Standing in the library of the Biltmore House, billed as the largest privately owned home in America, I craned my neck toward the Italian ceiling mural, scanned thousands of books on shelves that climbed like Jacob’s ladder, then tried to imagine myself in reading chairs as big as thrones.
What I felt wasn’t envy, though, but homesickness. Sandwiched between tourists trying to see how the rich once lived, I wanted to be sheltered once again under the small and familiar roof where I spend most of my life.
Our family had stopped in Asheville on the last leg of our North Carolina vacation, a nice trip that had brought vivid mountain scenery, a winding river, the first hint of autumn, bright days in a place not our own. We’d enjoyed the getaway. But after days of staying in the borrowed beds of borrowed rooms, I was ready to return to the house where I can reach for a coffee spoon without looking, and sleep on pillows that embrace me as an old friend, and cook my own eggs on my own stove, just as I like them.
Driving home, I felt a little like the astronauts must feel when they descend from space and reconnect with the heaviness of Earth.
Travel brings a sense of lightness that’s liberating at first, as you slip the knots that bind you to obligation and routine. Over time, though, being rootless means being restless. You want to be fastened again by the weight of a world you once tried to escape.
Our house wagged its finger at us when we pulled into the driveway, less in welcome than admonition. The grass was as tall as corn, the fridge as empty as our stomachs, and the wall clock had stopped, unwound, days before, tired of announcing the time to a silent room. Everywhere we looked, the walls seemed to scold us for being away.
Slowly, we’ve been reclaiming the place — rounding the yard with the mower, replenishing the pantry, telling our old terrier, Foster, that we won’t be leaving again anytime soon.
His command of English isn’t great, but I’ve noticed, on our daily walks to the park, his quickness to respond when I mention that it’s time to go home.
All the slack instantly leaves the leash I’m holding, and its tautness travels up my arm, as if I’m being tugged by a kite stiffened in wind.
At the other end of the leash, our little dog is pulling his sluggish master toward the house, the place where he can easily see the jar of treats that rests as reliably as a sundial on the kitchen shelf, and where he can nap through a morning ripe with August heat.
The pleasures of home aren’t large or dramatic, but they’re easy to find, so bookmarked by habit that I can grasp them with my eyes closed.
Which is why, now that the suitcases are all unpacked, I plan to stick around for a while.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.