Our old home life

Not the Bagots' hallway, but perhaps not so very different. Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

Not the Bagots’ hallway, but perhaps not so very different.
Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

“I was never before so eager to cling to every bit of our old home life and to see you…Come and see me, I am homesick…”C. S. Lewis

Today is my 900th regular post, so I hope you will bear with me as I try something a little bit different. I’m bringing you a snippet of fiction, but first I will lead in with a quote as usual. The quote above is from a letter to his father that Lewis wrote as he was in a London hospital recovering from a battle injury during World War I. Though his relationship with his father was difficult at best (and his mother had died when he was young) there was still a deeply felt bond that tugged at him during his recovery from the horrors of a war that took the life of every one of his Oxford classmates who served alongside him.

As with Lewis, most of us have mixed memories of our early homes.  Yet even if we do not remember our childhood days as consistently happy, there is still a strong foundation that we rest on, often without knowing it. I thought of that again recently as I was listening to Maeve Brennan’s beautiful story “Christmas Eve” which is one of several she wrote about the Bagot family of Ireland.  I listened to the story via the New Yorker podcast as I was driving to school through the thick traffic that always gathers at the approach to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, and what might have been a stressful time was instead a pleasant journey, brightened by flawless storytelling.

The passage below was so lovely that I decided to share it with you, without further comment. I hope it will evoke a warm sense of connection for you, as it did for me.

The hall was quite narrow, and was covered with linoleum, and it served its purpose very well, both as an entrance to the house and as a vantage point from which the house could be viewed and seen for what it was – a small, plain, family place that had a compartmented look now in winter because of all the doors being closed to keep whatever heat there was inside the rooms. In the hall there was a rack with hooks on it for coats, and there was an umbrella stand, and a chair nobody ever sat on. Nobody ever sat on the chair and nobody ever stood long in the hall. It was a passageway – not to fame and not to fortune but only to the common practices of family life, those practices, habits, and ordinary customs that are the only true realities most of us ever know, and that in some of us form a memory strong enough to give us something to hold onto to the end of our days.  It is a matter of love, and whether the love finds daily, hourly expression in warm embraces, and in the instinctive kind of attentiveness animals give to their young, or whether it is largely unexpressed, as it was among the Bagots, does not really matter very much in the very long run.  It is the solid existence of love that gives life and strength to memory, and if in some cases childhood memories lack the soft and tender colors given by demonstrativeness, the child grown old and in the dark knows only that what is under his hand is a rock that will never give way.

 

26 Comments

  1. Julia, thank you for this beautiful post. The desire to go home is something that stays with us all through our lives, but it is something that we can do only in memory sometimes, especially as we grow older and become the eldest generation in our families. What a beautiful reminder of the simple things that make a house a home and of the little things that together create the fabric of a beautiful life.

    • Thank you, I am so glad you enjoyed it. That passage really resonated with me. My own parents weren’t overly demonstrative, but they wove a tight nest of stability and support that has stayed with us. Such a strange feeling to move into the phase of being the elder generation. It’s wonderful, but sobering. Thanks for being here with us.

  2. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia, with my cup of java, as I congratulate you on this 900th post! 💛👏🏻🎉
    I am so glad you created and wrote and shared Defeat Despair with so many. You are truly a blessing to me! Love, Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila, you have always been one of the pillars of this online community of support. I can’t thank you enough. You have returned the blessings tenfold. ❤

  3. Beautiful piece and loved the information on CS Louis. Familiarity is the key. Though we lived a nomadic life, the things that went with us and people, no matter what the relationship, were familiar to us and grounded us somewhat. Loved the clip of a story.

    • Thanks Marlene. I’m unfamiliar with Brennan’s work but now I want to read more of it. Your remarks about familiarity remind me of how eager Drew always was to get our household goods delivered and unpacked when we were in a new location. When we first moved to Hawaii, there was a waiting list for housing. We lived for over a month on a gorgeous stretch of Waikiki Beach, in a beachfront hotel suite that was like a vacation to me, but Drew just wanted to get into our (less than thrilling) base housing, and get settled back into some reminders of our California life. It’s funny how much familiarity can mean to a person who is displaced. Those worn books and threadbare stuffed toys and shabby furniture matter deeply to us, not as material goods, but as visible symbols of invisible ties and memories.

      • I think all the years of nomadic life have left their scars. I’m on the tidy side of hoarding as I cling to things that are loaded with memories and familiarity. Oddly, it hasn’t affected my sister the same way. She holds onto nothing. I remember base housing. Adequate is the word I use here. 🙂

        • Marlene, “adequate” is an excellent description. Even the generals’ homes are modest compared to those of CEOs and high ranking figures in the civilian world. I have more than a little hoarder in me, and all those moves kept it in check. It has been a harder tendency to curb now that we aren’t moving every 3-4 years. No weight limitations to think of. I am negotiating a deal with myself that I can keep unlimited books if I am willing to get rid of most of the rest. Negotiations are ongoing and I’m not holding my breath. 😀

          • You make me laugh. I too negotiate with myself. My last husband brought out the hoarder in me. But I’m quickly moving things on as time permits. Now that the outside of the house is inspection ready, I can once again concentrate on the inside. 🙂

