Lorne Daniel reflects on why the homes we lived in as children seem to hold the most power.
How do you feel about the homes you have lived in?
Were you an “armed forces kid” who saw a succession of different houses every couple years, barely remembering some of them? A third generation farm kid who saw your grandparent’s hard work in every board and shingle? An inner city child who lived in cookie-cutter apartments?
Memories of houses are percolating in my head as I prepare to leave the one that has been home for over 20 years. That’s longer than I lived in my childhood home, yet the childhood home still holds a stronger emotional pull.
A home’s central role in the emotional landscape of our lives is most evident when we reflect upon our formative years. Childhood homes trigger great emotional outpourings because they are the sites where we first dream, imagine, and play. A home’s interior is, in the words of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, “the human being’s first world.” It therefore comes to embody that person’s world view.
In moments of recognition, the commonplace details of a dwelling resonate with significance beyond utilitarian function. A sunny wallpaper triggers tears; the squeak of a closet door reopens childhood treasures. Childhood memories become imprinted in a floral linoleum. For the rest of our lives, these places are where “our unconscious is housed,” according to Bachelard.
Of course, a house is not a static repository of memory, a photo album made of drywall and wood. Over time, change is inevitable. That linoleum is covered with hardwood. Hardwood covered by carpet. Layers of memory, layers of meaning.
For every loss there is a renewal.
My fondness for the plain (and tiny, by today’s standards) bungalow where my parents raised five kids is inseparable from the character of my childhood itself. Thinking about the house fills me with gratitude. It reminds me of a prototypical ‘happy childhood’ where home meant comfort, warmth and love.
Having accumulated some worldly experience, I realize now that such memories are a privilege not shared by everyone. Yet each of us can, I presume, see in our childhood homes a good part of what we have become.
“The farmhouse” Spencers Brook Farm @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.