Once a week or so, my daughter and son, both grown and living far away, phone to see how things are going back home. Giving a brief account of events since their last call, I often think of a funny letter the Russian author Anton Chekhov once wrote about his household. “Here, nature and life follow a pattern that has gone so out of style it gets rejected in the editorial offices,” he confessed.
What he meant, I think, is that not much in his daily doings would interest a newspaper, magazine or book publisher who craved a breathless story.
I treasure his remark more deeply with each passing year. With the kids now gone, my wife and I share a happy if modest middle-age life. It can make for less than riveting reports when the children ask for updates.
I can tell them that the front-yard persimmons have begun to blush as they do every autumn, the fruit on schedule to ripen by Halloween. Our goldfish grow fat in the patio pond, darting like sparks as I feed them each morning. Our old terrier, though slower and grayer, still dozes by the window, whistling as softly as a tea kettle while he sleeps.
What I’m describing is the household my kids once knew, which is perhaps a comfort to them. As they make their way — our daughter as a young professional, our son as a college freshman — they find assurance, I think, in the continuing rhythm of the home they left. It’s a fixed and familiar star to steer by when everything else seems new and uncertain.
Novelist Allan Gurganus said it better than I ever could. “You must leave a home to know you ever really had one,” he wisely observed. “Coming back changed, you find that home has stayed essentially the same. Surely, that’s what it’s there for — a bulwark from bad weather, a hushed rest-stop from time.”
Nothing is fully immune, of course, from the march of the clock and the calendar. The house where I grew up is no longer in the family, and my parents are gone. But the idea of the first rooms I knew remains with me, a guiding notion of home that dwells within the home I’ve made for myself. It’s like that for any of us lucky enough to grow up protected by sturdy walls and sheltering arms.
All of this came to mind when our daughter flew in for a weekend visit. Our old dog was waiting in his usual place, pleased to see her reach down and pat him on the head as if rubbing a Blarney stone. I made the shrimp soup she likes, and her mother held her close.
The girl we raised together has flown back to the bigger life she’s making elsewhere. But she knows the way back to where she came from, and Thanksgiving will be here soon.