What does it mean, exactly, “home”? I left St. Louis County when I went to college. I have visited frequently because many relatives, including my mom, still live here, but have lived elsewhere since 1972.
When I told people I was coming to live here, people asked “How do you feel about moving back home?” How is a place I lived for only seventeen years over forty years ago “home”? It’s not even the same house.
I lived in a house very much like this one, 1959-1972.
I have been peripatetic in my adult life. I lived in Wisconsin (Madison, 1972-74) and Connecticut (several places in and near Bridgeport, 1974-76) during college. I then lived in every other state in New England for twenty-eight more years, from northern Vermont (St. Albans) in 1976 to southeastern Massachusetts (Westport Point) and Rhode Island (Tiverton) in 1977-78, to my longest stint anywhere (20 years) in southwestern New Hampshire, while living more than a dozen places there (New Ipswich, Sharon, Stoddard, Sullivan and East Sullivan, Nelson, then several places in Keene), ending with southwestern Maine (Saco) in 1998. After New England, southwestern New Mexico (Silver City) for 2 1/2 years, then several places in northern California (near San Francisco: two in Santa Rosa, then one each in Sebastopol, El Cerrito, Hayward) for twelve years.
City, country, suburb and small town: I’ve lived in them all. Now, back in St. Louis. Even in St. Louis, the longest I lived in one spot was our family’s house on Old Bonhomme Road (twelve years), which is the same number of years I lived in one collective/family house in Keene (Water Street).
Here is a similar house to the one we lived in on Water Street in Keene for twelve years.
A few times, towards the end of my twelve years in Keene, NH, upon returning from times away I’d feel a sense of coming home as we crossed the city limits’ sign. But, soon after, I moved away from there.
If longevity prevails as the criterion, which of these, then, is “home”?
My mom’s condo is not the “home” I spent my school years in, although this location is “in the neighborhood,” meaning, same school district [LADUE (derived from a French word for those who work for a Duke)]. BTW, LADUE is considered to be one of the best school districts in the USA and in the top 25 of the Midwest. Bragging on that.
She now lives in CREVE COEUR (meaning “broken heart,” in French), along with many others from the “old neighborhood” (OLIVETTE, meaning “little Olive”). Not a big change, since this is about a ten minutes’ drive from Olivette.
Many of the landmarks, businesses and roads have changed, moved, been eliminated, but there are still some fixtures I recognize after over forty years. The old are populated/interspersed with the new, as everywhere.
The shell of a fast-food place about to be finished (“BIG BOY”) in which I had my first make-out sessions (with Eric) in 6th grade is now a grassy, flat field after having been two different fast-food restaurants. The bowling alley (NELSON BURTON LANES) where I learned to play pinball and to bowl (badly), and behind which I had my first kiss (from Bobby) is still there, but changed owners and names. The elementary school my siblings and I attended (CENTRAL SCHOOL, which we lived almost across the street from and used to treat as our personal playground) became an alternative high school soon after my youngest sibling went to junior high school.
What makes a place feel like “home”? Here is my test: How does it feel to return after I have been away? Does it seem that I am visiting or coming back?
For about twenty-five years, I considered Boston/Cambridge my hub. I had friends who went to college and then lived there. I took classes, saw clients, attended meetings, visited friends and went to events there often. Logan was the airport we used most often until Hartford’s and then Manchester’s grew. Beantown was the BIG CITY we would go to for those experiences. Cambridge was the intellectual/artsy center of existence. I also went to New York City from New Hampshire, but not as often or as easily (it was more than twice as far by car).
Whenever we’d drive to Boston, as our car crested the first hill that would give us a view of “The Pru” and the John Hancock buildings, my heart would lift. Exciting things happened here.
The “Pru” and the John Hancock buildings in Boston.
I walked all around both Boston and Cambridge, had several lovers in and around there, used the T (subways/trains) and frequented cafes. I loved going there for many years. But, Boston was never “home.”
Flying or driving into St. Louis, I would look for the Arch as the landmark. But, seeing it, I never felt “Oh. Now I’m home.”
But, here, unlike many places I’ve lived since I left Keene, NH, I am recognized. After being “invisible” for about fifteen years, it is startling to be called out in public. Last week, while perusing the deli section at Whole Foods, “Sally Fleischmann!” reached my ears. A seemingly strange man called out to me, in surprise at seeing me; a classmate from my high school saw and knew me after not having seen me for many years. I went to a friend’s father’s funeral/shiva and many people there recognized me, called out my name, knew my father. I exercise at the local Jewish Community Center’s building and often know people there or they know me or knew my dad or know my mom or siblings. Does being known or recognized make one feel at home?
Maybe it’s that I just moved back to St. Louis about two weeks ago and I haven’t completely unpacked. I have had visits that lasted over a month here before this, living out of suitcases and drawers as I do now.
I think, as I told one friend, recently, once I pass the five-week mark (and I plan to be completely unpacked by then), I could realize that I now am not visiting and actually live here.
How much longer will it take to feel like “home”? Ask me in 2027.