There’s no place like home, Toto

#410 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 2002, Hills Newspapers

“I want to go home,” you sometimes hear, especially from kids who are cranky and tired out. And, from weary adults comes, “I can’t wait to get home.” After being away for a time, a person will sigh, “I am so glad to be at home.”

When I’d ask my mom to stay and visit a little longer with me, she’d frequently say, “I just want to go home to my own bed.” Because home is where our bed is, where we sleep and dream. A place to feel cozy and protected, a place to hide, where we can be sick and wake up feeling better.

Home provides us safety and privacy, a space to share with family, pets, friends — or no one. We can store our belongings at home, dry and orderly — or not — and keep them to ourselves. We can stay up late and wake up late, or early. We can leave the dishes in the sink or we can vacuum the floors hourly. We can wear anything we want at home, can leave the TV on all of the time or not have a TV at all.

I think about home a lot, about my own house, about houses belonging to others that I see. I am very interested in the large concept of home and also in the specifics of houses that Anet and I are offering for sale to new owners.

We have a new listing, a small house in the part of El Cerrito on the Albany border, a house which feels warm and light and homey to me, words I might have used to describe it, but I wanted more. I wanted to make a better message, a true one about this house, at least as I have experienced what it is like to be there.

My musings sent me to my usual resources, books of quotations and poetry, but nothing struck me as right. I had already chosen for the cover of our advertising flyer an illustration of two 1940-era children sitting on a comfy couch sharing a book with the title “Inside My House.”

Wanting to explore the idea of what children might think and feel about home, their houses, I emailed a few friends with kids and asked what their kids had to say.

“What I like about our house is that it’s ours and I’ve grown up to love it,” wrote back Emma Jackson, who is 10 years old. “Even though it’s small, there’s tons of great things to do and great things happened within it. It brings back memories. I have my own room. We have a fantastically fun back yard and things are just better in this house than others. Maybe because it doesn’t have stairs to constantly walk up and down on. Maybe because we don’t have far to run to the bathroom. Maybe because it’s just the right house for us (except slightly smaller, but that’s O.K.)”

Emma’s remarks just blew my socks off. It was her saying that things are just better in her house than in others that really got me. That pretty much sums up Home, doesn’t it?

But Emma’s report is so much her own, so personal to her experience of her home, that I knew that I could not use her words on my flyer. Instead I pretended to be my own child. I began by writing what I thought a child might be imagining and worrying about in the outside world – rain and cold and dark, sharp teeth tigers, bears, large and growly, and leathery dragons.

Then I took that child home. I wrote that when she’s home, she’s left the outside out. All of those scary things are no longer with her because now she is at home. At the end I wrote, “In here, inside my house, home is all around me.”

That is the best thing about home to me, that when I’m inside, home is all around me. I can build a fire (and often do), work and walk in my garden, stock my refrigerator.

I like to rearrange my shelves and clean out drawers, neaten up the coffee table, and scrub the sink. Just about every evening of my life, I sit on the couch in the living room and watch TV out of the corner of my eye while reading magazines. I love doing this; it is a primary joy for me.

I watch my cats jump one another over ownership of the fireplace rug, turn off the lights in the hallway that the kids leave on, make sure there are extra supplies of rice and noodles and cereal on hand. Sometimes I bring flowers into the house and they bring me ecstasy for days. Other times I lay on the window sill for contemplation a scarlet leaf, a blue jay’s feather, or (right now) a spiny chestnut-looking seed.

I like answering the phone when I feel like it, and don’t answer it when I don’t. I love getting the mail out of the mailbox and going through it. A couple of times a year, I treat myself to having my windows washed, inside and out, and can’t believe what clean windows do for my life view.

My children wander through rooms for whatever reasons, and when they encounter me, they almost always say, “I love you, mom.” Whipping up scrambled eggs I’ll do most anytime (all they have to do is ask) but I hate buttering toast so they have to do their own.

All of these things, and many others, make home what it is for me. Home is powerful. I hope to be at home for a long time to come.

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