When I began to set up housekeeping on my own for the first time, I bought a set of blue willow dinnerware. I find the story behind the painted scene vaguely interesting, but the real reason I set my table with blue willow is because it reminds me of my grandparents' house. Every two years growing up, my family traveled cross-country from wherever we lived at the time to visit my grandparents in Cedar City, Utah. For Mother, these visits were "coming home" in the full sense of the word. Grandpa lived in his father's house, next door to the home where my mother grew up. Uncle Scott lived just past the garden, and the extended family still gathered at the piano to sing. Even with my own infrequent visits to Cedar City, I knew how the basement would smell and where to find my favorite books in the living room. And when I sat down to breakfast, I sat down to a table set with blue willow china.
Unlike my mother, I struggle when faced with the question "Where are you from?" or "Where do you call home?" Often, I simply take the easy way out and name whatever state happens to display on my driver's license. But every once in a while I look at those blue willow plates and wonder what "home" means for me.
I suppose for me home will never be a single place surrounded by walls and gardens, or even a single town with its collection of old friends and "remember whens." Rather, home is a collection of smells and sights and defining moments.
I see home in the rise of a full moon over the mountains, smell it in the heat rising off the cement on a mid-summer day or in the whiff of mountain pine in the early morning. I taste home when I make sugar muffins for my children on a Saturday morning or chocolate oatmealers for dessert. (My children call them no-bakes, but I secretly still call them "COs" in my mind, just as we did in my childhood.) I catch the scent of creosote on a railroad tie, and immediately I hear the long-ago chatter of cousins as we build my grandparents' cabin in Strawberry, Arizona. I grow roses to the side of the house, just as my mother did. I scribble notes in the margins of my books, stand for long minutes in front of a single painting in a museum, and in my mind my father stands at my side.
Ironically, given the fact that I have spent only 10 years of my life in the Southwest and given the fact that my political leanings make living there an exercise in patience, I find that any roots I have dig deeply into Rocky Mountain soil. When I go home in my head, I smell canyon air, I tell direction by the mountains, and I eat my dinner on blue willow china.