Home Free

Sometimes home is all over the map.
Bill Harby

Before Katrina’s winds had died we began to see news reports of New Orleans residents standing in front of the cement slabs that were once the foundations of their houses, as they declared that they would rebuild on those very spots come hell or high water. "This is home," they would say, as if that explained everything.

I’ve found that same feeling exists here in Hawai’i, especially within the Hawaiian community. The Islands are home–period. Some people here have never left their home islands. Others have moved to Las Vegas or Alaska, but say that Hawai’i will always be home.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. I love Hawai’i, my home for most of the past 25 years, but I can’t imagine ever being so rooted to this place–or any other–that I would consider it my only home forevermore.

As the son of a career soldier, I moved every three or four years while growing up: Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Ohio, Hawai’i, Ohio again. Each place our family was stationed became home, utterly and completely, for that period of time. That pattern has continued for me since I’ve been on my own, living for a few years or a few months in Chicago; Adelaide, Australia; the Ohiwa Spit in New Zealand; Honolulu; Paris; Volcano, on the Big Island.

illustration: Michael Austin

I settle into a new home faster than a lost puppy–even if home is a car rolling cross-country. In Chicago, in the summer of 1977, I got rid of most of my belongings, gave up my apartment and took off in my Volvo squareback jalopy. For more than a month that hammered old car was the only home I had, and the only one I wanted. With the back seat folded down, one corner was the kitchen (camp stove, pan, bowl, utensils, groceries) one corner the wine cellar and one corner the library, with the bedroom running down the middle. Snicker if you want, but that little rattletrap car was truly home, my moveable piece of real estate across 7,000 miles.

My first stop on that trip was Akron, Ohio, my home from first to fourth grade, then later from junior high through college. Larry was and is my best buddy there. Just last week he sent me a T-shirt that simply says, "Akron," except the "o" is a tire, even though the Goodyear and Firestone factories that once made Akron "the Rubber Capital of the World" have long since gone south. Along with the T-shirt, Larry included a note: "Remember your roots."

Larry’s wife, Sandy, has also lived in or near Akron all her life, though "only physically," she says. This philosophical woman, who is really more a resident of the cerebral-spiritual space-time continuum than any dot on a map, points out that as the years pass, "the same place is not the same place." Everything changes–the house, the children, the view of the pond out the dining-room window, even the window itself. "It’s like The Time Machine," says Sandy, invoking the classic H.G. Wells novel. "The guy in the machine is in one place, but it’s all changing around him." She says that "Every once in a while I have to step out and look around."

Apparently she did just that during my visit in 1977. She looked upon me as I began the two-year adventure that would eventually take me from Chicago to California and on to New Zealand, Australia and Hawai’i. "You seemed to pity us a tiny bit," Sandy recalls. "Or maybe it was me pitying you. What a joke on each of us."

Certainly there is a cost to my concept of home. I will never know the deep-rooted detail that comes from growing up and growing old in one place. Part of me envies those of you who have experienced that. But I would never want to trade places.

To me, all the places I’ve lived are rooms in the huge house that I call home. I have left some of them for now, maybe forever, but they are still as real and concrete for me as those slabs are for those folks in New Orleans. With my rooms around me, and the others to come, I know that, no matter what, I am home free.