My dad, a doctor on the U.S. naval base in Puerto Rico where I was born, didn’t care much about having roots, so when I was three he moved us to Miami, where my sister was born. Although he left the mili-tary, he kept our family on the move, first touching down briefly in Saint Louis, then hopscotching through three locations in New Jersey and winding up in three different apart-ments in New York City. Along the way he married three times, to women whose first names were so interchangeable they almost rhymed and a series of equally interchangeable country houses that he decorated with the same pieces of furniture. An unreflective man, he wasn’t happy to have these repetitions pointed out by his 14-year-old daughter, aka Dr. Freud. “Home,” he declared, simply didn’t hold much value for him; it was “modern” to be able to pick up and move.
Fast-forward 20 years to the day my real estate agent drove my husband and me to a 1920s Georgian with no front lawn; the property had been sold off in the 1960s, so you entered the majestic old house from the back. That slipped it into my price range, along with a few other features: Everything inside—from the gorgeous moldings to the vanity in the master bathroom—had been slathered with beige paint, and a 1960s-style globe dangled from the ceiling in the kitchen, which was still equipped with the original 1930s stove that you had to approach with pliers since most of the knobs were gone. The linoleum was so decayed that the soles of four-year-old JJ’s feet turned black when he walked across the room. But Jeff and I fell in love with the house, and two days after we moved in, Lake was born. This was the house where I imagined she would one day descend the grand staircase in a wedding gown, and where, if male–female mortality statistics prove correct, I might end up alone, one of those cranky seniors who turn out the lights on Halloween to warn kids not to bother even coming down the driveway.
But as my nest has begun to empty, I’ve started to deal with the reality that, after 15 years, we may have to downsize. Who wants to pay school taxes when your kids are no longer in the system? Who wants to heat the third floor when the only things living there are empty suitcases? I’ve even begun fan-tasizing about swapping our antique furniture with the peeling paint for some ultramodern, ultra-clean white sectionals that might eventually look perfect in, say, a maintenance-free glass loft in the city.
Sure, it’s probably time to sell the house, but something holds me back. Partly it’s my reluctance to part with that red pie safe in the kitchen; I love it (especially the mouse hole in the back), and the white sectionals definitely wouldn’t want it around. Partly it’s the betrayal I would feel if I snuck up on the new owners one day and found that they’d removed the original wooden commodes (they actually flush) from all the bathrooms. Let’s just say our toilet thrones were the talk of JJ’s kindergarten.
Over the years this shelter has been filled with the sound of babies crying, then children shouting and now my college boy rumbling in his deep voice. It’s where I have roots and history; it’s the only nest my kids have ever known. And I simply cannot imagine calling any other place by its name: home.
Find out on page 136 how such writers as Dani Shapiro and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni discovered the dif-ferent meanings of home.
Lesley Jane Seymour Editor-in-Chief