How do you know you’re ‘Home?’

“On the path of awakening or the journey to Self, finding home and living there is the goal, for once we are home, we are in Truth and in love. When we are home, everything feels different, but in essence nothing has changed, for we are simply remembering who we really are.”

—  Sara-Jane Grace

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

“So where’s home?”

Simple question, right? Not for me, a military brat, who “lived everywhere and nowhere” and whom researchers have identified as part of a distinct, 200 year-old American subculture, with millions of members. And not for an increasing number of people in today’s highly mobile society.

I just counted — as I can never remember — and I moved 9 times, attended 9 different schools and had 11 different “homes” while growing up as an Air Force brat. At 18 I headed out on my own and, since then, added another 7 cities and probably another dozen “homes” to the list (though calling some of my living situations in college “home” would, admittedly, be a stretch.)

alaska, anchorage, high school, prom, childhood memories

Bartlett High School (Anchorage, Alaska) Senior Prom 1982. The author (the one with his eyes closed) and his ever-lovely date, Kelli, who helped the author create the The Home History Book™ archival journal.

So when that question “where’s home” comes up, I have to pause and think. If they mean “home” as in hometown, where I grew up, I usually end up just saying Alaska. That is where I was fortunate to string together four very important years in a row and attend and graduate from the same high school. And because of that, I do feel a stronger tie there than to the other places I lived.

On the other hand, if they mean “home” now, that’s easier. I’ve lived with my family in Northwest Washington state, in a home we built, for about nine years. So it’s definitely where our home — the nice building that contains our stuff — is located. But I’ll be honest, as beautiful as it is around here (and it’s breathtakingly beautiful), as many good friends as we’ve made and as comfortable as we are, I’m not sure it’s completely felt like home for some reason.

And, in fact, my wife and I frequently talk about where — if anyplace — we might like to move when our youngest daughter graduates from high school in a few years.

We moved here from Washington, D.C., where we lived for about a decade, to be closer to family. As a military kid, I never lived here permanently, but my parents were raised in the Pacific Northwest, my grandparents lived here and a couple of my brothers have now settled nearby. So if home is where most of your family is — a sentiment that resonates strongly with my wife — I guess this is home.

But, for us, the grey weather can be downright depressing for half the year, sapping energy and making for a long slug. Natives, on the other hand, actually feel “off” if an odd patch of sunny days sticks around more than a few days.

Culturally, we also feel a bit out of it sometimes, having moved to a more rural area. In that way we felt much more at home in D.C. than here. And while we can get a major city-culture fix with a 90-minute drive to either Seattle or Vancouver, BC, or  a nice taste with a 15-minute drive to the “City of Subdued Excitement,” Bellingham, Wash.,  those places – for now – aren’t home.

So all that begs the question: How do you know you’re Home?

Is there a place that has all the things you’re looking for. Or is the goal finding a place that has all the things you’re willing to accept? And can home be permanent? Or does it need to change as you change?

Home for me always suggested permanence, a place of one’s roots, a place where as Sarah Jane Grace notes above, you live in “Truth and love…(and) everything feels different.”

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz.

But maybe home is not a place at all but a state of mind.

It’s a question that continues to befuddle me. Which, of course, often makes me wonder why I — a person whose ties to “home” are confused at best —came up with the idea for the Home History Book, a product intended to permanently record a home’s unfolding story and share it with everyone who lives there.

The concept of home is clearly an important one. In fact, some people, seem to just know when they’re home. Either they grew up someplace and never left, which, of course, generally bypasses any confusion when asked “Where’s home?” Or circumstances (a vacation, a job, a significant other) brought them to a place that they immediately recognized or felt as “home” and so never left.

Let us know!

How do you know you’re Home? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? Is it a sense of community? Is it genetic? Is it permanent or changing? I think it’s an important question. It’s one that many have looked into and one I plan to examine further. If you are “home” and would be willing to share a few ideas about how you know that or “tips” for those who may still be searching, we’d love to hear from you.

Study: ‘Family stories’ more important than inheritance

There have been a number of studies over the past several years that have tried to get a handle on how much wealth pre-baby boomers — those born before 1946 — are going to pass down to their baby boomer and post-baby boomer heirs.

In fact, while all agree the number will set a new record for intergenerational transfers, the figures vary widely, ranging from $25 trillion to $136 trillion. The specific number probably isn’t that important to most of us since any number followed by a trillion — with a “T” — is a lot.  Perhaps surprisingly, however, a study found that amount is also of less interest to the boomers themselves.

In a 2005 study commissioned by the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, 86% of boomers named “family stories” as the most important part of their legacy — ahead of possessions and inheritance.

The study, which consisted of interviews with more than 2,600 seniors and boomers, also found that non-financial items that parents leave behind — like ethics, morals, faith, and religion — are 10 times more important to both boomers and their parents than the financial aspects of inheritance.

