her father had needed her to dig the potatoes and load them into burlap bags
but here she is leaving her daughter
on the campus in the city time to go we go to the parking lot
old glasses thick graying hair she is wearing a man’s shirt has to get back to the job
we stand beside her Ford and it is here she undoes the buckle of the watch and holds it out to me
my father’s watch keeping good time for him and then for her
she says she knows I will need a watch to get to class we hug and she gets in
starts the car eases into traffic no wave
the metal of the back of the watch
is smooth to my thumb and it keeps for a moment a warmth from her skin. ~Marjorie Saiser from “She Gives Me the Watch off Her Arm” from I Have Nothing To Say About Fire
When I decided to attend college out of state, to a campus I had never seen before, my mother decided she couldn’t handle the goodbye in a strange place, so sent me on a two day drive with my dad. She was a very emotional person and he wasn’t, so he got the job of dropping me off.
It was a quiet car ride with only my dad and myself together. I think we both dreaded the upcoming parting moments.
When the moment came – my things scattered chaotically about my dorm room, marijuana smoke haze filling the dorm hallway and noise everywhere with loud music and the partings of students and parents – I looked at him with foreboding and desperation at this foreign environment to which I must learn to adapt. His eyes filled with tears — the first time in 18 years I had seen him cry — and he said “you know what you are here for,” hugged me tight and turned around and left.
My father didn’t give me anything but those parting words, but they still ring in my ears every day whenever I am feeling somewhat desperate, even now fifty years later.
It was a rough start at college for me, homesick as I was, in an unsupportive unstructured dorm environment. I came home at Thanksgiving that quarter and didn’t return until the following fall. But I finished strong and never looked back. You can’t go home again, not really.
Now I know what I am here for.
Make a one-time and recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts
when my father had been dead a week I woke with his voice in my ear I sat up in bed and held my breath and stared at the pale closed door
white apples and the taste of stone
if he called again I would put on my coat and galoshes ~Donald Hall “White Apples”
She skimmed the yellow water like a moth, Trailing her feet across the shallow stream; She saw the berries, paused and sampled them Where a slight spider cleaned his narrow tooth. Light in the air, she fluttered up the path, So delicate to shun the leaves and damp, Like some young wife, holding a slender lamp To find her stray child, or the moon, or both. Even before she reached the empty house, She beat her wings ever so lightly, rose, Followed a bee where apples blew like snow; And then, forgetting what she wanted there, Too full of blossom and green light to care, She hurried to the ground, and slipped below. ~James Wright “My Grandmother’s Ghost from Above the River: The Complete Poems
I saw my grandma’s ghost once.
She was my only grandparent I actually knew and who actually knew me — the others were lost before I was born or too young to realize what I had lost.
She had lived a hard life: losing her mother when she was 12, taking over the household duties for her father and younger brother while leaving school forever. She married too young to an abusive alcoholic, lost her first child to lymphoma at age 8 before treatment was possible and took her three remaining children to safety away from their father for a year to live above a seedy restaurant where she cooked seven days a week to make ends meet.
But there was grace too. The marriage somehow got patched together after Grandpa found God and sobriety – after his sudden death sitting in church, Grandma’s faith never wavered. Her garden soil yielded beautiful flowers she planted and nurtured and picked to sell, her children and grandchildren welcomed her many open armed visits and hugs.
She was busy planning her first overseas trip of a lifetime at age 72 when we noticed her eyes looked yellow. Only two weeks later she was bed-bound in unrelenting pain due to pancreatic cancer, gazing heaven-ward instead of Europe-bound. Her dreams had been dashed so quickly, she barely realized her itinerary and destination had changed.
I was 16 at the time, too absorbed in my own teenage cares and concerns to really notice how quickly she was fading and failing like a wilted flower. Instead I was picking fights with my stressed parents, worrying over taking my driver’s license driving test, distracted by all the typical social pressures of high school life.
Her funeral was unbearable as I had never really said goodbye – only one brief hospital visit when she was hardly recognizable in her anguish and jaundice. I didn’t even get to hold her hand.
Soon after she had been lowered into the ground next to her husband and young daughter, she came back to me in a dream.
I was asleep when my bedroom door opened into the dark, wakening me as the bright hallway light pushed its way via a shimmering beam to my bed. Grandma Kittie stood in my bedroom doorway, backlit by the light surrounding her silhouette. She silently stood there, just looking at me.
Startled, I sat up in my bed and said to her, “Grandma, why are you here? You died and we buried you!”
She nodded and smiled. And then she said to me:
“I want you to know I’m okay and always will be. You will be too.”
She gave a little wave, turned and left, closing the door behind her. I woke suddenly with a gasp in my darkened bedroom and knew I had just been visited.
She hadn’t come to say goodbye or to tell me she loved me — that I knew already.
She had come to shine with her light blossoming around her, mending my broken heart by planting it with peace.
