memorial day weekend and the idea of home

May 28, 2010

Memorial Day to me has always felt like Opening Day of Summer.  I know the Summer Solstice isn’t until June 20th and technically it’s still spring, but I’m telling you how I feel. For my entire life I’ve had a standing commitment to my family on this holiday weekend, and I believe the only times I’ve skipped I’ve either been A) out of the country, or B) unable to get out of a bartending shift out of state.

This is the weekend my family opens up our cottage on Keuka Lake.  We suck up thousands of dead insects.  We figure out where there might have been animals in the house over the winter.  We throw the frisbee around.  We admire the handywork of our family members who have contributed to a remodeling job.  We make the beach a better place for bonfires and s’mores.  We dig, plant, mow, trim, build, tear down, and maintain.  We eat a lot of desserts.  It’s always been a work weekend, with some fun thrown in, symbolizing the start of summertime.

The cottage is a connecting place for my family, and a restorative one for us as individuals as well.  There is so much that this house and property means to me, I’ve never been sure I’d be able to appropriately express exactly how I felt about it.

Lucky enough, my brother has done just that in a post on his own blog.  He kindly is allowing me to repost it here to share with you.

The Idea of Home

There’s a scene in one of my favorite movies where one of the main characters asks “You know that point in your life when you realize that the house you grew up in isn’t really your home any more? All of a sudden, even though you have someplace where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone. It just sort of happens one day, and it’s gone; and you feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist . . . I dunno, but I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is—a group of people who miss the same imaginary place.”

Now, I don’t move around much, despite the seeming consensus among my contemporaries that doing so is necessary to “get someplace in life.” When I go someplace, I tend to stay. I’m not a fan of big changes, but despite that I still think I understand the concept of home sort of losing its identity.

After some time away, that place you grew up in starts to seem foreign. It’s probably idealized in your mind’s eye, but when you actually go back there, any number of incongruences can distort the memories you have of that place. When I visit my parents, it’s always apparent due to ongoing renovations, furniture in different places, etc. The same thing goes for the town I grew up in; little things change over time that differentiate it from the place I spent my youth in.

The funny thing is, now I’m here, living in someone else’s house, but still within an easy drive of Penn Yan. I get back there as often as I can. Some people think I’m crazy for liking that place so much.

And it hit me a while back: I still have that sense of home down there in the dirty south(ern tier.) But, with all respect to my parents, I’m not going back to visit them all the time. Somehow the sense of “home” got transferred to my family’s cottage. Somehow, despite renovations & furnishing changes, that place never seems to change.

Then it occurred to me: that’s where my family is. Grandma worrying about the minutiae of lunches; my aunts, uncles & cousins in town at varying points during the summer; playing in the lawn; boating with my sister; even cutting the grass with my dad. Thanksgiving dinners, bottle rockets on the 4th of July, and busting our humps opening the place up every Memorial Day weekend—that place embodies my family. Nobody gets their mail there, and we keep most of our shit elsewhere, but it’s still the central place where the we all convene as a family unit. It really is the best place in the whole world. I think the rest of the clan would agree.

I think I still have a good idea of home, but like everyone else, I miss it. I’m just lucky enough that it’s not imaginary.

And with that, I wish you all a wonderful and productive holiday weekend.

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