Home is a strange term. Typically, you spend the first eighteen plus years of your life in a home that belongs to your parents, frequently the same house for the lion’s share of that time. Somewhere along the line, whether you go off to school or your parents tell you to get a real job and your own apartment, home becomes someplace else. But where? When I was in college, my various dorm rooms and apartments were never quite home. And, as I learned on my first weekend home from college, home wasn’t quite home anymore either.
Now that I’m married and living in Massachusetts, home is an even more elusive idea. Home is where John is,certainly, but living in Massachusetts is a little like living in exile at times. Everything we know and the majority of the people we love are in Maine, so no matter how much we enjoy the commonwealth, its more robust job market, and our proximity to my grandparents, it’s hard to feel quite at home.
I’m “home” right now, in that I’m in Maine for a few days, and I find myself wondering where the sense of home comes from. I don’t think there’s a single wall or patch of floor in the house that has the same paint or carpeting that was here when I left for college. My parents have built additions, redecorated, and gently pushed my younger sisters out of the nest. Our old dog died a few years ago, cats have come and gone, the yard has been completely re-landscaped. The furniture has changed. My parents have aged a little and their routines have changed.
It still feels more like home than any place on earth, especially when John is here with me. Why? Today Mom wanted to have spaghetti for dinner, and since she and Dad were going to lunch with some old friends, I was happy to putter around a real house and spend some time nurturing a delicious sauce to life. As I was chopping onions and pouring tomato sauce into the dutch oven, I was struck by a memory. (Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt me.)
When I was in junior high or high school, Mom started having me cook dinner for the family on a somewhat regular basis. Her mother’s blood runs strong in my tastebuds, which means that if you told me I would have to eat nothing but spaghetti with tomato sauce for the rest of my life, three meals a day, it would probably take me a decade or so to realize that’s not a good thing. Spaghetti is also extremely simple to cook, especially when you just heat up canned sauce, so for several years my family would be subjected to spaghetti every time Mom had me cook, unless she expressly told me what else to make. Sadly, I seem to be the only person in the family who got the limitless-love-of-tomato-and-pasta gene. My love may have permanently traumatized my sisters’ abilities to enjoy spaghetti.
It’s a time period I think about once in a while. I lived on spaghetti all through college, and I still make it for John probably every other week. My tomato sauce skills have improved significantly over the years. My love for tomato sauce (because, let’s be clear, pasta is simply a convenient accessory to the sauce) hasn’t diminished one iota. It’s gotten more complex, nutritious, socially conscious, and demure (out of compassion for others), but the passion hasn’t diminished. Making spaghetti sauce feels like home to me.
I suppose home isn’t so much a fixed place in the universe as it is the network of memories and associations in our own minds that make us feel safe. I learned the word in a more concrete way as a child: home was the address written on the tag on my backpack that I had to memorize so I could tell a police officer where to take me if I ever got lost. It was the same number on the same street in the same town on the same planet in the same galaxy we had to write on pretend envelopes for imaginary alien pen-pals in third grade. Eighteen or so years is a long time to learn a habit of mind for thinking about “home,” and for all I know, it might be another eighteen years before I really learn to feel the transient nature of home as natural and good. They don’t call me a home-body because I love change, you know.
In the meantime, it is comforting to know that if I can get hold of a pan, some tomatoes, and some flavorings, I can at least convince my stomach that home is where the spaghetti is.