Transporting the Idea of `Home' When the House Is Gone

SOON it will be springtime in the United States and, once again, the ``For Sale'' signs will pop up like tulips on the suburban landscape.

Last week, my childhood home went up for sale. It has been many years since I have lived there. And it is time for Mom and Dad to make a long-desired change.

But I have a funny feeling. I have never called any other place ``home'' in quite the same way that I have called that place home, even though, since leaving there for school 22 years ago, I have slept more nights and eaten more meals in other places than I ever did there.

Still, it is where I once centered my world: from wrestling on the deep gray carpet with my brother to reading Russian novels on the pink living-room sofa and imagining places other than the Midwest, to bringing the woman I would marry into that same living room and sharing our choice with my parents.

That house is for sale, and I doubt I will ever go inside it again. If I do, I know it will be changed, except, perhaps, for the many dart holes in the paneling in the basement. They will remain as a reminder of thoughtless youth.

Home. It's a little word with a lot of weight. It's a word that most children take for granted. It's a word that most adults must redefine, as houses get sold, as parents move, as parents pass on. Where is home?

As I ask myself this question and see the images of two houses, theirs in Illinois and mine in Florida, I realize that the meaning of that special word is changing for me and probably has been changing for years. Time makes ``home'' a more portable reality.

It is like the place where I grew up, where acceptance and challenge were the main ingredients of life. But home, as I find it now, has no front door or scarred paneling in the basement or screen porches to keep out the flies.

It is, rather, where I am challenged, accepted, prodded, and praised, not only from the outside but also from the inside. It can't be bought or sold, only received as a gift.

Home is, finally, this gifted place.

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