My 85-year-old grandfather recently published an article* about “home”, in particular his first home in what is now known as the Czech Republic. He was born in 1927 in Sudeten Germany, and grew up in the town of Großmergthal. He was drafted and sent to war to fight for Hitler’s megalomania at the age of 17. Displaced by the newly developed Czechoslovakian government after the war, my grandfather’s family was forced to find a new home. His turbulent past – characterized by the fact that he now pays with the fifth currency he’s known in his life and sings the fourth national anthem – led him to reflect in an article about his home, his roots, and what he believes home means. I’d like to follow his lead and discuss the idea of home, too.
According to a well-known dictionary, “home” means shelter or place of refuge. However, we all know that home is more than just the human necessity implied by this definition. My grandfather found different definitions. For example, he writes that “Home is not just birth place and a stage of life where one grew up, but also a place of life where one feels comfortable and understood.” Another definition of “home” is language, dialect, heritage and people. My grandfather, Opa Walter, believes that home means not just a place where one was born and raised, but the place where one lives, feels comfortable and understood, without ever forgetting where one comes from.
Many of us may share the fact that our first home is not the place where we live now. For me, my first home isn’t the place I was born either – it is the place where I grew up, the place where my parents raised me, and the place where I think my roots are. However, I’m unable narrow “home” down to only this one single place or city – is more of a region that is not defined by landmarks, signs, or simple lines on maps – it’s memories, and the warmth coating my heart when I think about my mother’s homemade food, the flair on Erfurt’s streets, or the dialect in the south of Thuringia. I also find “home” in language – certain dialects (yes plural), friends and family with whom I speak certain languages.
Sure thing, unlike my grandfather, I was able to decide where to make my “second” home. I chose to follow my love, my wife, to the city of big shoulders to begin my/our life as a family. But, would I call Chicago my new home? Well, it currently is in a physical way. We have a very nice place; a nest that we look forward to go home to, we feel comfortable in our neighborhood and are surrounded by good friends. However – I don’t think that I would call Chicago my home if we were to move to a different city. In my opinion –and I share my grandfather’s perspective- there are two “homes”; where I grew up and, now, where my family is. My first home is fixed in Erfurt. My, well, our home is wherever my son and my wife are. It currently is Chicago, but this can always change. I’m sure that my grandfather had a hard time settling down and feeling comfortable in a place imposed upon him. He eventually arrived at his second home and found the warmth and family that makes a home being worth to be called a home. Thankfully, I have the ability to make the same type of choice for myself.
A piece of my grandfather’s first home, a photo of a yew tree on my grandfather’s former yard, stands in my book shelve in my living room in Chicago. Honoring my grandfather’s first home.