Reflecting on "Home" at the Holidays

Reflecting on "Home" at the Holidays

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Carolyn Purnell
Dec 2, 2014
(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

It's an old trope that the holidays are about spending time at home with the family. We see the aunts, uncles, and cousins that come out of the woodwork; we kiss our grandparents' cheeks; we catch up on time with our siblings. It's become traditional, like second nature, and while that's not bad, I'd encourage you to take the time this season to actually stop and think about why you participate in those traditions and what they mean to you.

The content of this post is personal, but hopefully it will resonate with some of you or help you take the time to reflect on your own home and family.

I come from a family of Texas cattle ranchers. Small by Texas standards, the ranch I grew up on is about 700 acres of rolling green fields, pine forests, and swamps, and we have a very limited herd of cattle. My extended family lives on the ranch—mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin's husband, and their two kids—and when I was growing up, we saw each other every day. It's an adage that familiarity breeds contempt, but it was every bit as true in our case that familiarity bred love, and as you can probably imagine, living next door to everyone in your family is, in turns, a beautiful and stressful thing.

(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

I moved out at 18, and I'm the only one who's ever shown much desire to leave the ranch. Since then I've lived in southern California, England, France, and Chicago, and I've made lives in all these places—lives I've loved deeply. But there's an underlying sense of "home" etched deep into me, and while I have no wish to return to small-town Texas, the ranch is a permanent part of my identity, and one that I've come to cherish.

Without going into too many details, the impetus behind this [probably over-revealing] post is that there was a recent death in my family, and the trip back to Texas had a different timbre this time. I took a lot of walks while I was there, and amidst all the sadness, I was struck by just how comforting I found my surroundings. And while it goes without saying that the people were first and foremost, I don't simply mean that I was comforted by the sense of home (my mom singing in the kitchen, my grandma wearing a rain bonnet when there's not a cloud in the sky). I was comforted by home in the physical sense: the objects around me, the landscape, and the familiarity of the house that my dad built.

(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

I furtively took pictures the whole time I was there. The guest room. The bathroom. The kitchen. The yard. It was like I didn't want to forget a single thing, even though I don't know how I possibly could, after the many years I spent there. And in the weeks since I've gotten back to Chicago, I look at those photos, and they comfort me.

I'm a person driven by change. I want to change my decor regularly; I want to uproot my life and move regularly. I thrive on adventure and curiosity and the allure of the new. But in that shifting sea of adventure, it's worthwhile to take stock of the things that give us comfort, and those are the things that probably don't change as readily. I realize that not everyone has a family who stayed put as much as mine has, but even if the house is different, I'd wager that going home, wherever and with whomever that may be, gives you some kind of sense of permanence. It could be the objects inside the walls. It could be a collection of photos. Or it could simply be the presence of certain people.

This holiday season, I'm not suggesting that you ditch tradition. Far from it. I'm simply suggesting that you take a moment to step outside it. Don't just kiss grandma because you've always done it or throw your things on a side chair in a guest room because you've always done it. Take half a second and just reflect on the joy that some of those "always done it"-s can give you and why they matter. Sometimes it's the things that stay the same, the things that become like second nature, that matter the most.

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