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Ways of Seeing, Jill Vickers: Reclaiming and reevaluating home

It was a long-awaited dream, a home on wheels and nearly a year to spend traveling around the country. My husband and I packed the converted Chevy with cooking tools and supplies, laptops, food, a few books, backpacks and the dog, rented out our house, and hit the road last fall.
As our travels came to an end, in the days waiting to move back into my house, I wondered: Will I be disappointed that the months of traveling cross-country are over? Or will I feel delighted to be back in my home?
Initially there is no time to reflect on this. The garden beds call out: ”Till me, plant me, weed me, feed me!”
Then the process of settling back inside the house begins. The renter left our things in familiar places: broom and dustpan, teakettle and pots, soap and brush. Items I don’t find are ones we packed away before leaving: garden gloves, best kitchen knife, and some of the framed family photos.
I find it hard to decide where to put items that personalize a living space. Thus it is a relief to have the antique clock, a bronze shepherd boy, and other heirlooms emerge from locked closets and drawers to regain their places. Shells and rocks we’ve collected in our travels, a basket, and a pair of burnished-metal roadrunners juggle for a position as more days pass. A few empty nails on the wall remind me daily of the pictures still tucked away somewhere.
There are changes as I move beyond the house and yard. When I stop by to visit an elderly neighbor, I find her farmhouse emptied out. I learn later she’d had a fall, a break and had to sell. Sadly, I wasn’t here to help.
But other things haven’t changed, like the rows of new-cut hay and roar of farm trucks hauling it back to the barn. Even the aroma of manure being spread on the fields that follows is a comfort.
Within a few weeks, I spend less time unpacking, organizing, catching up, and more time being at home. I’m there in person with our writing group, after months of calling in, and meet with old friends at our book group. I’m at the Middlebury River as part of the water monitoring team one morning. Some people and some things are missing, but it’s a smooth transition.
The feeling of “I live here” settles in.
During this time I catch up with an Afghan female student I’ve mentored via Skype. In spite of the odds, she recently earned her undergraduate degree in neighboring Bangladesh where civil unrest often kept her confined to the tiny campus. She is back in her war-torn homeland to find a job and apartment. Her immediate family fled to Iran as refugees when she was a child. She attended high school there and came back to Afghanistan on her own to get a higher education.
Now she is staying temporarily at a cousin’s house that he’s trying to sell. She shows me the room lined with packed boxes the family will take when they can escape the mess that her country is now. Her cousin’s daughter, who is my friend’s age, will not leave the house due to the frequency of bombings.
In contrast, she tells me that, after a few times out on the streets, she knows she can face her fear of the explosions. She explains that rising tensions between religious factions bring criticism of her in public, but that too she can shoulder. She is looking for a position directly related to women’s rights.
I would like a graduate program in the U.S.,” she says, when I ask. I am concerned about her safety. “But for now, I am home.”
My young friend helps me grasp this feeling. She is where she has worked hard to be, an individual with a college degree, with documentary filmmaking experience, as well as experience working for women’s rights. She’s eager to apply all of these to what she believes in. This is where she can, in spite of tangible odds, live most fully.
I see that “home” isn’t the physical space, but rather the chemistry between a person and a place. For each of us, faces and voices, smells and sounds, connections and commitments create a feeling of home. No matter how challenging it is, there is nothing quite like it. I’m delighted to be home.
Jill Vickers is a native of the Champlain Valley, a retired teacher of literacy and the founder of a video production company. Special interests include family history, travel and outdoor activities. She lives with her husband and their springer spaniel in Bridport.

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