It’s more than we might imagine. I was pointed to a new word today – “Hiraeth”. It is a Welsh word defined as homesickness for home, land or place – somewhere to which you can probably not return, or even someplace of the imagination which never was. It could be a place you’ve dreamed of visiting, but circumstances or finances won’t permit it. There are feelings of grieving, yearning, and nostalgia regarding a lost place, something you cherish.
Awhile back I wrote the following in a Facebook “note”, while feeling the pinch of post Christmas holiday melancholia. However, Mother’s Day especially evokes hiraeth for me probably more than any other holiday, since home and mom are part and parcel of the same place in the heart. And when they both leave your life, this is always accompanied by a sense of wishing that you could somehow sit with Mom in that home of the past. There are questions you never had the chance to ask her, and you find yourself wishing like crazy that you could.
A House Is Not Just a House / “Note” from January 4, 2014 Revised
Looking at some of the holiday posts on the Internet over the last several days, I realize how ambivalent a lot of people are feeling this time of year about family visits and the like. Some may have wished they were not participating in the gatherings they were invited to; others found it difficult to pull away when their all too brief visit came to its end.
There are pictures of small groups gathered around as they happily open presents, but the feeling behind the images is that one another’s presence means far more than all the presents. Those who had the opportunity to enjoy each others’ company are blessed far more than they can imagine. Some are not so fortunate, but spent the time in isolation or cut off from everyone they really care about. Either their families have moved away, they may be in assisted living facilities, or they might be the last survivor of a generation of their peers.
Whatever the reason, being alone is no way to spend any holiday.
Then there are the pictures of houses – one’s own or other dwellings of interest – everything from the stately looking, comfortable two story [or more] dwellings to the cozy log cabin out in the wilderness, with a plume of smoke coming from a fireplace chimney. You can almost smell the scent of the red-hot logs in the hearth and hear the crackling fire. In front of the fireplace a large shaggy dog naps comfortably as he dreams of being fed from the table when the long awaited dinner is finally served.
These many images (and I’m sure you can come up with a few of your own) are evocative of that place called home. And there is no place like home!
This reminds me of the home where I grew up. It was a large, gray, frame two story house with five bedrooms in a formerly thriving and safe neighborhood. Dad grew vegetables and fruit in his half acre garden, and Mom loved flowers of all kinds, which thrived beautifully under her gentle touch in colorful beds all over the yard. I loved the old swing, the sandbox, the snowball bush, the walnut tree, and especially the plum trees and daffodils! Dad kept the place up and loved to do so, as conscientious dads usually do. He and Mom always made me feel safe inside that old house!
We didn’t have a lot in the way of this world’s goods, but we had a lot of love and we never looked at ourselves as poor. It was a warm loving home where I grew up with two brothers who were quite a bit older than I, but there was no distance in the relationship due to that at all. They were my first baby sitters, faithful guardians and friends.
I had two favorite places in that old house. One was at the little landing at the top of the small staircase that led to the big staircase going to the second floor. The other was the front porch. That was screened in, so the most pleasant memories were of sitting or playing happily there in the summer, where you could smell the rain and hear the thunder out on Lake Michigan, a few miles off, when the storms blew in. I liked to read there. My favorite book was a space yarn called Rip Foster Rides The Gray Planet. I read it at least five times!
Holidays were spent with extended family gathered for a big feast on Christmas day, but my favorite was Christmas Eve, when we had our immediate family Christmas celebration. It was a big deal to bring home a bag of nuts, candy, and fruit which were passed out in the church basement to all the kids after the Christmas Eve service.
Somehow that memory sticks with me more than any other. Why a bag of fairly ordinary goodies could seem so magical, I cannot say, but it was. Maybe it was because it was the signal that other presents were on the way!
Occasionally I drive past that old house where all my childhood memories still reside, but I must remember to have a box of tissues with me, since the current occupants have let this formerly comfortable, noble, warm, “hugging” home go into a very deteriorated state. It is heart breaking. I want to walk up to the door and ask, “Why do you let things go like this? This was a loving home, and it’s well over a hundred years old. If you can’t respect it, why did you move into it? I grew up here and I wish I could rescue this place from you!” My heart aches, but the look of the place says, “Do not come any closer!”
Driving past, I look at that old gnarled mulberry tree beside the driveway. At least they left that where it was. My eyes fill with tears.
Houses are living things, like our bodies. If there is a healthy, happy soul inside our bodies, the body reflects the inner condition more often than not, if in no other way than a twinkle in the eye. LIkewise a house is very much a reflection of the people who inhabit it. If they value it and cherish it, it will faithfully serve them with warmth and shelter. It will embody all the happy memories and the love that is shared there. It exudes warmth and fond memories to any who approach it. It will not deteriorate as quickly with good attitudes inside it!
Or not. You can go past any house and basically “read” its “vibes”.
Houses left empty deteriorate rather quickly because there is no life inside them. They are just like ghostly wooden or brick cadavers in a sense. Nothing animates them, and there is a sad feeling that comes from them, as they “expire”. No house deserves to die alone and in dire condition.
I sometimes imagine that houses have a certain consciousness about these things. They seem to want to hold and love a family and to make their people feel safe and happy. They know why they were created, why they came into existence. However, they also deserve the reciprocity of loving people, who will cherish and care for them to the end –
just like human beings.
Epilogue Monday May 14, 2018
I have this sense of emptiness whenever I drive past my childhood home. It is in ruins (along with the neighborhood), uncared for by people who may themselves be empty shells. “Hiraeth” also hits me really hard when I visit places that had extremely happy memories connected to them, places of significance and feeling. Yet now they have changed so much that they are just about unrecognizable. Or it’s just that, in the world of the here and now, possibilities limit them to a memory.
If I thought a “bucket list” was a realistic thing for me, foremost on that list would be the rescue and reclamation of my special places. It would be a little bit of heaven on earth to have them back again.
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