Thursday, September 17, 2009

Home Is Where The Heart Is

I have never enjoyed talking on the phone. Maybe it’s because I fear the awkward lapses in conversation, or maybe it’s because I feel I’m being rude whenever I end a call, but it has always been my least favorite form of communication.

I much prefer keeping in touch through e-mails and text messages, so I don’t have to…you know…talk to anyone.

One of the few exceptions to this anxiety, though, is when my parents are on the other end of the line. I like getting the recap of my dad’s latest round of golf or my mom’s recent Kabbalah meeting, and I know they’ll still love me, even if I have nothing interesting to say.

But when my phone rang the other day, and the contact “Home” showed up on my caller ID, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.

That’s because, after nearly 40 years of living in the same city, my parents finally decided to move.

In the background, I could hear the packing of boxes, the loading of trucks and the ending of an era. It hit me that this was the last call I’d ever receive from this number.

My sense of equilibrium was thrown off, because I have always considered my true home to be where my parents are. Maybe that’s the Peter Pan in me, but despite moving all over the country, I have never changed my permanent address. I have had the sense that every place I've gone was just temporary, while my roots remained anchored with my mom and dad.

And for my entire life, they have been anchored in Houston. It’s where my parents were married and where they built a life together. It’s where my brother and I were raised. It’s where I could go whenever I needed to feel safe and grounded again.

Of course, once I graduated college and began looking for a job, I wanted to get as far away from Texas as possible. Hoping to increase my independence, Houston was at the very bottom of my list of desirable destinations.

So over the next several years, I bounced around different regions, from the Deep South, to the Rockies, to the Northeast.

But no matter where I went, whenever I told people that I was from Houston, they all responded with the same I’m-sorry-to-hear-that “Oh,” like they had asked me how my girlfriend was – only to find out I had just been dumped.

And while my initial instinct was to stick up for my hometown, I knew it was a tough case to make.

After all, Houston is not the nicest of cities. It’s flat and unappealing to the eye. Everything is spread out, making the overwhelming traffic that much less bearable. The heat and humidity in the summer make you sweat more than Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill. And because there are no zoning laws, the layout of the city is completely disorganized, with million-dollar homes backing up to Boyz-in-the-Hood projects.

But in my mind, nothing captures the essence of Houston more perfectly than the sight of a Zone d’Erotica sitting next to one of the nicest malls in town.

In spite of all of that, it’s still home to me. I have a history there. I can drive around and, block after block, see the story of my life unfold. The house where I grew up is just a few blocks from the McDonald’s that I rode my bike to as a kid, which is across the intersection from the Blockbuster where I worked in high school, which is right down the street from the field where I used to play football with my friends.

Even though I’m no longer a resident, the city is never far from my mind. At my desk in Maryland, I often listen to the internet feed of Houston sports talk, so I can keep up with how my teams are doing. And when the station runs a commercial for the local institution Gallery Furniture, I can only smile, because I still have their phone number committed to memory (694-5570).

So while I might not ever live there again, I will always be a Houstonian at heart.

It’s going to be weird to go home and not go to Houston. Last week, I was arranging my flight for Thanksgiving, and just as I was about to click “Purchase,” I realized I had to start over – I had booked myself into Houston’s George Bush International instead of Austin’s Bergstrom.

As with any change, I’m sure there is going to be an adjustment period for everyone. But I know that my parents will be extremely happy in their new community. My dad will have his own personal golf cart, which he can drive to one of the three courses in the neighborhood. And Austin is scenic and “hippie” enough to nurture my mom’s granola, spiritual side.

Luckily, it already sounds like they’re getting settled in, and I can’t wait to get down there to see it all for myself. Sure, the house may not be in Houston anymore, but I’m comforted in knowing that when I walk through the door, I’ll be met with all of the love and warmth that makes my family so special.

Because even though the phone number behind it has changed, the meaning of “Home” never will.


  1. I just went through this with my family as well. I had to get used to cooking in a brand new kitchen, and vacuuming with a central vac system instead of a vacuum cleaner :)... home will always be wherever you feel most comfortable. Hope you have a very wonderful shanah tovah! May it be sweeter than the last year :)

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?