What is home and why?

Hello from South America.

New Year’s Eve in Nicaragua can be characterized by three things: family, fireworks, and food. Certainly there are other elements for some, the usual celebratory “necessities,” but fireworks are a central part of it all. Everyone has some and they are exuberant in their using pyrotechnics to celebrate a new year. It is not unique to them, but the degree to which it is part of the celebration is significant and intense! Perhaps some of my reaction is my own uncomfortable sense of shooting them off. Food is central to most celebrations. I have observed this on a number of levels and throughout my life. One of my earliest memories of food comes from my Grandmother’s bakery. She had a serious “from-scratch” bakery with pastry bakers and bread bakers, from cake decorating to providing incredible baked goods for diners, stores, and even hospital break rooms. I grew up in that bakery, and perhaps that is where my love of food originated. Growing up, it was the holidays dinners that the same grandmother and her elder sister, creating meals that are unequalled to this day. The food was perfectly prepared, and created with such love that this extra ingredient merely added to its scrumptiousness.

Then, because my own need for money, I fell upon my first job as a server, thank you to an RA, whose first name was Jack. That restaurant introduced me to a world of food before unimagined. There were flaming entrees and desserts; there were meals rolled out on a gueridon. Wine and food were paired, and eating was about creating an experience. This concept, this practice had never occurred to me. In the years since, working in the food and beverage industry was both a way to make ends meet, but it became so much more. Food is a medium that is a profound equalizer. We all need to eat, but the communal aspect of eating and our response to the fellowship that occurs reveals more about us than we often know. Certainly our connection to food has changed over time. Dinner time was sacrosanct in my household when I was a child. Everyone was sitting at the table at 5:00 o’clock sharp, and being late was not permitted. And yet, my mother, who could outdo any confectioner or candy maker at Christmas, could not cook an edible dinner to save her soul. Conversely, my Grandmother and her sister were kitchen mavens, long before anyone would have considered such a term. Growing up on South Dakota farms during the depression meant they could make magic from nothing. My love of vegetables began in their garden, and there was nothing thrown away, the steamed water became broth. Bones and organs became stock. Everything needed was on the farm, from main dishes and sides to homemade bread and stunning pies and cakes. It was their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that set the standard I have to this day.

I have been fortunate to taste meals from 5 continents and my favorite meal, the ultimate comfort food for me, is simple: a half of pink grapefruit, two poached eggs (soft) and a single piece of buttered toast. Nothing ostentatious, but what my grandma made me every morning. What made it amazing, a little butter on both the eggs and the toast. I am adventurous when it comes to food, but I am also content with simple. It might seem I have strayed from my initial intent of the blog, but fear not, I have not. Home for me is about comfort and safety. Throughout the decade I have been posting, the place of safety for me was 4547 Harrison Street, my grandparent’s home, my place of residence from ages 2-5. I never felt that safety again until I created it on the Acre. That is a half century of time. That realization to stunning to me. The reality is a somewhat frightening when I ponder it in any pointed manner. Simply – seldom did I feel like I had a home for the great majority of my life. Home is essential for identity; home is foundational to security. And yet, not surprisingly, it is much more than a building, an address, a place on lays their head. It is more than ownership or being current on one’s mortgage or rent.

As I write this, I am back in Pennsylvania. It is good to be back on Sterner Avenue, the place I call the mini-Acre. It has become home to me, but the important question is how. I think there are three reasons I can say it feels like home. First, I have decorated and made it mine, both inside and out. Second, this past holiday I turned it into the Winter Wonderland. Christmas and all the decorations recreate the feeling of safety that was the acreage that was my grandmother’s house, the place I felt loved and valued. I think that is what creates a home, feeling loved and valued. The third thing that has created a sense a home is playing in my kitchen. Between waiting tables, prepping in kitchens, and being a restaurant rat and cork dork, food is a fundamental element of my being. I love what you can do when preparing a meal to change a person’s perspective, to contribute to their experiences at any given moment, to establish a connection that is both rewarding to them and personal for me. It is not altruistic, nor is it meant to be. It is in the creating a space what is welcoming and safe that everyone can be themselves. It is through tastes and conversations that we change our lives, one meal, one bite, one glass, or one sip at a time. It is through these three seemingly ordinary things that something extraordinary has occurred.

Much like the same principles I have noted in my Winter Term Technical Writing class, attention to detail and understanding expectations are what creates successful documentation. Creating a home and feeling safe to refer to a space as home is about attention to detail and understanding expectations. Detail is something easy to manage, expectations are something quite different. I have my own expectations, and as is quite evident here, my own baggage. But expectations also come from the other, from the person entering the dwelling. And those expectations come from places both realized and unrealized, from both apparent and unapparent memories. Sometimes it is about things that seem mundane or irrelevant, but our senses are unparalleled in their ability to pull something from the most extreme recesses of our mind. Sound, smell, and even a course of events can pull us back to a previous time and overwhelm the present. And yet, often it happens so unexpectedly, that we fail to process either the present moment or what caused the déjà vu moment to begin with. La prime example for me was at the Acre (my former house) one day. As I walked into my large farmhouse kitchen through what was my back door, I could sense my grandmother sitting in the kitchen on her stool one evening. It was at that moment, and not because of all the renovations I had done, that the Acre became home.