The parents, however, aren’t buying it.

“Boomers,” the study found, “indicate they prefer to preserve their parents’ memories than receive a financial inheritance, while elders believe their boomer children are more interested in money.”

The study concluded that this disconnect, which is part of what the authors referred to as a “Legacy Gap,” needs to be addressed by parents and their children. To do so, the study identified “4 Pillars” that it suggests should form the basis of a meaningful conversation. Those included having discussions about: (1) values and life lessons, (2) instructions and final wishes and (3) financial assets.

A fourth pillar was a discussion of “personal possessions of emotional value,” or what we at Houstory simply like to call “heirlooms.”

Specifically the study urges heirs to ask their senior family members:

  • Are there items that document your life and/or family’s life that you would like to see passed on to future generations
  • Where do you keep your family photos – in albums or saved electronically, or other
  • Do you have any journals, diaries, scrapbooks, family history, or other important documents you would like to pass on?
  • Do you have household items that hold significant emotional value, but do not have much financial value?
  • Do you have toys, books, or mementos that you’d like to pass on to your children or grand children
  • Are there items like art, crafts, or furniture that evoke fond memories for you and your family?
  • Have you planned for the distribution of these items?

Of course, it’s these very questions and a desire to create an easy, effective and inexpensive way to address them that inspired the creation of The Heirloom Registry.

Giving one’s senior parents or relatives a handful of registry stickers or tags — or better, taking a couple hours to walk around their home with them to hear and help record stories about a few special items — can be both tremendously satisfying and a big step in helping close the legacy gap.

Homesickness and the natural longing for all things “home”

It’s about a month into the new school year. Which, according to those who track such things, means homesickness among college freshman is now hitting its peak.Home embroidery

Homesickness is the topic of a fascinating book, Homesickness: An American History, published late last year by historian Susan J. Matt, in which she knocks down some of the stereotype beliefs associated with homesickness. While Americans like to portray themselves as optimistic adventurers, always ready to wave goodbye to the past, pack up the car (or wagon train) and boldly blaze their trail into the unknown, Matt found that the evidence actually makes it pretty clear most of us are — and always have been — sentimental homebodies.

In fact, Matt found that the attempt to disguise or hide homesickness, for fear of being seen as weak, is a fairly recent societal phenomenon.

She found that homesickness was a tolerated part of life well into the 19th Century.  For example, during the Civil War, soldiers openly wrote about their longing for home and family. The Surgeon General’s office actually listed “nostalgia” — which was believed to be a severe case of homesickness— as the official cause of death for 74 Union soldiers. Immigrants during that time shamelessly recreated home in their new communities.  She found that homesickness among women, longing for a return to hearth and family, was even popularized by the press as a virtue.

With the industrial revolution and the advent of Social Darwinism, however, the tolerance for homesickness started to change. Homesickness was viewed as the inability to adapt, a mark of inferiority. Men, especially, were castigated for wasting time reminiscing about home or openly expressing their emotions. Beginning in the 1920s, experts warned parents of the dangers of coddling their kids — a parenting no-no some labeled “momism” — and told mothers to refrain from hugging and kissing their kids too much. Leaving home and not looking back was promoted as an important rite of passage, with those who remained behind frequently dumped into the “loser” camp.

While steering clear of more direct displays of homesickness, Matt said that modern society has tried to soothe the lost feeling of family and home with mementos of the past, or “nostalgic indulgences,” such as the purchase of retro homes, retro cars and a fascination with the toys, clothes, entertainment and brands of our childhood.

But the pendulum may be swinging back. Matt points to statistics and changing demographics that indicate a growing nostalgia for the past and desire to recreate “home” through — or, never leave it all. A 2008 Pew study of census data found that Americans today are settling down and are more likely to stay in one place than any group since the government began tracking the trend in the late 1940s.

In a radio interview with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Jim Fleming, Matt said that moving back towards an acceptance our natural call to home is probably a healthy thing.

“I do think that a lot of the alarm we hear today about children being too connected to their parents, all that discussion, and boomerang kids, helicopter parents, that there isn’t enough distance between them is based on a mythic view of our past that somewhere back in a different century we were more individualistic than we are…. I don’t think we’re that much different from earlier generations and I don’t think we should perhaps worry that we’re becoming soft or less independent, or less individualistic because I’m not at all convinced we were that individualistic 100 years ago, 150 years ago.”

The Heirloom Registry: A Gift from Grandpa

The grandfather clock that inspired The Heirloom Registry

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Founder

Between 2006-09, I was presented with two gifts that would change my life.

The first was the simple, but now seemingly “obvious” idea for the Home History Book.

A “baby book for the home,” we call it in our elevator speech. An archival-quality book that tells the story of how a house becomes a home, written and shared by those who have lived there. A book that belongs to and is supposed to stay with the home.

