Illinois writer Doug Kamholz guided us and delighted us with his search for gems in the Midwest and as far away as the Great Southwest. For the conclusion of his series, Doug rhapsodizes on the essence of home, reminding us what home — and homelessness — means, especially at holiday time.
by Douglas Kamholz
There’s no place like it. It’s where the heart is. You may well hope to be there for the holidays. And it’s said to be the most lovely and beloved word in English.
Home sounds enough like womb that it recalls our treasured first and subconsciously remembered abode. Home carries enough connotations to fill, well, a house. There is an Albanian proverb that says the sun at home warms better than the sun elsewhere. The late Maya Angelou reminds us, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Seasonal favorite Charles Dickens advises, “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”
I sometimes wonder how my first out-of-womb home affects my life for good or ill. I lived in one place with the same two adults in a small town until college. So does that stability — and it was in all ways — leave me solidly grounded or life, or does it mean I can’t feel grounded with anything less than my original permanence?
Growing up I knew all my friends’ immediate families, often extending to grandparents, aunts and uncles. I have at times wondered if that inhibits my getting truly close to those I encounter beyond those years. After all, I now have to take folks on their own, having never sampled their grammy’s holiday cookies.
Before “Miles with Moxie” I penned a couple hundred political columns called “Wednesday Moorings with Moxie” during that calamitous span from November of 2016 to November of 2020. Home came up June of 2018 when the then-president’s border-crossing policy started separating families to dissuade Central Americans from coming to El Norte. I quoted young London poet Warsan Shire, Africa-born and deeply torn by the wrenching reasons anyone leaves home. Her poem is called “Home” and part of it says:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
. . .
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
Benedict Cumberbatch, the popular actor, was playing Hamlet around 2015 when millions of Syrians felt forced to escape their homes. He read Shire’s “Home” to his theater audiences each night after his curtain call.
The very term refugee carries the irony that refugees are those forced to forsake their refuge — home. A year ago there were 27 million refugees around the world. Seven million Ukrainians have added to that number this year.
As a reporter I once stayed in a refugee camp. Near its western border, Honduras was begrudgingly offering refuge to neighboring Salvadorans displaced by civil war. Inside the guarded compound, warm greetings and offers of fresh eggs were obviously touching.
One controversy in this camp was whether they should or should not build a church. They were, after all, deeply religious Roman Catholics accustomed to regular worship services. On the other side was the argument that building any such normal community structure meant admitting this was home, not just a stopping-over point. I don’t know the outcome of the argument, but it does slice deep into the flesh of homelessness.
In the supposed settled world, places without widespread famine or war, virtually nowhere is without their homeless. They push their purloined shopping carts. They beg. They go to the library much more than I. This population is devoid of much, but we have landed on the term homeless which is perhaps, other than life itself, the most painful deprivation. In politically correct language, these people are deemed “unhoused” because almost everybody at least at some point had a home. “Unhoused” does sound easier to fix.
After my first home lasted 18 years (with a few stints added later) I did not know if I would ever have another so long-lived. However, in just a few years I will double that 18-year stretch where I happily abide now. It’s a comfy two-story from 1905. Its builder and short-time owner, C. J. Carlson, was himself a carpenter; his 1908 funeral was held in his, and now our. living room. His legacy is his craft, smooth-sliding pocket doors and window frames finished down to the baseboards. It is, in short, my forever home. My wife Sheila is there. So are my books, telephone and keyboard. I very much hope your home holds you and yours just as well.
For reasons to be made clear in the next paragraph, I will shoehorn Bob Dylan in here. (I have stepped inside his Minnesota boyhood home in Hibbing, but that’s not the point right now.) He sings of the preciousness of home in his excellent rendition of his own hero Woody Guthrie’s song, “Pretty Boy Floyd.” The lyrics tell of a man in Oklahoma, an outlaw to some and savior to others. One line reminds us that, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.” The song ends with Guthrie and Dylan telling us,
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.
My attitude of self-disclosure (self-indulgence) in the preceding paragraphs is one signal of this as the final installment of “Miles with Moxie.” I thank each of you for traveling along in 2022 with special thanks to those who dropped me a note, those who passed these pieces on to others and certainly those who went to this or that destination described here. We’ve covered a good chunk of the Middlewest and even ventured from Arizona’s desert to Maine’s coast.
My next stab at scrivening will have to percolate a while. I’ll let you know.
In closing I will share an annual holiday tradition in our home. I recite to Sheila “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas. This returns us to our theme and hands wordsmithing off to one of my many betters. In 1952 Thomas recorded his famous passages of poetic prose that hum with British working-class sights and sounds of the day as well as with the spirit of any young boy’s heart. Here are his last lines:
Always on Christmas night there was music.
An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang
“Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.”
It was very warm in the little house.
Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip
wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death,
and then another in which she said her heart
was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody
laughed again; and then I went to bed.
Looking through my bedroom window, out into
the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,
I could see the light in the windows
of all the other houses on our hill and hear
the music rising from them up the long, steadily
falling night. I turned the gas down, I got
into bed. I said some words to the close and
holy darkness, and then I slept.
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:bhm7aEditor's note: In 2022, Illinois writer Doug Kamholz guided us and delighted us with his search for gems in the Midwest and as far away as the Great Southwest. For the conclusion of his series, Doug rhapsodizes on the essence of home, reminding us what home — and homelessness — means, especially at holiday time.