Thinking of Home


Anne Michael

When I was a child, home was not a place of comfort. My parents were strict. White glove tests after the Saturday cleaning chores determined whether or not my sister and I could go out and play. Home was a place of obligation and unyielding codes of conduct. Home was a place in which I, as a child, did not feel especially welcomed. I wanted out and away from home. I wanted to live my life on my own terms without parents constantly telling me how I should think and who I should be. My parents did not want me to make mistakes in my life. They believed if they managed every aspect of their daughters’ lives, those daughters would be much better off. It was how they said, “I love you.” 

I had a more experimental approach to living. I wanted to test my theories. It was only outside of home that I could discover who I really was and test the information I was learning. I wanted to explore, learn and examine. I couldn’t wait to be a grown up and be on my own. It was when I learned the song Home on the Range in the first grade that the desire to find my freedom first hit me. To create a place “where seldom is heard a discouraging word” became my Holy Grail as I went on to make a home for myself as an adult.

As I set out into the adult world and became my own project, testing my assumptions and ideas for living, I found a use for all the parentally-bestowed rules, obligations and codes of conduct. They became guidelines and “rules of engagement” in a world that can sometimes be a strange and wearying place. Home, as an adult, is a place of welcome, a place of peace, laughter, and pleasure with books to read, where good things cook on my range and a safe haven when I am discouraged.

I read three books this week. The first, Cottage for Sale by Kate Whouley, was one I had given my mother-in-law for Christmas. She enjoyed it very much and insisted that I would love it, too. (I did!) Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice was a book I discovered in our office’s “accidental library”  when I wanted company at lunch. I happened on The Little Prince, written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, after I read a short biography of the author in Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac.” I was intrigued by this fighter pilot who went on to write a children’s book, and took great pleasure its twenty-seven chapters. Coincidentally, the prevailing theme of each of these books is “home.” Like the finest diamond, a home has many facets: the physical space as explored in Kate Whouley’s book; the emotional ties to people and memory in Rice’s novel. Those are the tools that make the fine cuts and create the facets. And the heart—that is the brilliance at the center of the jewel, where every home starts—is finely illustrated in Saint-Exupéry’s tale. 

Cottage for Sale is an account of a year in Whouley’s life. It is a year in which she discovers, in ways she could not before define, exactly what home is: a place to truly live.  Whouley lives and works in a 400-square-foot house house on Cape Cod near an old cranberry bog. Perusing the classifieds one morning, she comes across an ad that says, “Cottage for Sale, must be moved.” The ad burrows its way into her brain.  She cannot dislodge it. Whouley dreams of the possibilities of marrying this cottage to her diminutive home.  How that eventually happens is a story of ingenuity, will, determination and passion. Her story is told with warmth, humor and a splendid kind of innocence borne on the back of self-discovery. It is, at once, refreshing and joyful. Whouley finishes what she sets out to do and turns one small house and an abandoned cottage into a sanctuary she is proud to call home. And with unflinching and unapologetic candor, Kate takes the reader along with her.

Cloud Nine explores the theme of home in the lives of four people as they each face loss in their own way and come to terms with it. Sarah Talbot and her son Mike and Will Burke and his daughter, Susan find their roots, their future, a place to live and a place to return to die. The emotional exploration of what home is to each of these characters creates a vivid landscape that will certainly have the reader considering what home means to her. It is a story of hope and of love, both sweet and sad. I cried so hard in some chapters that my poor husband was alarmed. (He was much more comfortable when there were chapters that made me smile.) Luanne Rice is an exquisite storyteller. It is a book in which I happily lost myself for some restful hours.

The Little Prince is an allegorical child’s tale that is also a search for home in the heart. A pilot whose plane crashes in the desert comes across a boy he calls the Little Prince, who is from a distant planet. Each is trying to find their way back home in a most inhospitable terrain. They keep the memory of their discovered friendship long after they finally manage to return to their homes. I found it full of opportunities for a child to learn many things like values, vocabulary and to make their own decisions about the other people. It is only when they each know the kind of person they want to be that they can return home. There seems to be something deeply profound in that concept. If I read it again, I’m sure I will grasp what that might be.

Home! There are few words as evocative as this one. Ask any fifty people you know what home is and you will get as many different answers. For my best friend Terry, home is her children and knowing they are safe. My granddaughter Lily knows home by the sound of her mother’s singing. For our wee granddaughter, Allizabeth, is it where things are soft and not scary. To my husband it is a refuge away from the world and its problems, his fortress. For me it I where I am free to be who I am. Home may be heralded by a pet’s enthusiastic greeting or a child’s gleeful delight in having you return. Home can have different connotations at different times of our lives. Wherever home is for you, dear reader, I hope it is full of laughter, good books and “where seldom is heard a discouraging word.” 

At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” Contact Anne.



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