When it comes to the idea of home, I’m a total sap. While growing up, I lived in the same house for seventeen years (1992-2009), and not-so-secretly hoped that my parents would never move – staying even after my brothers and I had moved out. Had I not been so narrow-minded and selfish about the idea when I was in high school, I would have realized that a hope like that was totally unrealistic for my parents. They were gracious and supportive enough to stick around so I could graduate from high school, come home for my first Christmas of college, and they even let me pack up my room over spring break.
The tough part came when they picked me up from the dorms on move-out day in June 2009 and told me the house had sold. They wanted to get out of suburbia; can’t say I blame ’em after 25+ years of the rat race. Looking back, I’m grateful instead of angry, because I was allowed the extra year to distance and detach myself from home.
I wrote this piece for my final portfolio in the “Intro to Creative Writing” course I took last fall. The genre is creative non-fiction in so far that the events, details, and conversations of the essay are exactly as they were in real life – or as close to the truth as I remember. Our teacher made it clear that the biggest concern with this genre is the pact between writer and reader: you, the audience, expect that I am telling the truth while I, the writer, continually promise to do so. If this pact is broken by exaggerations in the details or pulling the story too far from the truth, readers will often feel cheated and misled.
Our assignment was called an Object Essay. We brainstormed in class one day to help us pick an item that had value in our lives; one that we could use as an instrument in finding a deeper issue. I thought first of the ring my Gramps left me after he passed, then of the blanket I’ve had since the day I was born. The list I came up with was extensive and incredibly broad in topics – but I’ve struggled with the association of home, family, comfort, and refuge for a long time, so I knew that was my ‘deeper issue’. I found my answer in remembering items of our childhood. This short essay is called Moon Phases.
The clock hung above the armoire in the family room of our old house, visible from the hallway and kitchen. The house itself wasn’t old, only eighteen years when we left, but someone else’s furniture fills that room now. I don’t know when or where Mom bought the clock; I don’t remember if anything else ever held that spot on the wall before it. With dark wood – mahogany maybe – used for the frame and a brass border with small details encircling the face, the clock weighed a considerable amount. Each spring and fall, I would take the great thing off its hook to reset it according to daylight savings; I was always afraid I would drop it, but these moments were my only chance to feel the enormous weight of time in my young hands.
This clock, particularly the face, enchanted me. In the top half, inside the circle of twelve numbers, was a half-moon-shaped inlay. Inside the inlay was a rotating face of navy blue, dotted with silver stars, showing the phases of the moon. I never thought to check if the phases were accurate with a calendar; the beauty of the decoration was enough for me. The sound of passing seconds on this clock was soothing too, unlike any I’ve ever heard. The soft tick tick was quiet, distant – like I was deep underwater and the clock was above the surface, and the sound stayed in the background of every moment in that house. Every morning, upon entering the kitchen, I would check the time on the clock and for a brief moment, I would examine the moon. The batteries must have been replaced on several occasions in its time in that house, but somehow I was never aware of it.
“When we moved for the Navy, the only things that stayed the same were each other and our furniture. Our house, school, friends, and twice our dogs had to stay behind.”
“I know Mom, I’ve heard the story before. You went to three DIFFERENT schools just in 7th grade – I know.”
Many times while I was in high school, Mom would tell me how badly she wanted to move. She said the house was always empty and quiet since my brothers had left for college; maybe it was the “suburban lifestyle” that had grown old; perhaps she was used to moving, so staying somewhere too long felt odd. Dad seemed content enough, though he complained too – mostly about the traffic in the area. However many reasons there were, they put the house up for sale, packed up and left.
Over a year went by without the clock after we moved. Everything was taken down, packed up, put away; the clock stayed in storage. The rental house was a temporary home – just fourteen months before we moved again – and it was always somewhat empty. So much I remembered from my childhood was missing or out of place: no bench full of shoes in the hallway, no cabinet under the television full of puzzles and games, no bookcases piled high with old poetry collections and atlases, no paintings or pictures on the walls. At least we had our couch and dinner table. I was finally realizing why it’s so important to keep familiar furniture in a move.
One of our other clocks took a prominent position in the family room, as it was the only one to come out of storage. On my visits during college to this house on weekends and for Christmas, I couldn’t usually pick out what made me feel so heartbroken, besides the fact that I missed the old house. I imagine part of me simply forgot for a while about the old, faithful, gorgeous moon clock.
The clock still catches my eye from the kitchen at my parents’ new Whidbey house; it hangs in the family room on the wall above the main hallway. Nothing about it has changed: the wood and brass still glow and shine, the hands still smoothly click away the time; the moon still appears on its own schedule, seeming to have its own agenda, and we have no interest in changing it to be in accordance with a moon chart.
It’s the main source to check the time while in the family room, and I pass under it every time I venture to another part of the house. This house, which I now visit quite infrequently, has finally become a place I can call a second home. When I’m there, I don’t pay particular attention to the timepiece on the wall, but more to the people: parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters-in-law. There are moments though when I have an urge to take it down for a closer look, to check the batteries and admire its beauty. The moon clock has become a hallmark of comfort and home, reassuring me that some things never change – no matter where we live.
We all know how the saying goes: “home is where your heart is” – and I know what it’s supposed to mean…. Home is where your family is, and that’s still true for me; but part of my heart is still in that old house, the one I drive by every few months just so I can keep the picture of it vivid in my mind. My heart still clings to the time I had in that house with my parents and brothers, close friends and extended family, pets we’ve now been without for several years.
Now that I’ve finished college and moved back to the area I grew up in, I can truly appreciate my parents’ need to move after the house was empty from their children leaving. I’ve been living in my new apartment for only two months and the constant traffic is already starting to get to me, putting me on the intense and constant defense for the crazies that seem more prevalent here, closer to Seattle, than in Bellingham. Nothing much changes around here, except for a new housing development popping up every now and then. People are piled on top of each other; I think that was reason number one my parents wanted out.
Straying slightly from the tradition of today’s holiday, which normally focuses on love of only the romantic kind, I’ll take this opportunity to further prove my sappiness and let my family know how much I care about them. I’m damn lucky to have had the childhood I did, in a house I adored, with such fantastic people around wh0 loved and supported me.
Now I pose a question to you, my wonderful readers, and hopefully I’ll get a few comments out of this endeavor. What, if any, event(s) in your life shaped or changed your perception of home?