― Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care
One of my favorite memories of the time when my husband and I were still dating is the sight of the Columbus skyline, back-dropped by a magnificent purple and orange sunset. We were driving home from dinner on a highway that had recently re-opened after a long construction period, and it was an unfamiliar view of a city that was both familiar and breath-taking.
Columbus has its stunning views, sure, but I don’t think that is why it struck me. It might have been the first time that I realized how familiar this place was to me, how much it felt like home. I was in my mid-twenties at the time; it was that period of life when every year or two, there was a move. New apartment, new roommates, new chapter. I hadn’t spent more than a year at any one address since leaving my parents’ home for college. My parents’ home was home because of their love and presence, not because of the place. No place felt like home. So to suddenly find that a place felt that way to me was remarkable.
Why? What is home, anyway? Why does one need it? Why does place matter so much?
Place grounds memories. You drive by a restaurant and remember that one time that you had that really fun dinner there with a now-scattered group of friends. That’s the park where you lost that hat you loved so much. You drive by a street and remember friends who once lived there. You were walking down this street when you had that monumental conversation with someone. There’s the fun little shop you and your sister shop at whenever she comes to visit. Not having these mini-reveries throughout your week is like going through a whole winter missing your gloves.
Also, the mundane details of our lives are filled out by place. Everyone goes to the grocery store. This is what mine looks like (produce is on the right). Need a bakery that makes great vegan cakes? Here are the ones in town I’ve tried. There are the dry-cleaners I’ve known so long I’d trust them with my childhood coat–the one my child is now big enough to wear. Any fellow book lovers who come visiting will be treated–subjected?–to the couple of bookstores I love so much. Even non-physical aspects of place give context to daily life. Radio stations are a perfect example: part of settling into a new place is finding the radio station(s) that suit one’s taste.
Much as I’d like to believe that I am–or was anyway–a global nomad, able to pick up and move and make a new life somewhere else, the truth is that creating a new life in a new place requires painting a whole new backdrop for your life. Finding the stores that carry the things you want. Finding the hairstylist (can I hear an amen, women?) to whose scissors you’d entrust your hair. Finding the restaurants/pubs/coffee shops where you see yourself becoming a regular. These are the things that make settling into a new place exciting. Yet I think it’s the prospect of knowing those things, going to those places, over and over and for a long time, that ultimately thrills me. And now, the recognition that I’ve done that is what brings such sweetness to this place.