After avoiding writing fiction for a long time (a response to a bad experience in my younger days, something like having an aversion to raw oysters after getting food poisoning from them), I decided to dive back in a couple of years ago. The reason was simple: though I loved the vast array of material I could cover writing nonfiction, only fiction would allow me to explore matters of the heart as I wanted to. Each of my first three novels has been a love story with a significant secondary theme that allowed me to ruminate on things that I wanted to address. My first, When You Went Away, touched on parenting, and my second, Crossing the Bridge, on family and one’s place in it. My third novel, The Journey Home, is my take on the meaning of home.
The word “home” always had magical significance to me. I think this might have been because I was the youngest child in a large family with a great deal of extended family around. In my mind, home came to represent big gatherings with many people to connect with. Sundays in our household swirled with activity; there could be anywhere between a dozen and two dozen people around the dinner table. Home also meant having others nearby. There was a significant age difference between my next nearest sibling and me. That meant that I felt like I’d been placed in a household of elders. My siblings weren’t great playmates because of the age difference, but they would bake cookies with me, let me hang out with their friends (to a limited degree), and allow me to stay up late with them watching television. They modeled for me what growing up was going to be like.
The other significant definition of home to me was the dependability of events. We always ate our big meal at 3:00 on Sunday (no one ever sufficiently explained this to me, since we ate at 6:30 every other night). Christmas was always at my parents’ house, Easter was always at my aunt’s, and Mother’s Day was always at a restaurant. Saturdays were for friends and Sundays were for family. There were birthday rituals, summer rituals, and visiting-the-relatives rituals. The combination of this gave me the sense that I was involved in an institution, that our home was stable, solid, and as permanent as things related to people ever can be.
After my father died and my mother moved to an assisted living facility, it was my job to do the final clean-out of the house I’d grown up in. This was a deeply bittersweet experience, going through photos I hadn’t seen in decades and books that had somehow survived my departure nearly two decades earlier. I found sense memories attached to cutlery and bed linens. Picking up a crocheted sign sent me back thirty years. When my wife and I drove away from the house that day, I felt a profound sense of melancholy. I was saying goodbye to a place that had meant so much to me – a place that represented me in so many ways.
As if by providence, though, no more than a week later, my daughter came home with a school assignment. She had to write an essay about family traditions. We started discussing all the little things that had become part of the fabric of our unit, things related to celebration, holidays, music, trips, food, and so much more. When we finished, my daughter said, “Boy, we sure have a lot of rituals.” And with that I realized something that I’d already internalized but that I needed to be conscious of at that juncture: our household was most definitely a home.
Michael Baron is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of his works. You can learn more at our website.