You’re in a better place I’ve heard a thousand times And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you
But the reason why I’m broken The reason why I cry Is how long must I wait to be with you
I close my eyes and I see your face If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place Lord, won’t you give me strength To make it through somehow I’ve never been more homesick than now
Help me Lord cause I don’t understand your ways The reason why I wonder if I’ll ever know But, even if you showed me The hurt would be the same Cause I’m still here so far away from home
In Christ, there are no goodbyes And in Christ, there is no end
So I’ll hold onto Jesus With all that I have To see you again To see you again
And I close my eyes and I see your face If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place Lord, won’t you give me strength To make it through somehow
Won’t you give me strength To make it through somehow Won’t you give me strength To make it through somehow I’ve never been more homesick than now ~Millard Bart Marshall
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
Thank you to Harry Rodenberger for the hummingbird nest videos!
We have been a disconsolate people, uneasy and restless, particularly during the past year of being told to stay at home is best. Safety and protection became the priority despite our longing for freedom of movement.
Now with pandemic restrictions lifting, many of us are impatient to fly and travel, even when the hawks in our lives remain in close pursuit. Though baffled, beaten and blown by the ever-buffeting winds of doubt and threat, we want our liberty.
It is easy to forget: this earthly home isn’t our “safe” place and true freedom isn’t going where we please when we please.
This life is merely vapor and our ultimate longing is for something far more eternal than we will find here.
We’re almost home – together on this journey through the darkness to forever.
If you enjoy these Barnstorming blogs, consider this new book from Barnstorming available for order here:
That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, “a perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.” Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing! ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Hobbit
We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
Every now and then, I forget to turn off the lights in the barn. I usually notice just before I go to bed, when the farm’s boundaries seem to have drawn in close. That light makes the barn seem farther away than it is — a distance I’m going to have to travel before I sleep. The weather makes no difference. Neither does the time of year.
Usually, after turning out that forgotten barn light, I sit on the edge of the tractor bucket for a few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the night outside. City people always notice the darkness here, but it’s never very dark if you wait till your eyes owl out a little….I’m always glad to have to walk down to the barn in the night, and I always forget that it makes me glad. I heave on my coat, stomp into my barn boots and trudge down toward the barn light, muttering at myself. But then I sit in the dark, and I remember this gladness, and I walk back up to the gleaming house, listening for the horses. ~Verlyn Klinkenborg from A Light in the Barn
I have always been, and always will be a home-body. As a child, I was hopelessly homesick and miserable whenever I visited overnight somewhere else: not my bed, not my window, not anything that was familiar and comfortable. Going away to college was an ordeal and I had to do two runs at it to finally feel at home somewhere else. I traveled plenty during those young adult years and adapted to new and exotic environs, but never easily.
I haven’t changed much in my older years. Even now, travel is fraught with anxiety for me, not anticipation. I secretly had hoped for a prolonged stay-cation for a change rather than rushing about at break-neck speed when we had a few days off from work. I must be careful for what I wish for, as it is now seven months of stay-and-work-at-home with only two brief sojourns to visit out of town children.
It has been blissful — yet I dare not say that out loud as so many people don’t do well staying at home and are kicking the traces to be set free.
Not so me. I am content on our farm, appreciating our “perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.”
Merely allowed to just be here is my ultimate answer to weariness, fear and sadness.
I was cold and leaned against the big oak tree as if it were my mother wearing a rough apron of bark, her upraised arms warning of danger. Through those boughs and leaves I saw dark patches of sky… I looked to the roof of mom and dad’s house and wondered if the paisley couch patterns would change during the day. My brother peeked from a window and waved. When the bus came, I pawed away from the trunk, fumbled, and took my first step toward not returning. ~Dante Di Stefano from “With a Coat”
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding”
I remember the restlessness of my late teens when I learned homesickness was not a terminal condition. There was a world out there to be explored and I knew I was meant to be a designated explorer, seeking out the extraordinary.
Ordinary simply wouldn’t do. Ordinary was plentiful at home on a small farm with a predictable routine, a garden to be weeded and daily chores to be done, with middle-aged parents tight with tension in a struggling marriage.
On a whim at age nineteen, I applied for wild chimpanzee research study in Africa, and much to my shock, was accepted. A year of academic and physical preparation as well as Swahili language study was required, so this was no impulsive adventure. I had plenty of time to back out, reconsider and be ordinary again.
It was an adventure, far beyond what I had anticipated and trained for. When I had to decide between more exploration, without clear purpose or funding, or returning home, I opted to return to the place I started, seeing home differently, as if for the first time, after having been away.
Ordinary is a state of mind, not a place. I can choose to be deeply rooted in the mundane, or I can seek the extraordinary in attentive exploration of my everyday world.
Returning back where I started – knowing the place for the first time.
A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. ~Robert Frostin a letter to Louis Untermeyer
Spending time away from home has always been difficult for me. I was hopelessly homesick as a child whenever I stayed overnight with a friend or even with my grandma. Going to college two states away was a complete ordeal – it took me much longer than typical to let go of home and finally settle into a new life away from all that was familiar. I really did feel sick clinging too tightly to home base, unwilling to launch, barely able to wave good-bye.
