March 2008 Issue
Places of the Heart
My wife and I have had nine homes — a term which, of course, includes apartments — during our marriage. Prior to that, I had four homes and she had two. You do the math: The point is that we are not unaccustomed to moving. Yet each home, even those where the stay was relatively short, has a distinctive place in our history. Each home evokes a sentiment all its own.
I bring this up because Jeffrey Hammond’s “My Ohio” column this month strikes at the heart of how we feel about the places we’ve lived. In “Going Home: A Ghost Story,” Hammond recounts his visit to his childhood home in Findlay. Though it has been more than 40 years since he and his family moved out, he felt a sense of longing to see it — from the inside — just one more time.
I understand the feeling. Several years ago, I was visiting the small Massachusetts town where we lived for five years during what was our brief romance with New England. I was living out the dream of many journalists, editing a “hometown daily” that strived to be “the best little newspaper in America.”
Like Hammond, I yearned to see — from the inside — the century-old house where family memories had been made. Our three oldest children had graduated from high school when we lived there. It also is where our youngest had defined her childhood. But like Hammond, I was reluctant to bother the current residents. So instead I simply slowly walked around it, staring.
I should have known that that performance would bring attention. I wasn’t just looking in, after all; the residents were looking out, no doubt wondering if the white-haired, bearded fellow was lurking or simply lost.
The lady of the house emerged. “May I help you?” she asked, warily but pleasantly.
“No, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just looking. I used to live here.”
“Mr. Osborne?” she said in her familiar Massachusetts accent where the “Rs” became more like “ahs.” And suddenly I recalled just what it was like to live in a small town where absolutely everyone knows absolutely everyone.
She invited me in and guided me from room to room. She was clearly proud of what she had done with the place, as well she should have been. It looked wonderful. She described how she and her family used each room, and I described how we had used them before.
When we got to the living room, she introduced me to her daughter. “You have a daughter named Julie,” the young woman announced.
“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?” She explained that she had a friend who had been Julie’s friend in grammar school, and the friend always told her how she had spent so much time playing in the house’s many rooms.
It was — and is — what you would call “rambling.” I remembered when we first took the kids inside and they ran around exploring it. Suddenly we heard Julie’s voice coming from … somewhere.
“Mom!” she shouted. “Where am I?”
She was home. One of several, but home nevertheless.