Last weekend, Tanner and I went “home” to hang out with my youngest sister and watch the family dog while my parents went to a conference in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful weekend: Elizabeth catered to our every need by cooking us meals, scooping out our ice cream, accompanying me on my grocery shopping trips, and helping us pick out boat shoes for Tanner; Tanner got to watch football; I got to go to multiple grocery stores; and we both got to hang out with Elizabeth and our Golden Retriever, Happy. As I said, it was a very satisfying weekend.
It did, however, bring to the forefront an issue that’s been bothering Tanner and me since we got married. How many homes can one have? All joking aside (wasn’t it John McCain who forgot how many houses he and his wife owned?), this is an interesting dilemma.
As you may or may not know, Tanner and I were married in the middle of August. Since then, we’ve enjoyed almost three months of married life, getting used to new rhythms and routines like setting up our apartment, learning how to cook, figuring out how to divide the chores (Tanner does laundry; I vacuum and sweep; Tanner cleans the bathroom; I pay bills and make grocery lists), and generally reveling in the utter happiness of living together as our own little family. (I know I’m bragging a little here, but I’m also being sincere. Sincere bragging is the best kind of bragging.) During this time, we’ve gone “home” to visit my family, finish packing up my things, grocery shop, and so on and so forth a couple of different times.
“Home” is Gap: a small town in the middle of Lancaster County, PA. But the question is whether “home” is the right word anymore. For Tanner, of course, it isn’t. When we make plans to go there, he’ll ask things like “when are we going to Gap?” For me, it’s not so easy. I’ve never referred to my hometown as “Gap” in my entire life. It’s always been “home.” And why shouldn’t it be? After all, when you’re a student, your “home” stays your home because you live a transient existence. I haven’t lived in Gap for more than a month or two at a time in the past seven years, but, at least up to now, it’s never ceased to be my home. And although that’s partially by necessity (dorms and dingy law school apartments can be nice, but they’re certainly not anybody’s home), it’s absolutely also by choice. I like being with my family; I like being with my dog; and I like being with them, at home, in Gap.
But now, for the first time, Tanner and I have our own home, and we make up our own family. That is wonderful. But it also means that my familial home in Gap is no longer my default “home”. For the most part, I’m OK with that. There is nowhere else I’d rather be than with Tanner in our cozy, clean, little apartment that we made and continually make into a home together (probably why we got married). All of this brings me back to where we began: can one have two homes? Can one have a real home and then a backup home? An old home and a new home?
If I don’t call the house in Gap “home” what can I call it? I can’t call it my parents’ house because my youngest sister lives there full time, and my other two siblings are there during summer months and school breaks. Plus, my old bed is still there, and the room I formerly shared with Elizabeth remains completely cluttered up with all my junk. I can’t just call it “Gap” because that’s too official and formal. It’s what you say when you’re going on vacation to a new town (“Oh, we’re going to Boston for the weekend”).
These days, I usually end up saying “my home in Gap”. It’s a mouthful, and it probably doesn’t make much sense, but it comes the closest to describing what I feel. It’s no longer just “home” because I have a new home. But it will always be a home to me, just as it’s been for the past 25 years. To not acknowledge it as a home would be (at least in my mind) to cast all of that aside. Home in Gap will always have my favorite kind of Weis skim milk, purple grapes in the fridge, ice cream in the freezer, and all of my books still scattered here and there in the library and underneath my old bed. Most importantly, it always offers complete love and security—the kind that stems naturally from being a kid, growing up in your family’s home. Perhaps that’s the truest measure of what makes a home, “home”.
I’ll never again have a home like the one I have in Gap. And that’s OK; it’s natural, and it’s a part of growing up. But every now and then, it makes me just the tiniest bit sad.