Even now, as I travel away from the farm for a week for this or that, I sometimes get the lump-in-the-throat feeling that I remember keenly from my childhood years — knowing I am out of my element, stretching my comfort zone, not feeling at home away from home.
Will I ever grow out of this now that I’m in my mid-sixties or will it only get worse? Will I ever embrace a lovesickness for the rest of the world?
I keep trying – but the return trip is still the sweetest remedy for this sickness. There’s no place like home…
There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. — G. K. Chesterton
Home can seem elusive and just out of reach for much of our lives. It may not feel we truly belong in any one place in this modern era of constant transitions and transfers.
In high school, I could not plan a get-away from my home town fast enough, opting to go to college two states away. Once I was away, I was hopelessly home-and-heartsick. Miserable, I decided to come back home and go to school there instead.
Once back under my parents’ roof, my homesickness abated but the heartsick continued, having nothing to do with where I ate and slept. I wasn’t at home inside myself. It took time and various attempts at geographic cures to settle in and accept who I always had been.
Those who do move away often cast aspersions at people who never wander far from home. The homebodies are seen as provincial, stuck in a rut, unenlightened and hopelessly small-town. Yet later in life as the wanderers have a tendency to move back home, the stay-at-homers become solid friends and neighbors. Remarkably, they often have become the pillars and life blood of a community. They have slogged through long hours of keeping a place going when others left.
I did end up doing my share of wandering yet sympathizing with those who decided to stay put. I returned home by settling only a few miles from the stomping grounds of my homesteading great-grandparents, at once backwoods and backwater. Cast aspersions welcomed.
Now I get back home by mostly staying home. It takes something major (like a son teaching in Japan settled in for the long term with wife and daughter) to lure me away from my corner of the world. Getting away is good, coming back home is better.
Best of all, it’s the assurance expressed so simply by Thomas Hardy in Far From the Madding Crowd, “And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
One evening, when our daughter was only a toddler,
just learning the words to tell us what she needed,
I was preparing dinner, humming to
a choral music piece playing in the background.
She sat on the kitchen floor, looking up at me,
her eyes welling full with tears
like pools of reflected light spilling over
from some deep-remembered reservoir of sorrow.
At first I thought she was hurt or upset
but then could see she was feeling an ache a desolation deep as a homesickness as she wept for wonder
at the sad beauty of the music
that spoke for her
the words she could not express:
Of the One who waits for us Who will always wait for us In those radiant meadows
Yet also came to live with us And wanders where we wander.
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars.
~James Agee “Sure on this Shining Night” from Permit Me Voyage
He saw clearly how plain and simple – how narrow, even – it all was;
but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him,
and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence.
He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome. ~Kenneth Grahame, from Wind in the Willows about the Mole and his home at Mole End
Solastalgia–a pining for a lost environment or a state of homesickness when still at home. This word is derived from solacium (“comfort”) and algia (“pain”) and coined by Professor Glenn Albrecht in Australia in his research in Environmental Studies. He has been studying Australian farmers displaced by climate changes that have rendered their land and homes uninhabitable dust bowls. Their despair is losing not just their livelihoods but more emphatically, the familiarity and solace of surroundings lasting for generations of family members. They become lost souls at home.
It is easy to dismiss talk of “home” in this modern day as sentimental hogwash. When we can travel globally in a matter of hours and via computer can arrive in anyone’s backyard, living room or even bedroom, “home” seems an outmoded concept.
Yet human beings thrive on predictability, stability and familiarity. When home no longer resembles home, when the birds no longer sing as they once did, the native flowers no longer bloom, the trees no longer move in the breeze, where can we seek solace and comfort?
We are homesick right in our own back yards, if there is still a back yard left to dwell within.
As a child, one of my favorite books was Virginia Lee Burton’s “Little House”, written in 1942, about a cottage built sturdy out in the countryside to last for generations of one family.
” The Little House was very happy as she sat on the hill and watched the countryside around her. She watched the sun rise in the morning and she watched the sun set in the evening. Day followed day, each one a little different than the one before… but the Little House stayed just the same.”
As the years go by, more houses are built near by and then a town surrounds the cottage, and finally it is engulfed in the noisy, smelly, sooty, smoky city.
Eventually a great-granddaughter finds the Little House and moves it out far into the countryside to become “home” once again.
Voltaire reminded us to cultivate our own garden and more recently, Joni Mitchell observed: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” How many live somewhere that looks like it did 20, 60, 100 years ago? How many would recognize our childhood homes if we drove by now? How will our children remember “home”?
I have found one cure for solastalgia — create home where you are and where your people might be for generations to come. One of the most effective ways is to plant bulbs, bushes, flowers and trees. Again and again. This cure is as old as Johnny and his appleseeds or the French fable “The Man Who Planted Trees” about the shepherd who restored an entire valley by planting acorns.
It has to do with restoring life on the land. Home is more than just the boards and doors and windows and fireplaces. It is the earth we steward and the care we provide.
Solace is available for the homesick because of the capability of our hands and hearts.