‘Warren,’ she said, ‘he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’
‘Home,’ he mocked gently.
‘Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’
—Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man”
The change of seasons always makes me think of home — Spring to Summer, Summer to Autumn, Autumn to Winter, and, as we are now, Winter to Spring. This is especially true watching the floral succession I remember from my childhood, as the snows recede: first snowdrops, followed by daffodils, then tulips, and finally roses and everything else. Of course this parade of beauty was and is accompanied by Lent, Holy Week, and at last Easter. Much as I enjoyed the triumphant Mass of the Resurrection, the child who was me — even as he loved the Santa Claus mythos — looked forward in particular to the Easter Bunny leaving his basket. The eggs, ham, and/or lamb consumed with his family for the feast day’s dinner were secondary but important considerations. As with Easter, so too with the Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas: these family gatherings with my parents and brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were the epitome of home to me.
But as with time, so with space — and not just with Manhattan and Mount Kisco, New York. On Sundays after Mass we would drive around Westchester and Fairfield Counties visiting historic houses, colonial churches and cemeteries, and various other places that attracted the attention of my history-minded father (who was proud of being a member of the Revolutionary and Civil War Round Tables). From Sleepy Hollow to Norwalk we would drive, and usually end up at some restaurant like Armonk’s Log Cabin or Norwalk’s General Putnam Inn. My mother would sometimes take us into the City to the Museums of Art and Natural History, Central Park, the Battery, or to meet with her parents at the Atlas Statue at Rockefeller Centre or the Big Clock in Grand Central. Sometimes we would travel to see my father’s clan in New Bedford, Massachusetts. For my little-boy self, these persons, times, and places were home — and linger in my mind to-day with a faint tinge of the Garden of Eden. For all that has passed in my life since, New York State and New England shall always be home.
However, we moved to Hollywood, California, when I was still quite young; it was the mid-60s, and as if SoCal were not strange enough, we rented an apartment from the television psychic Criswell and his equally madcap wife. Next door was our church and school — the one run by Jesuits, the other by Immaculate Heart nuns, who exploded in their own sort of 60s madness. Meanwhile, the Counterculture was all around us. We truly felt shipwrecked on an alien planet.
But the years passed, and we all grew older. Dad loved Zorro, Ramona, and the whole Spanish California thing, and so we visited Olvera Street, as many California Missions as we could get to, and quite a few historic adobe houses from the Rancho era. In later years, we explored further afield — San Diego with its Old Town and Hotel Del, the rugged coast of Big Sur, the beautiful Monterey Peninsula, and of course, San Francisco and the Bay Area. My brother and I were in the Boy Scouts in Hollywood, and en route to the Ad Altare Dei and Eagle Scout awards spent much time in Griffith Park, the Angeles National Forest, and the Scouts camps at Lake Arrowhead, Circle X, Firestone, Josepho, Log Cabin, and Cherry Valley. Already lovers of Chinese food (well, American Chinese food, to include chow mein sandwiches, a specialty of my father’s home town), we soon became at home in L.A.s Chinatown, going on to explore Little Tokyo and — as they emerged — Koreatown, Little Saigon, and Thai Town (to say nothing of Little Armenia and the many Latino neighbourhoods). As a result, wherever I travel in the world, in addition to Chinese cuisine, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and every conceivable kind of Latin American food seem as familiar to me as steak and friend chicken. For all of those reasons, and the many years I have lived there, California shall always be home.
My first two years of college were spent in Roswell, New Mexico — where I first voted in a presidential election (for Ronald Reagan, as it happens). There not being a great deal to see in the immediate area (the UFO craze not yet having hit), I explored as much of Hispano northern New Mexico as I could — Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos (and the high road from Santa Fe), and Chimayo, to name a few places. How I loved the culture and cuisine of that beautiful if poor region! Despite the short length of time that I was there, New Mexico shall always be home.
I have travelled a great deal in my life — all 50 States, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Ireland (North and South), France, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Monaco, Germany, Switzerland, Italy (plus the Vatican and the Sovereign Order of Malta — both in Rome), Czechia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Austria — of the last of which, more presently. What I have learned is that when you have a wide range of religious, historical, and literary interests there are few places — however far away and from your usual experience — that are not “homey” to some degree or another, if not in some degree familiar. If you acquire friends in any of the places you visit — and return repeatedly — these spots shall also somehow become part of your personal Kingdom, your internal realm.
