I’ve lived in State College now for half of my life. I am 36 years old…I came to Penn State when I was 18, and while my official residency in Centre County was not declared until I was 21, I have considered this my home for the past 18 years. But I often think about where my home truly is. I read articles like the recent one by David Conrad on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s online ‘Local Dispatch‘ and I think “Yes, Pittsburgh is where my home and my heart will ALWAYS be”. But maybe it depends on my mood (home is in my mom’s kitchen while she’s baking a pie and she’s drying my tears), the weather (home is snuggled by my dad’s fireplace during a snowstorm) or the time of year (home is watching my kids get doused with the water buckets on Allen Street during Arts Fest). At the end of the day…home is where my family is. We joke that ours is one, that like so many other families, puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunction. But I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. I sometimes get sad that our lives are all so busy at the moment and that hockey games, swim meets and general teenage angst prevent us from coming together as frequently as we’d all like (not to mention everyone needing to WORK like madmen to make ends meet these days)…but when we are surrounded by one another…I am HOME.
This past Easter weekend while we were in Pittsburgh, we visited my Gram. Gram (or ‘Grammy’ as my kids know her) will be celebrating her 91st birthday in July and while her physical health is top notch, she unfortunately had to move into an assisted living facility 18 months ago due to the fact that she was progressing through the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I prepared my kids for the fact that she would not remember us…but that she *would* remember Poppy (her son…my dad), which would hopefully ease their discomfort of feeling like an apparent stranger to her. When we first arrived, Gram seemed sad and distant. But as we ate lunch with her and talked about the past…the memories that I have of her from my childhood…the upbringing that my dad and his siblings had…Gram seemed to perk up. She enjoyed our company…she revelled in our laughter…and she even was satisfied with our discussion of how terrible the spinach souffle tasted. After lunch, we walked Gram back to her room. We weren’t in her room for more than 2 minutes before she started telling my dad that she was ready to go home. Home? “Mom,” he said, “this *IS* your home”. No, no, no. She KNEW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was NOT her home. At first she was jubilant, jumping up and down at the thought of going home, even if she didn’t know where home was. But as it became apparent that she was not going anywhere, she became angry and despondent. It was hard to leave her…heartbreaking, actually. Because while this was somewhat of a breakthrough for her (she has NEVER asked to go home since her first week at the facility), her moment of lucidity brought her such sadness. As I thought about this interaction over the weekend, I got to thinking…where *is* home? Is it a physical place? Sometimes I think it is, but in actuality, it is a state of mind. Gram could not tell us where she wanted to go, specifically, but she knew the feeling…she knew that ‘Home’ was having her family at her side. And as we left, the feeling of home also walked out the door.
So where is my home? Is it in Pittsburgh? Is it in State College? Is it with my family? It is here. It is where I make it…right here…right now.