There’s no place like home. I’ve been awake for a while, listening to the rainstorm outside. Despite what people from other parts of the country say, we DO have weather in California. And right now I am watching out the window, waiting for an ark full of animals to float past.
I did sleep for a while, and in my dreams, I tried to buy my childhood home. I called the owners. I have no idea who they might be. I’ve written about my dreams and phobias (see Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar… ) before; I must’ve really wanted that house in the dream if I used the telephone. I offered them half-a-million dollars for the house. No, I don’t have that kind of money. Never will! When you talk about those sums, it might as well be play money.
Granted, half-a-million dollars doesn’t get you anything in the real estate market in the Bay Area of California, but maybe it still does in Atlanta, Georgia.
I often dream of the house in which I spent my early childhood (see Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said). When I can’t sleep, I try to draw the floorplan in my head. This morning, I actually tried sketching it out. I have the proportions wrong, but the basics I think are right. Note that my mother sold the house in 1972 and I have not been inside of it since, and have only seen it from the outside a few times when visiting my family. But I remember this house better than almost any other house I have lived in. The memories include sense memories like smells from the kitchen (and the boy funk smell of my brother’s room); the taste of tomato sandwiches; the darkness in my sisters’ room at night, where I often slept on the floor between their beds; the feel of the green recliner chair in the den, where I curled up with books and cats.
I don’t have many pictures from those times; my mother lost a lot of the old photos in a house fire in 1987.
There’s no place like home, so they say. Dorothy had Toto and Auntie Em, I had Luke and 3 older siblings.
I also had my trusty stead, which I also said goodbye to when we moved to California in 1972.
Is there really no place like home?
Why are the memories of our childhood homes so vivid? And are they accurate? According to writer Lauren Martin,
“The past is as elusive a dream as the future. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It’s seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now.”
In The Psychology of Returning to Your Childhood Home, psychology professor Jerry Burger “found that almost everyone who visits a childhood home goes to the place they lived from the ages of five to 12. Burger says people have an emotional attachment to their childhood home because it’s a part of their self-identity, and the self is developed between the ages of 5 and 12.”
He distills this need to revisit our childhood homes to 3 main reasons:
-a wish to reconnect with childhood.
-a desire to reflect on the past when going through a crisis or problem.
-unfinished business from childhood.
Okay, I can see some of all of those in my dream forays to 1737 Dyson Drive.
Especially the unfinished business from childhood. In my case, an unfinished childhood. My widowed mother remarried in 1972 and split up the family, taking me and my brother from Atlanta to Sacramento while my sisters stayed in Atlanta. Mom’s second husband was a mean drunk who called me Little Shit. We moved several times, necessitating changes in schools. I spent my pre-teen and teen years mostly in my bedroom, drawing pictures, reading, and talking to the cats. I married young and drank too much myself. It’s no wonder I’ve idealized those years before 1972, and the house has come to symbolize that time.
Kathleen Hughes writes in The Wall Street Journal of our desire to return to our childhood homes:
“While most people say they want to return simply out of curiosity, psychologists say the visits reflect a subconscious desire to bring childhood into perspective as an adult. For baby boomers stressed by aging parents and teenagers, the visits may offer a quick route back to memories of a better time—an era when parents were healthy, families were still intact, children felt loved and the world at least seemed safer than it does now.”
Jungian analyst Dr. John Beebe describes it:
“A lot of people haven’t fully left home,” Dr. Beebe says. “Some people need to go back [in order] to move on.”
Others, while claiming to be “just curious” about seeing their childhood home, may have a deeper motive, he suggests: a desire to reconnect to the way they felt as a child before life—school, careers and families—required so many compromises. “In adapting to the world, we all lose some of our soul,” Dr. Beebe says. “When we make the journey back, we find some of our soul again.”
For me, it often leads to the question, how would my life be different if we had stayed? I also ask the question, how would my life be different if my father hadn’t died when I was a baby? These questions are interesting to ponder, but ultimately don’t change the paths our lives took. And the paths are what make us who we are. It’s taken me a long time, but I like who I am now.
I am studying story and narrative this semester prior to going into the writing and research phase of my PhD. One can’t study narrative structure without running into the inimitable mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and his writings on the Hero’s Journey.
In 1988, Bill Moyers released on PBS “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth”, 6 1-hour conversations with Dr. Campbell on what enduring myths can tell us about our lives and how the Hero’s Journey translates into our personal journeys.
There has been feminist critique of Campbell’s “somewhat lopsided and masculine view” (Laura Kerr). In his lifetime, Campbell did not publish a book on the woman as hero, but he did leave writings and lectures, which were published posthumously in 2013 as Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (Joseph Campbell Foundation). A short excerpt is available at New World Library.
I also like this quote from Muhammad Ali; just substitute person for man.
I definitely don’t view the world the same way in my 50s as I did in my 20s. I probably have more in common with the 9-year old me with my bike and my cat and corkscrew curls than the me in my 20s! And that’s okay. When I feel homesick, I can travel to Dyson Drive in my head, reliving the feeling of the sun coming through the window while I read Doctor Dolittle in the scratchy green reclining chair. I can even see the dust motes in the light. I’ll set it to the soundtrack of James Taylor singing his 1968 song about homesickness, “Carolina in My Mind.”
Peace and hugs.