Monday, November 3, 2008


Home is more than four walls and a roof.

The salt of life was poured over me last week. It was a travel week to northwestern Wisconsin. This is where I'm from. Garrison Keillor country; home of jello salads, hot dishes and lutefisk suppers. Where people still speak with Scandinavian accents and don't know it, but you love 'em for it. There, people learn early to sprinkle their words with dry humor. I don't think my Grandpa Ausen ever walked out the door without the twinkling admonition “Don't take any wooden nickels now!” This is where wealth, by and large, isn't measured in bank accounts or spine-chilling Wall Street news, but in family, friends, and land.

This time of year, the sky is most reliably blue and the oak savannas are deep rust against the overgrown native grasses that are now mostly unfarmed. It is, I think, home.

I didn't go there for a warm family reunion, although, in the end, I got that too. I went to work on clearing out my Mother's country house. Mom died in August. She and Dad retired there and called it home for 27 years. Before them, my grandparents did the same for some 32 years. They were preceded at the place, a former parsonage, by a succession of strong Norwegian pastors and their families stretching back to when it was built sometime in the 1880's.

It is grueling to clean out an old house; more so the home of someone who never threw away a piece of string, an old coat or even the wax paper from cereal boxes because it made such great pan liners for cinnamon rolls. (But that's another story.) My brothers and sister and I were together and we did some crying and a lot of laughing and shaking our heads as we dragged unsalvegables to a big dumpster out front by the drive. Other families would find incomprehensible two items we saved back; a pair of Dad's worn and much-patched blue overalls and Mom's infamous patch coat.

It's a patch coat because no matter how many nice coats we gave her, Mom kept re-patching this ancient beige wool coat and wore it to bring in the wood or get the mail. “It's still good,” our depression-era Mother would say with a defiant lift of her chin. “And it's warm.” Home is where you can't stop your Mother from going outside looking like the penniless Baby Doe hunkered down at the Matchless Mine, I guess. Or maybe it's where you plant both the overalls and the coat and fully expect that an overall-coat tree will bloom in the spring.

I've pondered the question of home for some years now. Is home a place you're from? Or a place you seek?

For my parents, the embroidered picture by their 1880s pot-bellied stove told the story, “Home is where the hearth is,” it read. For me, the concept of home has been relative. The ebb and flow of life has seen me move from the family farm to college, to Germany, to a succession of apartments and homes from Minneapolis to Denver to Milwaukee back to Denver. “Home” is any four walls that enclose the right person,” says Helen Rowland.

Yes, and...I believe it is also the combination of people, experiences and a place that feed your body, your mind and your soul. Especially your soul.
This morning, back again at my computer, I wonder again if all of us don't need to find home within our selves first? It is, after all, the meeting point of where we have been and where we are going; an eternal place that might be full of light, or very dark indeed!


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