The Family Home: A Metaphor Demolished

family home metaphor demolished

My ancestral home, or one of them anyway, is being torn down. It might have already been demolished.

I never lived there; other than my own grandfather, I never knew the people who did. When distant relatives wax sentimental about their memories (via Facebook), I am unable to enter that space in my mind, being unfamiliar with the layout of the house. If I imagine along with them, my pictures remain murky and unclear and speculative.

Why am I sad about this house coming down? What details encoded in my heart come to the surface in response to this information? (Especially considering that at least one house that I actually lived in has also been demolished?)

I have a half-formed theory that the tendencies to respect and celebrate our home turf is a symptom of being created from the dust of the ground. If not, perhaps thousands of years of human history spent eking out a living from the earth bred it into us.  Or maybe it’s simply that proximity to our communities causes place to be associated with people, our families and culture.

The beginning genealogist quickly learns that where is at times more valuable information than who in the search for ancestors. I’ve lived most of my life hundreds of miles from where my ancestors settled. If I knew neither names nor where to look, my research would be over before it began. (In fact, I have a few brick-wall ancestors in exactly that scenario!)

However, my two grandfathers lived on the same street and knew each other as boys. Knowing their intersecting story counts so much more than the material existence of the homes; why should I be sad? I’ve written before about food as a feature of home. As many times as I’ve moved and as many places as I’ve lived, you would think by now that my construct of home would be firmly rooted in its less tangible components: love, family, story, memory, security, shared identity.

family home

Place has practical value in tracing your roots, but is home a purely sentimental concept?

Maybe a house is a representation. Symbolism can evoke emotion, as every kind of storyteller knows very well. The destruction of a house where I myself lived didn’t phase me much because the family it represented still circled me on all sides. The distant home of distant relatives, however, crumbles amid fears that intangibles could be lost or forgotten in the rubble.

Question for You

What does home mean to you? Does it require physical place to remain constant? Is it a sentimental concept, or a practical one?

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