I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of Home. I know that many of you, like me, are wraggle-taggle gypsy types… and I wonder, where do you feel your Home is?
I’ve lived in sixteen different houses in my twenty five years. The longest I’ve ever lived in one place was five years. Now that I’ve been in Ottawa for two years, it does feel like Home in many ways. Magill is here, and we have our habits and traditions. My cats are here. At least half of my books are here. And when I return after having been away, it feels like I’m returning to the place where I belong.
But there is one place that, through all the upheaval and wanderlust, has always been the Home of my heart.
My Grandmother’s house.
I was born here. Not in the house – but this is where my mother was living when I was born, having returned there after many years of wandering. We lived there until I was two, and then we returned whenever we could. It is the center of my world, the place where holidays, birthdays, and all other important rituals happen.
And a strange house it is. You see, my Grandfather was an artist, and a designer. He planned the house – every brick and mahogany board of it. He built it for his family – my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and my mom, who was only two years old.
One year later, he was dead.
In some ways, the house was a shrine to him, to the artist he was and the father and husband he could have been, if he’d had more time. His paintings hung in every room, and his presence, or rather the lack of it, hung thick in the air. Every picture, every curve of wood and brick contained a story about him that couldn’t be forgotten.
By the time I came along, he’d been dead for almost thirty years.
And by then, the house was filled with years and years of art and collecting. My grandfather wasn’t the only artist in the family. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt, my uncle… all of them created art, and all of them collected. Every surface of the house contained treasures, and if I dug into the back of any cupboard, I was sure to find a forgotten gem – a doll my mother made as a teenager, a tea cup that had belonged to my great great aunt, an African mask, a basket woven by my aunt – it was heaven for a curious child. And I spent countless hours there, so perfectly at home.
This summer, my grandmother passed away.
And now it’s over. My mother and aunt gallantly cleared out every cupboard and every closet. They unearthed years and years of treasures, kept what they wanted, got rid of the rest. Now the house is empty, and up for sale.
When I was there for my grandmother’s funeral, they told me that if there was anything I wanted, I should take it then and there, just to be sure I got it. And I found myself grabbing at every painting, every dish, every ornament. Not because I wanted them for what they actually were, but because I wanted to preserve what they made up to me – Home.