It is almost time for the migration of moving trucks to descend upon military installations around the globe. Every summer, like clockwork, they roll into neighborhoods, load up the worldly possessions of military families, and leave behind a wake of broken hearts in the process. Watching the packers wrap heirlooms at warp speed, and hearing the sound of tape flying off the roll is something every military family member has experienced. Your entire home is wrapped, packed and boxed right before your eyes.
Home has always been a relative term for me. I was raised in the Army and married back into the family business. I’ve had so many homes I’ve stopped keeping track. My husband keeps a list of places we have lived for his security clearance, but I would be in for a long, painful experience if I had to recreate my almost 45 years of addresses. I have always struggled with my definition of home. Is home a house, a town, a country, a post, a person, people or things? Truthfully, it has been and is all of those to me.
My junior year of high school we moved to a new duty station, and I switched schools again. I remember standing in the kitchen looking out the window at a view that was not familiar, and I started to cry. My mom came in to check on me and I told her, “This is not our home.” She hugged me and said, “It will be.” Over the next few days my mom made quick work of opening boxes, hanging pictures and rearranging the furniture. A week later I walked in the front door, and she was right. It was my home. A reconfigured version, but it was home. I have never forgotten what my Mom did for us, and I have attempted to do the same for my two girls. I try to make every white-walled house we enter into a home, no matter how long we are scheduled to stay. I let them keep their treasures, and empathetically understand their unusual attachments to inanimate objects. Dozens of stuffed animals haven’t put us overweight, yet.
I too have a strong connection to my collections. I still cannot bear to part with my daughters’ elementary school work. They each have boxes of artwork, projects and handwritten papers that I have moved duty station to duty station. I am sentimental, and sifting through those boxes can turn me into a sniffling, snotty mess in 30 seconds flat. I thought I was just a pack rat extraordinaire, but I have come to realize (and my husband has begrudgingly accepted) I relate my things to being home. I do not always have a brick and mortar structure that I can call home. Instead, I have furniture, fixtures, pictures and tchotchkes that tell our story. Our home changes with every new duty station, but I find solace in the familiar items I unpack on a summer day in a strange locale while snacking on cookies from a kind neighbor. It is not so much the actual items, but the memories they evoke that can cause my heart to palpitate at the Goodwill donation drop-off.
Collections aside, the most important piece of my home puzzle is people. There is a comfort and safety in sitting with friends and family who know you, warts and all, and still choose you. I feel a deep sense of home when surrounded by people I trust and love. But, you have to find new friends for them to become old friends, and the Army can make that happen whether you want to be in the new friend business or not. It is not easy to let down your guard and allow a new person into your circle, but our military lifestyle demands a certain level of vulnerability. It is in moments of great stress, sheer panic and pain that some of the deepest bonds are formed.
My definition of home is ever changing, but I find home in many places. . .
Home is my family gathered around the table.
Home is a hot cup of coffee out of a favorite mug.
Home is a hug from an old friend.
Home is a plate of cookies from a new friend.
Home is walking our dogs with my husband on an early, peaceful morning.
Home is drinks around the fire pit with friends.
Home is the city where I was born, and every post where I was raised and we have raised our children.
Home is my mom’s sugar cookies topped with her famous frosting.
Home is where I met and married my husband.
Home is our Christmas ornaments on the tree.
Home is where I birthed our babies.
Home is hearing our girls giggle together.
Home is our pictures and letters.
Home is the sound of faraway friends and family on the other end of the phone.
Home is a car ride with my girls.
Home is a card waiting in the mailbox.
Home is a text that hits my phone at the perfect time.
Home is my magnet collection.
Home is my husband walking through the door in his uniform.
Home can be many things to many people. I have learned that home is a feeling, and when it strikes, you know you are where you need to be.
You are home.