When your house gets christened a home place, you might just figure youve done something right.
Especially when the distinction comes from an in-law.
Then again, maybe not. These notions come to mind in the wake of a Thanksgiving week that saw an accumulation of kinfolks, peaking with four generations of kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws and outlaws with assorted lines of descent and connection, aged 8 months to 82 years spread around two dinner tables.
Plus the three dogs, aged 1 to 14 themselves, momentarily banished to the backyard.
Not exactly Rockwellian, as in Norman of the Saturday Evening Post: Let it be duly noted that, yes, there were occasions when one or more of those on hand got on one or more others nerves, but open warfare was averted and nobody as far as we could tell did anything so embarrassing it couldnt be turned into a joke.
All in all, the sort of happening that goes into metamorphosing a home place out of a house, if you think about it. Which, as the metamorphosing is happening, you dont.
Literally, as the dictionaries would have it, home place just means a family home or the place where one was born. Symbolically, by either spelling, the term is drenched in sentiment: nostalgia with a dose of grief. Search out artwork with home place in the title, and youll find a plethora of rustic scenes with a farmhouse or cabin prominent, usually in an advanced state of decay.
Fair enough. In a mobile world with geography decreasingly relevant, the concepts of home, place and home place do seem kind of quaint, at least in the mass-culture context. In the world where most of us actually live and function, though, they remain for some if not all of us evocative of a reality thats as vital and down-to-earth as ever.
As down to earth, for instance, as a 4-year-old helping Granddaddy dig the sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, in the same patch of ground where his mother helped Daddy pick squash and bell peppers a long time ago.
Times pass and home places come and go. Personal memory relates home place to a big old house at a wide spot in the road between Macon and Atlanta. Cousin Bessie Bryanss place, later Aunt Blannie and Eleanors, it had a cozy fireplace and an aluminum Christmas tree, a well out back and a post-office/filling station/country store down the way across from the lady bootlegger who made the best pound cakes in the world. Rock Ridge Terrace a name from its career as a boarding house acquired that home place quality as the Christmases, summers, occasions and just getaways accumulated.
Thats long gone, to a fire in 1970. In later life, there was the in-laws place, another big old house but this one in Washington, D.C. no, home place doesnt have to be out in the country. It took on that same aura over decades of holidays, birthdays, weddings, traumas, comings, goings and shared living in general.
Shared living is the key thing to it. Home place, being a matter both of location and attitude, isnt something that you can create. Theres nothing self-conscious about it. You might build or buy a house in the hope it will become a home place, but whether that works out or not is up to time and circumstance, and its never the place you yourself live its a place you, or those you hold close, come and go to. Because its the home place. Just worked out that way.
Which brings us back where we started. The D.C. home place is no more, time came for the in-laws to downsize. This year, circumstances conspired to bring the crowd to Durham to our not-so-big old house that the town has sprawled around since we bought it 31 years ago back then, there were woods right down the street past the city limit and a horse farm about three football fields away.
And after the week was over and everyone had gone back where they spend the rest of their time, we got a note from our father-in-law, who always took the patriarchal role. In part it read:
Now you all have the longest-lived old home place in our whole crowd. Over the years (your place) has grown on us all I was thinking that the other Friday night as we crowded around each other, as well as the pack of wild dogs, chowing down on North Carolina barbecue. How many times weve been there and celebrated trips to the beach, family milestones, holidays and just serendipitous times when we all managed to get together. Sometimes all of us or a few of us. Its become home. ... part of us all.
Yes, that makes us the missus and I feel good. Sentimental, even. But its not anything in particular we did; it just worked out that way.
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