There is something about the month of July that has always felt so much like home to me. It’s like it marches in with all of its blue sky and green grass and bugs and scents of clover and cow poop and touches me on the shoulder to wake me up to every glorious lake day, evening ride, campfire and hot, mid day hike I’ve ever had in every July of my life. This particular month so far has, to my surprise, has been all of those things and it is only half over.
I saw this summer at the ranch drifting lazily by as I contemplated what I am doing here. I saw myself sleeping in a little, cleaning up and making home cooked meals for the husband (ha, well, I have been known to be delusional). I have done this a little, but I have also done things a bit more exhilarating really…like answering my phone and saying yes –yes to every family member and friend that has been within arms reach for years, but whom I just couldn’t quite get to because of deadlines, work, or a commitment I didn’t want to commit to. And I have found that when used properly, “yes” can be the best word. Ever.
And so I have been out of commission in my own life for about 10 days, because I have willingly, and with gusto and open arms, planted myself in my best people’s lives across this great state. And all this being away from home, camped out in my grandparent’s lake cabin, in a hotel, on a couch in my cousin’s basement, in my sister’s bed in her apartment, and in a tent at the edge of Lake Sakakawea, got me thinking a bit about how we define the word.
It’s intriguing to me particularly because we, my husband and I, have spent the last few years trying to find it. We have expended quite an amount of energy lugging our things around from apartment, to apartment, to apartment until we finally lost our minds enough to purchase a house of our own. And then we promptly extinguished all of our life savings deconstructing this new place so that it would indeed feel like ours, smell like ours, look like ours…be ours.
And for two years, I never felt so displaced. In all of the chaos and construction and saw dust and paint, I never unpacked a photo of us. I placed my things in the closets to get them out of the way and then never could really find anything again. I moved in and out of the project, from work to work to bed and back again, only a shell of a person really, in the shell of a house that someday, we hoped, would become our perfect home.
The funny thing is, all of the cussing, planning, crying, and hitting my fingers countless times with a hammer didn’t open our eyes of a perfect bricks and mortar home that was coming to life in front of us, but revealed a vision of a future that wasn’t contained in this house in this town, but a life that was waiting for us 60 miles north.
And as soon as we declared this project no longer our future, I became me again and I guess, started spreading myself around to whoever has missed me. And as it turns out, there have been plenty of people who wanted to catch up. So I put them all on my calendar.
I drove east to Minnesota to spend 4th of July with my grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, getting to know new babies and babies that have turned into teenagers over night. I put my feet in the lake where I spent summers of my youth, then let it close in over my head, just like when I was twelve. I swam. I ate watermelon. I toasted s’mores. I water-skied for crying out loud!
I hugged my grandparents and cooked french toast for thirty of my favorite people in a kitchen where we have all gathered to re-cap weddings, to announce pregnancies, to proudly tell a story of a renowned kindergarden performance or a winning goal. And we filled that home, that entire lake, with laughter of people who have known us all along and love us anyway.
And it felt pretty good, so I stayed away a bit longer.
I headed back west a bit to Fargo to spend some time with my cousins (the former members of the Kitten Kaboodle club and the ones who are responsible for my non-belief in the Easter Bunny). I marveled at a now grown woman, who once taught me the rodeo queen wave and lent me her sparkly cowboy shirts for talent shows, as she moved about her house, feeding her toddler cheerios and clapping her hands and rolling her head back as her princess four year old performed karate moves on her doll. I listened as that woman’s brother, and my forever best friend, spoke of his PhD program at the University of Miami, and felt so damn proud, followed by a pang of jealousy for his great tan and the laid back attitude he has accumulated along the way. I watched my youngest cousin use a pizza box to sled down the stairs just because we dared him to. I slapped the bass like a champ playing “Rock Star” on Play Station, I drank just a little too much, and talked just a little too loud and was just a little obnoxious. Just like old times
And my stomach hurt from the laughter, so I stayed away a bit longer.
Because my little sister needed me. She needed me, of all things, to hold her hand as she got a tattoo to commemorate her service trip to Guatemala. She needed me to make sure it looked just right, to calm her nerves, to tell her that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, you should do what you want. And I watched as she braved the needle like a champ and cried a little when her alligator tears fell at the end of the session, because even though the pain was self inflicted, it really sucks to see your little sister cry. I got to know her new boyfriend. I gave him shit. I commented on her less than clean apartment and ate at the restaurant where she worked and tipped her big. I slept next to her in her bed. Just like old times.
My heart filled up.
And then my best of friends, these three beautiful, successful and wonderfully quirky women, called and said they wanted a vacation out west. So I drove back to the ranch to meet them there to try to give them their dream weekend. It was 100 degrees, but like a fresh breeze their car pulled into my driveway and love spilled out as they opened the doors with their arms spread wide, ready to embrace us, ready to embrace the evening. We grilled steaks and cut up veggies for a salad, we sat out on the lawn, we saddled up and took a ride over the hills. We built a campfire. We drank some beer. We went to the lake and felt the wind whip by as my husband drove the boat like a bullet across the big water. We listened to my dad sing. We all made our beds in this tiny house, snuggled in tight between these walls that embraced us like their friendly hugs embraced me, under this roof, under the big, starry sky.
And I felt damn loved.
But now that the quiet has settled in again, I caught myself thinking: “Now back to normal. Back to the real world”
What is that all about? What is normal? What is the real world? Wasn’t I just in it?
Never during those days of being away did I feel like I missed home. Never did I miss my bed or my couch or my shower or my desk. I missed my husband, I missed the space, the horses, I missed my dogs…
So here is what I think. And I don’t think I’m wrong.
Home isn’t carpeting and wall paper and a really great kitchen. Home is those living, breathing things surrounding you, talking to you, touching you and reminding you of things you forgot about yourself. Home is who loves you and listens and offers advice on cooking and great wine.
Home is a long, hot summer, jumping in the lake, cheering your sister on as she works to get up on water skis. It’s taking your cousins to a movie and then driving home in the pouring Minnesota rain. It is pitching a tent with your best friends and then realizing you forgot the stakes. It is saying thank you when they cook you a really great hot dog and figure out how to make stakes out of sticks, and that works even better anyway. It is sitting next to your aunt as she holds her new grandchild and watching your grandparents beam with love as the next wave of company pulls in the yard. It is cringing with worry as your brother in law attempts to blow up the lake with $300 worth of fireworks. And it’s the whooping and screaming when he pulls the display off beautifully (and safely). It is singing around the campfire, catching tiny perch out of a pontoon full of family, posing for photos and taking turns at bat during a game of softball on the lawn.
I know this now.
I know what home is.