Home, or the lack of it

what is required

homeI have long had this peculiar ambivalence about the idea of home. It started as a kid. Our dwelling seemed so small, the first floor of a two-story house.

I seldom had my friends over, though I’d go to several of their homes. My bedroom was carved out of the dining room with two walls my father built. When we visited my mother’s first cousins in St. Albans, Queens, NYC, their house seemed like a mansion.

But that wasn’t it, really. My grandma Williams house was hardly roomy. Yet it was the headquarters where her family would congregate. Based on photographs, this was the case for a number of generations.

It may be that my father and mother didn’t own our house, grandma Williams did. And while this didn’t faze me, I think it ate at my father. Why didn’t he buy a house? Was it that he was shut out of the GI Bill’s provisions, as many black veterans were? Could he not find a house to buy in Binghamton?

I have since found out my parents were barred from renting some places there because they were (incorrectly) perceived to be an interracial couple. Or was his upbringing such that he never thought of himself in that role?


Two things brought this to mind. One piece in my brain is this Boston Globe article, “Claiming land and water on Martha’s Vineyard. Inkwell, a historically Black beach in Oak Bluffs, is a resistance.” It’s about a young black woman who bought a home with her brother. And one of the things she wondered about was whether she was worthy to own a house. And not just for her, but for future generations.

Since I never owned a house before my current address – and I lived in 30+ apartments before that – I totally get that vibe. Add to that all of those stories of people who lose their homes, often to fire or flood. I see them on TV. They almost always say, bravely, “At least everyone’s safe,” if that’s true. “We can always buy more stuff.” Except that the loss of a homestead is more than “stuff.”

Or maybe not. Several years ago, there was a young woman on JEOPARDY who noted that she lost her possessions in a fire. She felt liberated. Alex Trebek appeared aghast.


Another stream in my consciousness was a lectionary reading from December 20.2 Samuel 7:1-11. In part: “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”

In our Bible study, we kicked around the idea of what is required in a physical structure, whether in a home or a church. Someone commented, “There is something to be said about the church as ‘home.’ To strike the balance of Church as a welcoming architecture of physical materials, comforting relationship, sense of belonging, and vessel for the holy, is I believe the challenge we face.”

Of course, we haven’t been IN our church building for over nine months. The early church was in people’s homes. So do we need a fancy structure? Surely we mourned when Notre Dame burned in Paris. Or when racists torch black churches. These are not just buildings, but symbols of something greater. My previous church burned down twice in a 30-year period, and they rebuilt the current cathedral-like structure in the midst of the Depression.

In conclusion… well, I have no conclusion. I just have musings about the importance and impermanence of place.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “Home, or the lack of it”

  1. One thing I’ve really noticed in the pandemic is the loss of so-called “third places” (not home, not work, though for a while I also lost that “second place” when we were sent home and told not to go into our offices unless absolutely necessary).

    For six months I really went nowhere other than infrequent grocery-store trips (and some of those were “pick up at the curb”). I REALLY felt it, and that was why I calculated the risk and decided to go back to in-person church (with everyone masked and distanced) when we started back up: I needed that, I was beginning to question my own existence some nights when I woke up at 2 am.

    I also miss just going out for “nonessential” reasons. I had a telehealth visit the other day and one thing my doctor said she was doing was checking on all her patients’ emotional status (and said a lot of people had been requesting anti-anxiety meds). I said I was mostly okay, good and bad days, but remarked I really missed things like going to the JoAnn’s – and she actually told me, “If you mask up and go at a time they’re not busy, it’s almost certainly fine, and you probably need it for your mental health.”

    I think that’s one thing some people, who are the absolutists about “stay home ALL the time and even get grocery delivery” seem to over look, that some of us – especially those of us in small houses, and mine IS small, 1200 square feet – really really feel the isolation of this time.

  2. Roger, you mentioned the GI Bill. Thousands of Black soldiers came back after serving and saw white men getting houses, little lots, etc. on the taxpayer dime. It was their reward for serving our country. Billy Fuster once told me that too many Black families were denied home ownership in reasonably priced neighborhoods – not just by “red lining,” but by simple failure on the part of the government to recognize that Black families deserved the same as white.

    The GI Bill helped my family buy their first home in Tioga Terrace, Apalachin. Billy came to Binghamton and got nothing. Still eats at me. It’s the reason Lex did work in community housing equality. Also why my mom told me that we should never take our house for granted, because “look at our street, Amer, all our neighbors are white. It’s not an accident. Your job is to go out there and find a better way.”

    All these years later, same old same old.

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