What is a home? Paintings on the wall, pictures on the mantel. Furniture that was picked out after much thought and consideration. Rooms filled with schoolbooks and outdated electronics. Bathrooms with towels on the floor and toothpaste all over the sink. A basement filled with old furniture and toys that no one uses but one day someone might. A home is basically a house filled with people, stuff, and memories. But stripped down, it is really a combination of wood, brick, drywall, pipes, windows, and a roof.
For 22 years I have lived in the same house, which has become my home. Before that, my home was the house that my parents moved into five days before I was born. The story goes that my mom was in active labor, my sister, six years my senior, was throwing up, and my mother was trying to teach my grandfather how to use the washing machine. At that point, my home was still a house — yet to be fully furnished, yet to have memories, both good and bad, made in it. Yet to become the place where bat mitzvahs, sweet 16s, first kisses, and piano lessons were to take place. Yet to become the place where my family came to fruition.
I was thinking a lot about the concept of a “house” versus a “home” for several reasons. The first is that last week was the 12-year anniversary of the day when my neighbor’s house exploded. July 17, 2008. I have written about it before. I continue to be thankful that my family was spared that day. How sad it was that my neighbor died. How lucky the rest of the block was, because just a few days before, one of our neighbors was celebrating their son’s bar mitzvah and the street was filled with children laughing and playing.
I still have the post card that my neighbors sent me from Bermuda, which I received the day of the tragedy. The house blew up, and all that remained on the pile of rubble was a pink American Standard toilet. The toilet looked as if it was in perfect condition, just waiting to be flushed. It was a bizarre sight.
A few weeks earlier, Mr. Haas, the man who was killed, was asking me if I had any interest in buying his old Lionel train set. Yes, with three little boys and thousands of baseball cards, Legos, balls, and tons of other stuff, all I needed was a train set. I politely declined. After the explosion, I kept thinking about that train set. Now it was just a melted pile of metal. All around our block were random remains of the lives of those who had lived in that home, which was now just a pile of burnt wood and twisted siding.
And, of course, the pink toilet.
The other reason I was thinking about homes was because my new neighbors moved in on the other side of me. For the past nine months, the house had been under construction. It has been really cool watching the whole process. The new owners are lovely people, and I think they still like me, so that is good. But what I realized was that when I moved in, Louise lived in that house. Louise was the original owner. She had lived there since the 1930s. She lived there before the other side of the street was even built. Louise told me that it had all been farmland then. I couldn’t even imagine that. She had never been married but had been engaged to a man who was killed in the war. I never asked which war — Louise was pretty old when I moved in, so it could have been World War I, but who knows.
When Louise died, the house remained empty for a few years. A young family bought it. And then, over the years, the house had been rented out by other families. The adorable children who played on my swing set made that house a home. Gave it memories that Louise never had. I still remember when I put the swing set up, Louise had commented, “Why does everyone have a swing set, but I never see any children playing on it!” I was happy to prove her wrong.
When the house was knocked down, it was weird to see what it looked like, all empty and barren, with no one to protect it. No one to say “remember when” about something that happened in a hallway or a room. The quarantine has enabled most of us to create even more memories — it has made our homes even more valuable in that respect.
I wish my new neighbors only happy memories in their new home, and that we all should cherish the good that we have.
Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck is proud to say that she tricked husband #1 into eating a plant-based burger and he had no idea which one it was. Next she will try to trick him with some sort of vegetable disguised as a coffee cake…