Where I'm From


My brother asked me if I had any attachment to the different houses we lived in growing up. I have very different and very distinct memories from each of the three houses our family lived in.

Our first house was owned by my mother when she married my father, and they eventually added on a second floor as our family grew. I loved that little house with its brown carpet, secret storage closet underneath the stairs, and huge acorn trees in the park across the street. I remember my parents trying to sell the house when I was about five years old, and when some potential buyers came to have a tour, I climbed the stairs on all fours making claw marks in the brown carpet as if that would scare them away, thinking, “Oh dear, a TIGER lives here!” It didn’t work.

Our next house was actually quite a treasure when I look back on it, although the house itself was much larger than our previous, and I always felt really scared of all the excess space. We lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids, and my father built us a tree house in the woods out back with a door in the floor that you could shut and lock from the inside. One of my sanctuaries.

Finally, when I was 15 my parents moved us into their dream house with a view of the city and Bellingham Bay. They’ve now lived here the longest of any of the houses, and it holds many more memories - the countless walks with our black lab Luna, my best friend and I taking over the basement to save on rent post-college, several remodels and home improvements, and now it is the place I return to when I visit for holidays and to get a little home-cooking.

What makes a house a home? I love the concept of “hygge,” which Google defines as a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture). It matters to me to have hot water available in the kettle, blankets within arms reach on the couch, and candles glowing in the dark corners of the living room. These are the little touches that help bring a sense of comfort and are hopefully inviting others to relax and take rest when they visit. I like to know my surroundings and rather enjoy how small spaces force me to simplify.

One my my favorite writers and poets, David Whyte, writes of possibility that is right before our noses and depicts the sweet relationship to the spaces we call home:

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice.

You must note the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

- David Whyte, Everything is Waiting for You

Take a moment to take in the surroundings of your home. How well you must be known in that space without you even knowing it!

Alissa Swank