            • Marvelene, I would offer to send you some of my prized trinkets, but knowing you too are “recovering” I will refrain! 😀

              • Thank you so much. As soon as the kid heads out to help his ex, I intend to spend a great deal of time eliminating lots of “stuff”. We had a yard sale, I donated several boxes of things to Salvation Army and as time permits, more is going. I don’t want my kids to have to deal with it when I’m gone. If I don’t love it, why would they want it? 🙂

                • My thoughts exactly, Marlene. Lately I’m having a much easier time letting go of things. Losing some very valuable (to me) files in a computer crash a few years back helped me to turn loose a little bit. It’s a slow process, but one step at a time…

          • LB

            Forgive me for jumping in! Marlene, I love your description of the nomadic life, and taking the familiarity along with us as we move.
            My family – all generations – have been nomads, too. For work, the Navy, the Family, Education – and it is those things we take with us that make the home.
            Loved the “tidy side of hoarding” 🙂

            • Yes! I often tell people that all the sacrifices of the nomadic life are more than compensated by the rewards of it. You are quite welcome to jump in at any time!

  4. MaryAnn

    “Evoke” is the best word for what you caused to raise in my spirit. My father owned & operated a cinder block plant when I was very young. It was later partially converted to living quarters for the 5 of us: Daddy, Mother & 3 children. I am not & have never been a morning person. During high school days, Daddy would stand at the bottom of the stairs letting me know what time it was. To the best of my recollection, I did NOT get up at the 1st call. He very patiently “reminded” me to get up. What a beautiful memory to bubble up: his voice calling my name! I have a lump in my throat. You are a treasure, Julia!

    • Mary Ann, thanks so much for sharing this beautiful “film clip” from your youth! Even though I wasn’t there, I felt as if I was. I wanted to snuggle down in the covers and pretend I was still sleeping. 😀 His voice will always be there for you, calling you at the most unexpected times, and you will know “that what is under [your] hand is a rock that will not give way.” Sending you love and happy memories!

  5. Our vision of home is as unique as is each person’s finger print. Yet the depth of desire to return to it is common to us all.
    -Alan

    • Alan, it’s interesting how universal that longing is. I’ve heard psychologists say that even when childhood is unhappy, people still want to go back, searching for a way to make it right. From a very early age, I remember Daddy emphasizing to us that “you can never go back” to a particular time or place, but only cherish it with gratitude as you move forward. It’s a hard lesson to learn, even in childhood. Like a lot of kids, I was not eager to grow up. Though each of us has a very different picture of home, Brennan somehow managed to evoke that picture for many of us with her words. Thanks for being here with us.

      • In paraphrasing G.k. Chesterton: “I hate the world as it is, but love it enough to want to change it.”
        The same could be said of home. Home is not always found to be as it was meant to be. We hate it when it is not so. Home is meant to be our harbor. It is a refuge from the trials of the world. Where is one to go if a dysfunctional home drives one from it and inspires one’s hate? Yet home is so important that it compels one to make it right. That requires love.
        -Alan

        • Alan, so true. And often, those efforts do pay off. The older I get, the more I treasure our homes…all of them, past, present, and future!

  6. Beautifully expressed.
    “It is the solid existence of love that gives life and strength to memory,…”
    We grow older and realize love comes in different hues, perhaps not the colours we longed for when we were younger, but it is love nevertheless.

    • Timi, how true. For many of us, we may have longed for bright, vivid colors and remember mostly muted autumnal tones. But with the benefit of hindsight, how gorgeous they are!

      One of my classmates at school is from Nigeria. Lagos, I believe. He sat next to me and it was fun getting to know him just a little bit.

      This morning I was trying to imagine having time to go back and read everyone else’s blogs for hours on end. I hope to get to that point eventually. Yours is one of many I have really enjoyed, and I have missed reading your writing. Hope you are doing well!

  7. LB

    Oh my goodness, thank you for sharing that passage!
    I read it twice, once silently, and once to the empty room. So much depth in those words.

    • Yes, they went straight to my heart. I’m glad you liked them too.

  8. Good morning, Julia! This photo and the passage remind me of two things. One is the way that C.S. Lewis described the in – between places in “The Magician’s Nephew” as places where nothing ever happens … but as Brennan suggests, more “goes on” there than we think. The seconds spent on a staircase landing add up over the years, too. That made me think of how lucky people are, who have a window at a landing, and enough space to sit and read, suspended, as it were, from real-life, which happens mainly on the floors above or below.
    And that thought brought me back to a closet in the parsonage next to the church that our family attended as I was growing up. There was a closet with a window (quite unusual for Minnesota in those days, and not especially good for keeping brightly colored clothes from fading, but I digress), and a little step, where I’d love to sit and look out the window. Closets are a little like stairs in that they are a means to an end, and until recently, closets and hallways weren’t typically built with the intention of providing a place to “be.”

    • Susan, I loved reading your word pictures here. I always dreamed of having a window seat, but thus far, no such. I did have a window in my closet in San Antonio, and REALLY loved it. I never thought about it making things fade; I just loved having the natural light. Daylight is like no other kind of light, and I love windows. I also try to have stairs in all our homes for the forced exercise they give me. You are right, the “in-between” places are deceptively quiet, but cumulatively quite significant, I think.

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