love does make a home, but I also think (and this may be a sign of middle age) that there’s a settledness implicit in the feeling of home, a sense of security and freedom to be your true self. But I guess that’s a gift of love as well.

9. lavenderbay - July 22, 2008

Conception Bay is just before Placentia Bay, isn’t it? I hear the postpartum blues of their skies are a real hit with the tourists.

10. paula - July 22, 2008

Having travelled all over the Far East as a child and teenager I’ve always felt slight rootless but never ever homeless. I had a romanticised view of ‘belonging’ and looked at folk in awe when they told me generations of their family have lived in the same county, village, house for the last 300/400 hundred years. I’ve always wondered about that feeling of growing out of the fabric of the place you live and call home.
But I guess anywhere I light a fire and cook for the people I love is home. However somehow I developed a strategy without realising it – to make sure I tie myself down and let my roots grow I surround myself with obstacles to keep me there – a farm with animals!

11. Alyson - July 22, 2008

LOL Lavenderbay! Are you both pulling my leg? Are they really places? I love Shubenacadie, but Armpit? And St-Louis-de-Ha-Ha?? No….seriously??

You’re right – it’s not a far commute and SH does it daily. I remember seeing in ‘Everybody loves Raymond’ that Ray had a map and circled the area they should move to because ‘it’s far enough away to prevent the parents dropping by, but close enough not to warrant an overnight stay!’ 30 kilometres is perfect!

12. lavenderbay - July 22, 2008

Well, I was making up the sky colour, Alyson, but Conception Bay and Placentia Bay are both in southeastern Newfoundland. Placentia Bay is southwest of St. John’s, the provincial capital, and Conception Bay is just northwest of St. John’s.
BTW, The Canadian newsmagazine Maclean’s has regularly found Newfoundlanders to be at the top of the list in their annual province-by-province poll when it comes to… er, um… marital bliss, shall we say. It all works.

13. eyegillian - July 22, 2008

With all that travelling in the east, I imagine coming “home” would have been linked with a strong emotion on seeing the English countryside again, Paula. Since both my parents are immigrants, I sometimes feel a bit jealous when friends tell me about the generations of family (and history) they have in a particular geographical location. On the other hand, knowing how to make a home, create a family and grow roots is a really useful survival tool. And I agree about the animals… now that we have a cat and two dogs!

Regarding place names, I er, um… I have to issue a retraction on the reference to Armpit. A coworker googled it the other day and told me it was a real place, but on checking I find it’s just a colloquial term, as in “Armpit, Saskatchewan”. Apparently, it’s also known as East Armpit, Left Armpit, and Gnat’s Armpit.

St.Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, however, is a real town in Quebec, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the possible origins of that name:
“There is much speculation as to what the “Ha! Ha!” refers to. The commission de toponymie asserts that it refers to nearby Lake TĂ©miscouata, the sense of haha here being an archaic French word for an unexpected obstacle or abruptly ending path. The Louis may refer to Louis Marquis, one of the first colonists of the region”

14. Jack's Mom - September 14, 2008

Missing you. Write some more please.

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17. Ana Paula Andreolla - May 21, 2009

I’m sorry, my english is not very good, but…
First, I have to say that I loved the post.
My name is Ana Paula, I live in Brazil, and I really want to move to Toronto. Looking for an apartmant there, I found this blog.

18. stefanansorge - August 6, 2009

Thanks for your thoughts. I think this is a global phenomenon and many people, incl. myself, have similar experiences, thoughts and feelings.

“Home” is anywhere and nowhere I guess…

stefan @ Singapore

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