No place like home

07:12, Dec 23 2013

A few days ago I was making turkey meatloaf in my parents' kitchen, and somewhere between cracking the eggs, throwing in parsley and thyme, and adding dried crumbs from a loaf of rosemary bread my mom had bagged and put in the freezer, I realised we didn't have any Worchester sauce in the house.

I stopped immediately and washed my hands, dried them off on the apron tied around my waist, and texted Kathleen.  I knew Kathleen had Worchester sauce in her pantry, I told her. Was she home? Because I was arriving on her doorstep in about two minutes to grab some.

She texted back a moment later and said I couldn't take the whole bottle because she needed it for roasting pumpkin seeds for the party tomorrow.

That's fine, I just needed a splash, I replied.

Great, see you soon, she said.

And I took my apron off and headed out the door with a measuring cup.


It's hard to convey how thrilling this two-minute text exchange was.

Here I am, I thought, a sing-song voice in my head, as I walked through her front garden, the cat running in and out between my feet, hearing the sound of her three daughters in the front room, the barking of their new puppy, and seeing the lit-up, hallowed out pumpkin at the front door her husband, Jeff, had carved to look like the face of a beagle.

Here I am just coming on over to Kathleen's house for a splash of Worchester sauce. Like this is so normal. Like this is something I do every evening.

There is not an airport arrival lounge in the world that compares with this tonight.

Because when you have spent a lot of time away from  the friends that have known you since infancy,  going down the road to their front door for an ingredient  - as opposed to across the equator -  is the most exotic of missions.

Maybe its mundane stuff to my friends - a home, a garden, a dog, close proximity to old friends - but to me these bits out of the day  that are golden. It is the feel of a friend's door handle as I open it, or a plastic mat under my feet as I push through a screen door with a box of fresh-picked oranges.

It is a morning talk show on, and coffee brewing, with chatter all around me, as I flip French toast in a bathrobe on a Saturday morning. It is seeing the firelight from the driveway as I walk down it, dragging a suitcase behind me.

It's knocking on a door, and coming in, dodging little feet, pets, and Candyland cards, while holding a measuring cup for the Worchester sauce.

This last week I have been housesitting in the hills outside my hometown. It is a big, beautiful house high above the road, with a pool, and a stainless steel kitchen I have all to myself, to be a recluse in.

When I was there in the summer, fresh from winter in Invercargill, I absorbed and appreciated every minute of the solitude. I fed the dogs and the horses, walked down the long, winding driveway to pick up the Wall Street Journal, and read it in a clean and orderly kitchen with the morning news on.

 I watered the plants while drinking coffee. I did laps in the pool before lunch. I played the baby grand piano in the afternoons and drank wine in the big chairs in the front lawn as the sun set. I saw friends and family in small amounts, for barbecues and drinks at night, in that summery week. But there were many nights I was so happy in the house I the hill - and still so tired from travelling from Southland to California - that I went to bed early with the windows open and fell asleep reading. It was an introvert's dream.

This week has been different.

I get back to the house after feeding the horses and fetching the paper and spread the paper out on the kitchen table and I find that I can't focus. It is too quiet.

I go out and throw the ball with the dogs and come back in and sit back down to write, but I'm too restless. I turn on the television and watch Gunsmoke reruns. I make pancakes and pour maple syrup all over them and take them outside to eat them in the big chairs that look out to the hills.

But then I realise I don't want to eat pancakes by myself.  I put the fork down. I put the lid on the maple syrup.  

Turns out that making turkey meatloaf in my parents' kitchen and sitting down for a long meal with people is where it's at for me at the moment.

So I'll return to my introverted ways at some point.

But in the meantime I've been quickly feeding the animals and grabbing the paper and mail and heading back down the hill to lurk around my parents' kitchen until they get off work and can watch movies and eat chocolate with me.

Or I invent reasons to dodge down to Kathleen and Jeff's house to make myself useful by doing things like folding laundry (meaning: I fold about three t-shirts then sit on the edge of the bathtub with a cup of tea while Kathleen picks up toys and I tell her about a dream I had the night before) before coming back up the hill to put the dogs in for the night and curl up with a glass of wine.

Back at the big house on the hill, my fingers drum on the edge of the couch as clocks tick around me. I travel into the front room to see if I can still remember the theme to The Way We Were on the piano. Then I go sit outside in a pool chair and look up at the sky.

Finally I go back inside to find my phone. I text Cristi, my best friend from high school.

''Lunch tomorrow? Come up to the house?''

I pull out veggie burgers and bread from the freezer and check my ice cream supply. Then I sit at the kitchen table with the phone in front of me, waiting in anticipation.

''Of course!'' she replies a few minutes later.

''Cool,'' I write back, almost immediately.

I miss the wildness of Southland and my life there that matched that. I still listen to the music I bought in Portugal two weeks ago, every night when I cook. Michigan was a wonderful place to go for bike rides, drink beer and eat deep-fried pickles and stare at lighthouses in the early autumn.

But there are just times when I have to say it:  there is no place like home.

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