It was, I think, what Oprah would call an “Aha moment”: An experience of quiet clarity, seemingly from out of the blue, that — if you are open to it — you cannot ignore.

I don’t know for sure from where that idea came. It was, however, a profound, even magical moment that I knew was life-altering as soon as it entered my consciousness.

The second gift came a couple years later: The idea for The Heirloom Registry. And for this one, I know exactly who to thank: It was a gift from my grandpa.

I grew up a military brat. My dad was career Air Force. There are lots of pluses to growing up a military kid. I got to experience lots of different places and lots of different people living in lots of different ways. But there are also some downsides: mainly, your “home” changes every 1-4 years.

It was the lack of permanence that probably explains the particularly strong attachment I had to my grandparents’ homes. They didn’t move. Their homes stayed the same. The look, the feel, the unique smell — those were soothingly constant during my childhood.

My paternal grandparents lived in the seaside town of Astoria, Oregon. Their home, like many in town, was high on the hill overlooking the Columbia River. As we ate breakfast, we would look out the window and watch cargo ships, fresh from the Pacific Ocean, tie up before venturing further inland to Portland or being piloted back out to sea.

It was an older home, whose windows were filled with ripply glass and whose floors creaked in all the right places.

The author (bottom left), brothers, mom and grandparents, John and Mildred Hiestand, in Astoria, Oregon. (c. 1970)

My grandparents were fairly old, and while we certainly felt welcomed, it wasn’t — simply because it wasn’t — a home made for kids, and particularly not young boys. Certainly not for five young boys — my four younger brothers and I — who visited for a week every summer or so. So we spent most of our time outside. Or reading.

Fortunately, I loved to read. Even more than I loved to play, truth be told. So I’d often have the living room to myself during the day while my brothers hit the nearby park or late at night, after they were made to go to bed earlier than I. And that’s where I got to know — and love — the clock.

The clock is a beautiful, noble grandfather clock, built in the late 1800’s. It truly is grand. No-frills, other than the movement of the simple moon dial at its crown. It rings on the hour. It doesn’t play around with fifteen-minute or even half-hour increments. The sound is bold and deep. You can feel it. It sat in the corner of the living room, next to their one TV (that I remember was almost never on) and across from the sofa, my usual spot.

I remember watching my grandpa wind it. Slowly. My grandpa was a retired mechanics shop teacher. He knew his way around metal parts. You never wanted to turn the key all the way, he would say. So he’d feel the spring tightening up and stop just so. Before closing the cabinet, he’d reach down into the bottom of the clock where he’d pull out a small tin in which he kept a rag soaked in kerosene. The kerosene vapors, he said, provided just the right amount of lubricant for the clock’s gears.

I don’t recall his ever adjusting the hands on the clock. Over the years, he’d obviously found the “sweet spot” on the pendulum adjustment; the clock kept perfect time. It still does.

I don’t remember when I first noticed the piece of paper tacked inside, in the back and out of view except for when the cabinet was open.

The only known photograph of the Astoria, Oregon, living room where the clock resided for many years. (The photo was taken from about the vantage point of the clock.)

Note inspiring The Heirloom Registry

Note tacked inside clock’s cabinet and written by author’s grandpa providing history of the clock

On it, in my grandpa’s writing, was the story of the clock. The clock, it said, was a wedding gift for his mother given by her father (my great grandmother and great-great grandfather, respectively). They lived in York, Pennsylvania, and the clock, the note said, was purchased from the “John Wanamaker store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 1880s’….”

My grandpa died in 1983. And the clock has been at my parent’s home in Washington State since the mid-1980s. Which is where I was, during a 4th of July get-together in 2009, and where I was with the clock again, by myself, when the idea for The Heirloom Registry was given to me. Once again in true “Aha” fashion, compliments — whether “real” or simply because of all that he did creating that precise moment — of my grandpa.

Of this I have no doubt.

The clock will always be a beautiful clock. But it is the story of the clock — an ongoing story — that makes the clock what it is. If my grandpa’s now somewhat crackled piece of paper were ever lost, and if those of us with memories of its history were not around, it would no longer be the same clock. It would just be a beautiful clock, perhaps in a great grandchild’s home — or for sale in an antique store.

I didn’t want that to happen. Neither did my grandpa. And I knew we weren’t alone. Everyone has a clock or a table or a mirror or a photo or painting or special book or quilt or something — sometimes old and passed down through the family, sometimes not so old. Sometimes expensive and sometimes not worth a nickel on eBay — but whose story makes it irreplaceable. A story that makes it unique in all the world. A story that should never be lost.

The Heirloom Registry makes sure that won’t happen.

So thanks grandpa. You wanted our clock’s story told. And now it always will be. Along with many, many others.

 

Mike Hiestand is the president and founder of Houstory Publishing.