Several thousand miles above Georgia (or maybe it was Ohio, or possibly North Carolina), the idea of home hit me. I lived in the same house in Woodland, Michigan, until I went to college. When I was at Michigan State, just an hour away, home was obvious — it was the white farmhouse on a tree-canopied dirt road, across that road and up a steep hill from a lake, with a view of forest and fields and ponds and deer. It was where I had sleepovers and parties and watched movies and basketball with my parents. It was where my childhood dog was buried.
In about a month, I’ll have lived in Florida for 10 years, and my notion of home is a little hazier. My parents moved out of that house the same weekend I moved south, and, honestly, once they were no longer there, it was just a house. The small town in which I grew up, though I know every inch of the park and the school and the Dairy Queen (especially the Dairy Queen), well … it’s just some small town in Michigan there. A town where my dad used to have a store. I’ve been back a couple of times, but I feel like a visitor.
In a lot of ways, Florida feels like home, but it doesn’t feel like where I’m from. I’ve changed and grown in a lot of ways since I arrived, but my foundation was set before I ever paid a cent toward rent. Yes, I have history here now, but it’s not a history that really formed me.
This weekend, I was in Indiana, in a town called La Porte, for my Grandma Sara’s memorial (which was moving and beautiful, hard, but much-needed). What’s fascinating to me about La Porte is that, even though I’ve never lived there, it feels more like a home town than any other place on earth. My grandmother lived there until she came to live with us in Michigan in the ’80s, and we visited her often. I have family there — a big deal for someone who’s the only child of two onlies. There are businesses and plaques and gravestones marked with the names of people in my family tree.
Nobody knows me there, so it’s not like I go into a restaurant and am called by name, but there’s a strange sense of belonging, nonetheless. I know a lot of it has to do with who I see when I’m there — aunts and uncles and cousins who aren’t actually aunts or uncles or cousins (more like seconds or greats or twice-removeds). It’s because I go to the same house I visited on special occasions as a child, and because we talk about people like my grandfather, who I didn’t get a chance to know very well before he died.
What makes a place home? I think for me it’s partly the people, partly the memories, partly the actual location, and partly some sort of connection I can’t begin to understand. But it’s good to have, that much I know.