In much the same way, it was as I sat on my couch this past December, with the fireplace blazing, the large Christmas tree lit, and the home decorated in every room that I felt the warmth and serenity of Christmas, of a sense peace that I had not felt since a Christmas on Harrison Street. 239 W Sterner was more than the new place; it has become my current home. There are many details that contribute, and there is always more to do, but at the moment I am content. I am home. This piece by Mannheim Steamroller has reminded me of that serenity and the purity that I believed existed as a small boy. The goodness and safety in feeling loved and valued. In spite of this being more Christmas-based musically, being loved and valued is always in season. Enjoy!

This piece brings tears of joy. I still miss you, Grandma, and I love you. You are my hero. To everyone else, thank you for reading

Michael

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

3 thoughts on “What is home and why?

  1. Dear Dr. Martin,

    “What is home and why?” has a different tone than most your other blogs. This blog being rhetorically structured back-pedals the reader into thinking what a home is to them and relating to the thought much more.
    A home to me is the place where you find the most comfort and happiness. I had moved around in my life an unreal amount of times. Just the past couple years I have had 5 apartments. Since I have left my grandparents Shamokin home in 2016 to go live with my mom I hadn’t felt that same comfortability. I lived places but was not home. I was unsure if I would ever find a home.
    My next home i found was a relationship. That felt like home because it was the happiest and most comfortable I had felt in my life again. I had just ignored it being the most negative part too. I had thought that relationship was like a home to me without the presence of a real comfort spot and gave into a detrimental situation on the idea of short term happiness.
    I believe the place I have moved to this past Winter is my new home. I can not be too sure, but I have not felt this comfortable in 7 years. I feel like that is why I have started slacking and know it needs to stop. I don’t do anything different there than usual. I come home from work or school and see my cats and hop on my PlayStation. I do not have to stress about as much anymore.
    The place I am at now is only a 2 bedroom with 1 bath. I have rented out way more luxurious apartments, like Lionsgate, and been way less happy. Home is where you are most happy and comfortable and to some people that is family and to others that is casinos, clubs, prison. Home is happiness and you choose where it resides.

  2. Dear Dr. Martin,

    This blog post does a great job to influence the reader to look back on their own lives and draw comparisons to this blog post. It allows the reader the ability to ‘connect’ to the post in a certain way.

    From an objective point of view, a ‘home’ is where an individual resides permanently. Taking a deeper look into the meaning is where a more contrasting view approaches. Home, to me, is where I feel most comfortable while also granting me the ability to just ‘be myself’. In other words, home can be just a living space, to others, home may encompass a whole town or even a place an individual just visits from time to time. For example, a snowboarder may feel most at home in a ski lodge or the slopes. A soccer player may feel most at home when on the soccer field.
    Prior to reading this blog, I did not give much thought to this topic. I would just say my home is where i lived most of my life. After reading however, I drew some connections to this post. I really thought about what the ‘feeling’ of being at home was. I took some time to reflect, and it may be odd, but personally, i feel most at home when i am with my family. After living with them for over 19 years, I do not only feel at home when I am at my childhood home, but rather anytime family can get together.

    Every holiday, my family, cousins, and grandparents meet to have dinner. In your blog, you make several notions about how food and celebrations are linked. I agree with this statement. Excluding certain traditions of celebration, food is almost always present at these ‘gatherings’.

    Personally, I believe that feeling at home stems from many different factors in an individuals life. When thought about in a deeper context, I believe this is where an individual realizes what it truly means to ‘feel home’. While i feel most at home with family, others may feel most at home on a field, in the woods, at a bar, etc..

    Home is where you feel most true to yourself, and this causes everyone’s definition to be different.

    Thank you!

  3. Hello Dr. Martin,
    In this blog post, you discuss what makes a house into a home with a significant focus on the food that is cooked and eaten there. You state that one of the things that define a home is comfort, and I can think of few things more comforting than a well-made, home-cooked meal. Working in the kitchen is another factor you use to describe why you view your home as a home since it allows you to establish a connection with your surroundings through the food.
    There are several other factors that you bring up when describing what a home is, however, the way you connect food to home is similar to my own experience with defining home to myself. When I lived in my first home my mother cooked what I consider to be some of the best meals I’ve ever had, especially her baked mac and cheese which became my favorite comfort food. After we moved, her food gave me a sense of familiarity, connecting my experiences in my old home with my new one. After my mother moved out I was left with the job of cooking for me and my father, which would have seemed like a chore for me when I was younger, but as I cooked more, I found it extremely enjoyable, turning my kitchen into a place of comfort.
    Everyone views home differently and has different things that connect them to their homes, so there are probably as many answers to the title of this blog as there are people. Although home is not universal, most ideas probably do fall under the umbrella of comfort and connections, both of which are factors you mentioned in your post.

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