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August 7, 2017

Marilynne Robinson’s novels seem to be the sort that a person has to be in just the right mood to read and enjoy. I never found that mood with Gilead (I think the religious trappings put me off), but I did find it with Lila. So when Care said she’d really enjoyed Home and I found an audiobook of it at the library, I checked it out.

This was last spring. I was driving around listening to this story about adult children who had returned to live with their father in their childhood home, and was by turns horrified by how old and frail the father seemed to those children and swept with waves of longing for my own adult children to come home. Which they did, coming in after Walker’s college graduation, Walker for only a couple of weeks, with his girlfriend, and Eleanor for a couple of months, working part-time at the local college, getting a respite from her cockroach-infested rental house, and staying to help me through the worst parts of my knee replacement before she returned last week to move into a new apartment.

Today marks four weeks that I’ve been confined to home. Right now some of my most sentimental attachments have dimmed, in light of the fact that I’m really tired of seeing these same four walls.

In honor of getting to leave home tomorrow (for a 35th-wedding-anniversary lunch and a follow-up appointment with my orthopedist), I was leafing through a copy of Home to remember how well Robinson captures the feelings of parents and children, like the part where the father exclaims “’such times you had!’…as if the present slight desolation were confetti and candy wrappers left after the passing of some glorious parade.” I feel that way often, especially in the garage, noticing the birthday party decoration I used to bring out each August or the pogo stick still standing in one corner.

Walker says he is coming back to stay with us for a couple of weeks at the beginning of September, and I am looking forward to it as much as the father in Home looked forward to his son Jack’s visit, stocking the pantry with “everything he thought he remembered Jack’s having a liking for.”

We are all aware of the mixed feelings that an adult child has when he returns home, however. When Glory, the adult daughter, is thinking about her return home she wonders “did she choose to be there, in that house, in Gilead? No, she certainly did not. Her father needed looking after, and she had to be somewhere, like every other human being on earth. What an embarrassment that was, being somewhere because there was nowhere else for you to be. All those years of work and nothing to show for it.” That seems a very American attitude to me, to be embarrassed because you don’t have a clear answer to the question “what do you DO?” (for a living).

The plot of Home, centering on the return of Jack, the prodigal son, is set in the past (early 1960’s), and so extremely predictable. I guessed the reason for Jack’s unhappy love affair with the first or second letter he got, as I imagine most readers will.

The feelings about home and family, however, are so nicely delineated that the plot doesn’t matter all that much. I particularly identify with what the father says after he’s spoken a truth out loud in front of his adult children: “I wish I could take it all back, everything I’ve just said. But I supposed you did know it already. Still, it’s different when you say things like that out loud. It already seems like I didn’t mean it. Now I know I’m going to just lie on my bed and worry about it, and wish I’d held my peace. I did that for so long.”

And I will always hope to do what Glory does when my adult children come home:
“How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant. That is what her mother always did. After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what. It would mean peace if they had fought and amnesty if they had been in trouble. It had meant, You can come down to dinner now, and no one will say a thing to bother you.”
Eleanor stayed to cook for me, but Walker has the faith and, perhaps, detachment to not worry about how I’ve been getting along, planning to return only when I’m able to get around in the kitchen again.

At the end of these weeks of being home-bound, when I’m depending on Ron and other friends to keep me from climbing the walls and drive me back and forth to physical therapy appointments, I feel the hard truth of the kind of joke the father shares with his oldest friend:
“The joke seemed to be that once they were very young and now they were very old, and that they had been the same day after day and were somehow at the end of it all so utterly changed.”
Maybe one of the secrets of living at home in a way that makes adult children want to return is to keep sharing the things that are the same day after day, even while everything else keeps changing—horizons, girlfriends, knees, furniture, pets, trees…

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. PAJ permalink
    August 7, 2017 12:47 am

    Yes. Yes to all of this.

  2. August 7, 2017 1:37 am

    A lovely post Jeanne. I keep meaning to read Robinson & still haven’t got round to it! I hope the appointment goes well & the lunch is delicious- 35 years is incredible!

    • August 7, 2017 11:28 am

      We have a silly tradition of going to Burger King every year–we haven’t missed a year! So that’s where we’re going to lunch. We might have a nice dinner, though.

  3. August 7, 2017 10:55 am

    I am SO looking forward to reading Lila.

    • August 7, 2017 11:29 am

      It will fill in some of the blanks about Ames. It’s a nice, quiet book, more set in Iowa than this one seemed to me.

  4. K D permalink
    August 7, 2017 11:55 am

    Speaking as an adult child now–the flavor of those returns home change once again if/when the next generation enters the picture. Now my returns home are as much me delivering the grandkids to the grandparents as they are visits I make to my parents. And I’m always Mama, even while also being my parents’ adult child. The timbre of our time together is different now than it was when I was in my twenties and returning for a visit.

    It seems so very far away, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see the being-returned-to side of things, too, on a day ages and ages hence.

    • August 8, 2017 11:36 am

      Interesting. Maybe the distance traveled and the age of the grandparents makes a difference in that flavor. I never thought of my trips home as “delivering the grandkids.” My parents were great facilitators of our visits with our kids but going home was still about showing my kids (and my brother’s kids, their cousins) the river and the holiday window display downtown and all the things we’d grown up with.
      It may seem “ages and ages hence” to you, but yes, if you’re lucky, it won’t be that many more years before your home is the one your kids will be returning to.

      • K D permalink
        August 8, 2017 5:09 pm

        How crazy is this, Jeanne? We are around the *halfway* mark, in some sense, with D1. This fall: start 4th grade, turn 9….and wow, that means high school graduation is probably a little under 9 years away.

        • August 9, 2017 8:30 am

          It’s always crazy to think too far ahead. Better to enjoy what you can while you can.

          • K D permalink
            August 9, 2017 11:14 am

            Ah, then soccer and blueberries it is, for the moment.

  5. August 8, 2017 10:53 am

    I’m almost certain I have a copy of this in my TBR stack. I’ll move it to the top once I’m done with the Bookers. HOpe you are up and about as much as you want soon. As much as I love my own home, being forced to stay in it would drive me nuts.

    • August 8, 2017 11:38 am

      I did get out yesterday, and now I’m cleared to leave the house for outpatient physical therapy. Maybe in a couple more weeks I can try driving my car on the driveway and see when I might be able to regain that independence.
      It does help that my friends have been lovely, sending flowers, bringing meals, and coming over to play games with me, all of which relieves the monotony of these days.

  6. August 10, 2017 4:40 pm

    Loved this, as I always enjoy your family posts. I keep meaning to try Robinson and just haven’t gotten around to her yet. Although I enjoyed the heck out of her interview with President Obama last year. I am glad that you’ve had friends to come by and visit. Glad you’re cleared to leave the house!

    • August 10, 2017 9:06 pm

      Interesting–I hadn’t heard about her interview with President Obama, but I looked it up and read the transcript. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
      This week my friends are driving me to physical therapy and a couple of times for lunch in our small town. Next week one of them is going to try driving me to Columbus, so that will be an adventure.

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