Some, of course, shall be more so than others — for me, Southern Louisiana (and especially New Orleans), Toronto, Montreal, the Twin Cities, Aachen, Oxford, Paris, London, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Rome — to name a few — are almost additional hometowns for a host of reasons. From Musso and Frank’s to John’s Grill to Antoine’s to Keen’s to the Wayside Inn, there are restaurants to which, for me, every visit is a homecoming.
I am currently living and going to school in Trumau, Austria — and, to be honest, I feel as at home here as in New York, New England, California, New Mexico, or anywhere else. How could I not? The waltz my mother taught me is still King here, as are the composers she loved — Strauss, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. The food is heavenly — tafelspitz and schnitzel, rindsuppe with fritatten — and in season, venison and wild boar prepared in every way imaginable, from filets to gulasch. Sacher torte and innumerable other desserts tempt the palate, alongside my personal weakness, kaffe mit schlag! The architecture — be it baroque, art nouveau, gruenderzeit, or Gothic — is an absolute delight to the eyes, as are the forests, mountains, and rivers. Moreover, the memory of the glorious House of Habsburg is still very much alive: not only in the double eagles everywhere and the reverence given Bl. Emperor Karl and his wife, Zita (herself a Servant of God), but in the ongoing respect for the illustrious memory of their son Otto (whom I had the honour to know slightly) — as well as the current activities of the present heir, Karl, in Paneuropean and other endeavours. Because of their heritage, my visits to Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Cracow, Timisoara, and Zagreb have felt far more like forays to other cities in the same country as Vienna than to foreign nations — which, of course, they are legally. If my description seems annoyingly happy — it is because, as I say, I feel at home — at least in one way.
Because in another, I do not. The sense of home is not merely in places and holidays — it is especially in people. The sad truth is that, at 58 years of age, both of my parents, all of my grandparents and uncles and all but one of my aunts are gone — as are a large number of cousins and dear friends. While, of course, I have a host of new friends and relations whom I cherish, the doors of the past — which are the real gates of home — have shut fast. I can go back to every place where once I laughed with my dear departed, but even if the décor is untouched, it can never be the same. It is not only an ocean of space but of time. As Galadriel tells us in Lord of the Rings: “What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?”
If many of my readers have not had the chance to travel in distance as I have — a great many shall have done as much or more so in time. Those who have not will, should they live so long. The late Br. Leonard Mary, M.I.C.M often repeated to me a line which becomes truer with every obituary: “We have not here an abiding city” (Heb. 13:14). One might add — or cities! Our lives, like creation itself, rush on toward their inevitable end, as so many have before. Where can we go for the feeling of safety and permanence that we associated as children with home?
In our Faith. There are of course innumerable shrines to which we may travel — from Marian apparitions to Eucharistic Miracles and so many more — and I myself very much want to visit the Holy Land. In the Sacramentals and Devotions — which, were we lucky we had as children, but otherwise can have the thrill of discovering for ourselves. The friendship of the angels and saints in prayer, and Our Lady in the Rosary. Above all, in the Sacraments. The church of our childhood may be altered beyond repair or even bulldozed. But somewhere close, Our Lord is in the Tabernacle or even the Monstrance awaiting us — and in the Mass He makes Himself available to be intimately united with us. Ultimately, He is our home; the true and real centre of all our yearnings for love, safety, and welcome — the one Who shall always take us in, if we turn to Him and away from sin and His and our ancient enemy.
So let us enjoy the homelike bits and pieces that may strew our path — whether we travel the globe or never set foot outside our native parish. But while so doing, whether in the bosom of our family on Christmas Eve, or attending the finest Midnight Mass we can find, alone in a strange city, let us remember that this Earth is not our true home — not for us, nor for any whom we love, living or dead. As Dom Gueranger tells us, “…are not we too pilgrims and strangers in this world, where all things are fleeting and hurry on to death? … Year by year the appointed time draws nearer, when we ourselves, seated at the heavenly banquet, shall receive the homage of those who succeed us, and hold out a helping hand to draw them after us to the home of everlasting happiness. Let us learn, from this very hour, to emancipate our souls, let us keep our hearts free, in the midst of the vain solicitudes and false pleasures of a strange land: the exile has no care but his banishment, no joy but that which gives him a foretaste of his fatherland.” May we all meet merrily in that fatherland, the “realms of endless day,” our common home.