In the early morning hours when sleep wants to flee and I refuse to let it go; or sometimes while falling into sleep at night; or even occasionally when I'm in the car when my husband is driving and I drift into a nap -- sometimes an almost-dream will take me home.
In muddled half-sleep my mind confuses me and I go back to the home I knew as a child, the home where I grew up and lived my entire life until I moved away from home. I may find Mom in the kitchen fixing dinner, or in the basement doing the laundry, or possibly sitting at her desk writing a letter. Dad might be repairing a watch, napping in the recliner, or standing near his desk. Or he may be in the garage working on some project.
I go up to my bedroom and find it exactly as it was when I was a child: a narrow room, bed on one wall, chest of drawers on the other, window opposite the door. Our home never changed. Oh, yes, there were new curtains or carpet, the walls were painted, new pieces of furniture added or the furniture rearranged. But our home never really changed. The windows, the polished wooden bannister to the second floor, the swinging door between the kitchen and the room where Dad's desk was -- it was always the same. Always neat, tidy, and perfectly clean.
They never see me: I come and go quickly because, with a start, I realize I've returned to a home where I no longer live and where no one in my family lives. The call to come home seemed so strong, home so real, the homesickness so heart-breaking, that I had to return. My wakeful mind is not aware of what my sleepy mind knows.
Other times my half-asleep-not-awake mind takes me home to our little story-and-a-half house where my own little family lived for a decade and a half, the home where my husband and I raised our daughters. It sits at the top of a hill on a street with houses so close to each other that if two people with arms outstretched stand between them, each can touch a house.
An original farmhouse, it was shaped like an L with a porch that wrapped around the front and side. There were two doors at right angles to each other in the L on the porch. One led into the living room, the other into the kitchen. We had a swing on the front porch and used to sit and watch the thunderstorms.
The house was cobbled together in the late 1800s by people we assume weren't carpenters. As the house needed repairs we learned that no studs were at the standard 18" on-center anywhere in the house: 12", 15", 18", and any increment between, and sometimes different at the top of the wall than at the bottom. The house had a full basement except for a small section under what was probably originally a porch but which had been converted to a bathroom by the time we lived there. What treasures we found in that crawlspace: lovely old bottles, some hand-blown.
I open our red front door and walk in, put my things on the counter, and suddenly realize I'm home in the wrong house: it is not my home but memory and dream makes it feel like home. Everything is just as it was when we lived there: the baskets on open shelves above cherry cupboards in the kitchen. The hard-as-nails yellow pine floors, the creaky steps at the top of which was a wall: turn left into the big bedroom or right into the smaller back bedroom with low and angled ceilings. It was a small, cozy home, really more a cottage than a house. A place of comfort and joy, a place of challenges and hardship, a place of love. Home.
Sometimes, when I'm half-awake and dream of home, it's to the house where we live now. It's larger and sturdier than any other house I've lived in. It too was an original farmhouse but built in the mid-1900s. I walk into the breezeway, open the door, and walk into the kitchen. I'm coming home to the rest of my family gathered there. My Airedale Hannah comes around the corner to greet me, overjoyed to have me home again. Then I waken enough to remember that there's only Hannah to greet me. My husband and I have just left our daughters in their new homes and we're coming home without them.
The houses that I've called home, the buildings that were really homes and not just places I lived for a time, have strings tied to my heart that pull me back every so often, even if only in my memory and dreams. Thank goodness for memory -- and a few photographs.
And my ancestors? What of their memories of home? Many moved from one place to another, some from one country to another. Did they sometimes imagine or dream of going home to a home they could no longer return to? Did a particular home tug at their heartstrings?
What about you? Does your half-awake-half-asleep mind take you home to a home where you no longer live?