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?

Inkwell

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.

OT

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.

Harriet Tubman Home, Auburn, NY

“The best part of the experience was the gentleman that provided the overview of Harriet Tubman’s life and conducted the tour.”

Vacation, July 18, 2016

The final stop on our summer vacation last year was to the Harriet Tubman Home. You are probably familiar with the heroics of arguably the country’s leading abolitionist. But the house, and its use, is an interesting story too.

“In 1858 New York Senator William Seward” – the future US Secretary of State who helped the US buy Alaska from the Russians in 1867 – “made Harriet Tubman a proposition. He would sell her his property in Auburn, NY for a reasonable price and flexible terms.” This transaction was technically illegal.

“Auburn had a strong abolitionist group and Seward was a well known supporter of the Underground Railroad who Harriet could depend on for funds and shelter for her people.

“Before the Civil War about 500 slaves passed through Auburn on their way north. Tubman knew Senator Seward well as she had used his house as a station many times. She was encouraged to move to Auburn [from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada] by a long time friend and supporter, Lucretia Mott.

“In 1886 her house was destroyed by fire, none were hurt. Nelson Davis, Tubman’s second husband, was a brick maker and helped rebuild her house. He replaced the original wood structure with brick, making it stronger and longer lasting.

“In order to fulfill her dream to build a home for the elderly Tubman purchased additional land. In 1896 Tubman bought at auction 25 acres of land adjacent to her property located at 182 South Street. The land was sold for $1,450. The AME Zion Church raised funds and with the support of a local bank providing a mortgage Tubman was able to complete the transaction.”

We agree with most of the folk on Trip Advisor, that “The best part of the experience was the gentleman that provided the overview of Harriet Tubman’s life and conducted the tour. He was so very well informed and you could tell truly enjoys what he does in sharing her life with everyone that visits. The tour of the home was good; however, his presentation made this terrific.”

Of course, Harriet Tubman is scheduled to be on the $20 bill at some point before 2024. Harriet died on March 10, 1913, and March 10 is a minor holiday, especially in New York State.