The Joy of Many Homes
James H. Madison
Emeritus Professor of History at Indiana University
As we crossed the state line at Richmond, coming back from visiting their grandparents, I always made my kids sing “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
Since those long-ago trips, a pessimist might say, home has withered away. We have no home in our mobile and, oh, so global society. I don’t sit on the front porch on Sunday waiting for family coming home. My kids and grandkids live in other states and come home only a few times a year.
Home is not gone, but it has changed, from one particular place to many. The place of my childhood is gone but survives in memory. So do the places I’ve lived in over the decades. My many homes are a blessing.
Two of my favorite homes are overseas, one in England, the other in Japan. I lived a year in Whitstable and another in Saijo. Sometimes I was a homesick foreigner. Watching “Breaking Away” on TV that year in Japan I nearly cried over scenes of my Indiana hometown. But in both places I was welcomed by people who became friends. They taught me to like warm beer and sushi. Those two towns became hometowns and remain so in my memory.
I even have homes in places I’ve never lived. I’m lucky to have met people from all over. In the 1970s two hipsters from Berkeley joined our cooking group. They brought recipes for Mexican dishes when I barely knew a taco. I’ve been to Berkeley only once, but these close friends cause me still to imagine I know that California town.
For three years I mentored a young Muslim student studying at Indiana University. She cooked her country’s food for us, showed us pictures, talked about the beauty of the seaside. I now own Indiana’s major collection of swag from Azerbaijan. I’ve not yet been to her hometown of Baku, but I can imagine it.
That’s the key. To know and imagine a place and its people, from Berkeley to Baku, from Whitstable to Saijo. Food and swag help, but it’s the people. Hoosiers, Californians, Japanese, English—-folks, so different, yet with doors to their homes. We must knock and wait for the greeting “whose ‘er.” We must connect. And we remember, if we’re lucky, there is always an Indiana home to return to.
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Each year Spirit & Place partners with WFYI on a series of essays on the annual theme. Listen to them here.