Just a few ruminations on home. I left mine this week to join my husband, The Retired One, who moved to the U.K. for a year of post-graduate academic study at Oxford. (See “[Breakfast for Dinner]”). Actually, we’re both just visiting; the three terms here -- oh so quaintly named Michaelmas, Hilary, and Trinity -- are each only eight weeks long and the six-week breaks in between inspire plans to travel near and far, and sometimes home. Real home. The one I left. Reluctantly.
Now The Retired One has been here a month and has found fine housing. It’s a lovely flat, totally modern (which is quite something in a town where things are done the way they are because, well, it seemed a fine idea in the 12th century). All the appliances are new, high-tech, top-of-the-line European models that save power, the environment, and space. Persian rugs cover the floors. And the Bang & Olufsen sound system(s) are not to be believed. We find ourselves gingerly pushing buttons and hoping “Start” really means start and “CD” means there will be music and that however the hot water heater is set, there will be some to wash my face at night. The location is superb, too, midway between the center of the University and a suburban Main Street for routine commerce (like groceries). And even here in England, where when last I visited soggy fish and chips was the best one could hope for if dining out, there are now a plethora of attractive restaurants offering fresh, local, and international cuisine -- and I mean cuisine, not just food.
It is, as The Retired One promised, an Adventure. It actually feels like I am aboard a very fine yacht, and he’s navigating and I am along for the ride. Already it is intellectually and culturally stimulating -- and fun to do something so entirely different -- together -- at this time in our lives. Still, I am really struggling to embrace the place -- not because there’s anything wrong with it, but simply because it isn’t home. I don’t like peering through closed gates I’m not allowed to enter; and cooking and keeping house on a luxurious yacht, I’m finding, is not unlike camping in a trailer, albeit a highly varnished one: you’ve got everything you need and everything you need has a space, and that’s OK, but it feels very tight and quite constrained. And it gives rise to the question of just what do I need to keep house? Or, more to the heart of the matter, to make a home?
Among other things I’ve done, I’ve been a Home-Maker for 40 years. I take pride in that (but don’t call me a “housewife”; there’s a huge difference in my mind). I’m not much good at decorating a house, rearranging furniture, keeping plants alive, etc., or even keeping things just-so. But I never felt any need to make our house a statement of any kind; I tasked it with providing us shelter, not defining our status. More, I worked to make our house above all a Safe Place for each of us to go out from and come back to. I strove to make it a sanctuary for body, mind, and spirit, to keep it a source of strength and nourishment. And peace, whenever possible -- which was decidedly not always. Home has always been for me the heart of the family, deriving its pulse, as it were, from our love and the ebb and flow of our relationships with each other and with the world outside. Indeed, when no one’s home, it’s just a house. *We* make it home.
Still, now that The Retired One and I are together in this place, what more is it I require to transform it? It’s interesting to examine the landlord’s vision: beds, baths, linens, a well-equipped kitchen (full set of pots and pans, nice white china for six, Ikea flatware for 12, miscellaneous mugs and glasses, four wine goblets, one serving bowl, one platter, one tea pot, Pyrex dishes, fine, well-sharpened knives, mixing bowls, a bread maker, a crock pot, cookie sheets, cutting boards, four place mates, two wooden spoons, carrot peelers, a corkscrew, a can opener, and a full, but somewhat outdated supply of spices), two desks and good lighting, a breakfast table for two and a dining table for four, with chairs, a reading chair, a sectional couch, and a pull-up contemporary chair in leather and chrome. Tables have been arranged in just the right places, and there’s plenty of light. And then, overwhelming all the necessities, the B&O audio-visual system -- two flat screen televisions (that reposition themselves according to a signal from the remote control), four speakers in the living room -- big speakers -- one in the kitchen and two in the master bedroom. There’s a washing machine, too, and a stack of old *Spectator *magazines, lovely prints on the wall, a bicycle helmet, the bike lock, and an umbrella by the door. What more could anyone need? It’s impressive, really, that people took the time to think through and procure such a precise inventory.
But it’s so damn precise! There’s no messiness about it at all. And life itself is messy. It just is. If I were a 20-something graduate student, I might try to conform to the space and its style during our tenure here. But as a third-third-er, I know it will be wiser -- and healthier -- to make it the refuge we need it to be. (Don’t worry, Property Manager, I’m not suggesting anything drastic.) I simply need to give it some life! I need to find a place to “plop,” without worrying about the suede on the sofa or the leather of the chair. I need to cook up a storm in the kitchen. I need to invite the neighbors in for a drink, and maybe some nachos and ask our friend’s son and his girlfriend to dinner. I need to drink some red wine. And I want ice cubes -- lots of them -- in the freezer. I need to be able to leave the book I’m reading on the dining table when I get up to fix dinner, and my computer open. And, dammit, I’m leaving my shoes on; it’s only spike heals they requested we not wear on their new oak floors. I need to call my father, my sisters, and the kids late at night because of the time difference, and have real conversations via Skype, unafraid I’ll disturb the neighbors if I say anything improper or speak too loudly. We probably need to make love in the bed and not think of it as somebody’s parents‘ bedroom anymore. And I may even need to bypass the sound system and stream *Friday Night Lights* via Netflix on my computer. In bed. With a biscuit. I will also try to find a way to get our kids over here -- one at a time will be best, as the flat has only one extra bed -- to experience this place. I’m thinking of that as a kind of a blessing for the flat, a real house-warming. And it seems as important to me now as their need for me to see where and how they’re living in a new apartment, their first home, or a different city, to re-connect and affirm for each other who we really are when we are at home.
In the meantime, that -- the re-connection and affirmation -- is what The Retired One and I are working on now as we come to the end of our first week together in this new place doing something quite different from anything we’ve done before at a very different time in our lives. We’re not only figuring out the outlets and the internet service and the grocery stores and the schedule of lectures; we’re putting our lives together in new ways, and figuring out how to put our love to work to make this place home. It is, as he says, quite an Adventure!
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