Wednesday, February 3, 2021

That Place Folks Call Home




In my life, home has been an elusive place.  So far I’ve lived in 25 different dwellings in my 68 years of life.  The one I was in the longest was our house in Tawas City, Michigan—19 years.  For nearly all that time, I  thought of it as only a temporary home.

Back then my memories of Rexford, Montana in the 1980s had me thinking of Montana as home.  Now that we’ve been back in this state for almost 13 years, I don’t feel what I thought I would.  In many ways, these past 13 years have been a long downhill slide of change and disappointments.  Maybe it’s just my age.

I envy people who grew up in one place, even one house, and can look back and say, “That’s my home.”  My dad said things like this sometimes, too.  The only place he called ‘real home’ was the house on Eagle Street near downtown Houston, Texas.  He was born in that house and lived there until he moved into a house on Robinhood Street in his teens. (I remember this house as my Feser grandparents’ home.)  At least they still lived in Houston.  What made Dad saddest was how the old house had been torn down to make room for a supermarket parking lot, and later a freeway.

My parents were rootless in a sense, too.  Each of them lived in 15 domiciles in their lifetimes, 9 of them after they married.  Perhaps this is another reason why I feel like a vagabond.  If we’d been able to stay in El Dorado, Arkansas, where I was born, perhaps it would have become home to me.  But we had to move to Illinois when I was 11, because of Dad’s work.  I didn’t think of Illinois as my true home, even though I call it ‘home’ on my Facebook Page.

I think the settings of most of my novels reveal the places my heart wants to call home—Colorado and Texas.  I’m not saying I want to go live there now.  They’ve just come to fill the need in my heart and mind for a place to call home.

Colorado is home because when I transferred to college there from Illinois, it was a fulfillment of my dreams to live in the mountains.  After the turmoil of adolescence and the uprooting of the move to Illinois, I felt my heart had finally found a home.  It’s also where God ‘found’ me, and my faith began to grow.  And where I met my husband.

But why Texas?  I never actually lived there.  A lot of my relatives did, though, and maybe it’s just in my Feser genes.  Most of the Fesers still live in Texas.  When my parents moved back there, after Dad retired, Texas seemed to start calling to me.  In my mind I imagined Paul and I would move there to help take care of my parents in their old age.  Paul could work on one of the Texas National Forests, based in nearby Crockett.  This didn’t appeal to Paul, though.  Next I wondered if I’d just move there by myself and teach music.

Then my brothers settled in Springfield, Illinois (three hours from our original home in Ottawa).  They convinced my parents to move back to Springfield to be closer to them.  That turned out all right.  Now all my immediate family was in one place, about a 12 hours drive from our Michigan house, so we could visit them all at once.  By then, though, Mom was an antisocial recluse, so there were no ‘homey’ visits.

Nothing in Springfield really said ‘home’ to me.  At that time, I thought our move back to Montana would fill that empty space in my heart.  By then, we’d bought 6 acres in the Flathead Valley we hoped to build on.

In 2008, after Paul retired from the Forest Service, and we’d gotten both our kids through college in Michigan, we moved back and began building.  I even found a job teaching music.  When Dad died in 2010, things changed again.  I left the job, we moved Mom in with us so I could care for her Alzheimer’s.  She passed away in 2017.  I confess that after caring for her here at home for 3 years, I was worn out emotionally and physically.  So her last 4 years were in a Memory Care facility.  One nice thing was my brothers came to visit often during those years.

As of 2021, we’ve lived in our Montana retirement house for 13 years.  The time seems to have flown, and I hope to make it to 20 years in this house.  That will surpass the 19 years in the Michigan house, and will be the longest time I’ve lived in any dwelling in my entire life.

Still, in my heart of hearts, I don’t feel at home here.  It’s a bigger city than I’ve lived in most of my life.  And it’s growing so fast that most of the people I pass on the road or see at the store are strangers.

As I look back on my life, not a single place fills that empty space for me.  Two places I still hold dearest are Colorado and Scotland.  I didn’t live very long in either one, but those were the best years of my youth, perhaps of my life.

I guess I’ve learned in these waning years of my life that ‘home’ is really an illusion.  Maybe the old song is right, “I’m but a stranger here.  Heaven is my home.”


By Mary Frances Erler, 2021