How do we define home?

White planter with slogan 'home is where your story begins'.

I saw today that Taransay – the former home of the Castaways – is up for sale. Unfortunately I don’t have a spare £2million to spend on it, but seeing the news has left me thinking all day about my own childhood, which I spent in the Western Isles.

Although I haven’t lived there for nearly twenty years, the countless days I spent playing on the beaches and walking in the hills were happy ones, and I will always feel a deep connection to the place. I am convinced that growing up somewhere so isolated – where the relationship between the people, the land and the sea is still a strong one, and where there is still a real awareness of the rhythms of nature – has shaped my character in fairly fundamental ways. It also says something about the sense of community on the islands that even having been away for so long, when I go back and visit now I still have people asking when I got ‘home’.

We took DorkySon to Harris for the first time a few months ago and he had a great time roaming around in the fresh air. His highlight was probably sitting watching the cars come off the ferry every day…  although he also had a blast throwing sticks in the river and stones in the loch. (It’s always the small pleasures…) We will try and visit that part of the world as often as possible, but I am already realising that DorkySon’s sense of ‘home’ is going to be far more he complicated than my own.

Edinburgh is a great place to start life, and I hope that when he’s older he will have fond memories of toddling around the Meadows, checking out the trains and cars at the National Museum, and running along Portobello beach with his Granny. But I’m not convinced that living in a city will have as much influence on him as living on as island did on me. If we moved away from here in five or six years, would it still feel like ‘home’ to him when he came back to visit in twenty years?

I also wonder what we can do to ensure that, in the future, DorkySon feels as much ‘at home’ in the States as he does in Scotland. Half of his family lives on the other side of the Atlantic. He has a blue passport as well as a red one. And yet when DorkyDad asks if he wants a ‘Tom-AY-to’ in his salad, he doesn’t realise that it’s the same thing as when I offer him a ‘Tom-AH-to’.

We are doing our best. There are Reese’s Pieces in the chocolate drawer, Gullah paintings on the walls of the living room, and a Phillies game on the television. After DorkyDad read my comment on this old post, he taught DorkySon to say ‘Have a nice day!’ And we are making our third family trip to the States next month. But none of that is a substitute for full submersion in the culture of a place.

For now, I very much hope that home is wherever DorkyDad and me are, but it’s going to be interesting as DorkySon grows up, to see where he is drawn to. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be Taransay, but if he ends up feeling equally at home in Scotland and the States, he’ll be a very lucky boy.

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

3 responses

  1. I found this post really thought provoking, thank you, I really want to leave a comment but I’m not sure what I want to say!

    I grew up in a tiny village in the Highlands and I couldn’t wait to get away, even though I ocassionally look back fondly on some of the experiences I had there. Similar to your experiences no doubt- strong (yet at times oppressive) sense of community, room to roam, space to play but you’re stuck if you need milk after 5pm or want to buy anything on a Sunday.

    We now live in St Andrews, Fife, I came here via Inverness, the West Midlands and Morayshire (brief spell as an RAF wife) we’ve been here for 11 years and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

    I knew I never wanted to raise my own children in the area I grew up in, the price we pay for this is that all my siblings (and there are many!) chose to stay put and as they appear to believe the A9 is somehow shorter if you come from my end, unless I make the effort, we rarely see family. They occasionally come, blinking at the bright lights of the Tesco Metro, marvelling at there being more than one kind of church, a good choice of restaurants and a demographic in the local schools (yes, more than one!) that the UN would be proud of. Every visit from them reinforces my belief that I did absolutely the right thing raising my children elsewhere. They may not benefit from strong family ties but they benefit greatly from our local community and environment, proximity to Edinburgh and Glasgow, access to services, they have broad horizons and a sense that home is the start of something bigger- something I don’t see in the eyes of my Highland based nieces and nephews.

    We feel very at home where we are but we also realise that home need not be a bind but a base from which to explore the rest of the world. When I go back to that tiny village to visit I see the same people doing the same things and having the same conversations. I’m almost a novelty because I’m a divorcee, I’m a woman and I drive (seriously every time I go up somebody says “you drove all that way, on your own?!”), I think John Lewis is a shop and not a day out, my children eat Tapas and I am that very rare creature that left for the bright lights of Inverness one day and never looked back!

    • Oh boy, I recognise so much of this, and I bet my Mum, who came to the Western Isles from Staffordshire, would recognise even more of it.

      I think you appreciate places like rural Scotland more when you don’t live there. All the things I love about visiting Harris are the things that would drive me mad if I lived there. I like reading my Sunday papers on a Sunday, for a start. I moved to the Scottish Borders when I left the islands, which was equally quiet in a different way, and if you’d asked me ten years ago, I would have said I could never imagine bringing up a child in the city… but now I can’t imagine leaving the city and all the wonderful things in it – the museums, parks, libraries, playgroups etc.

      Thanks for the comment – I really like what you say about home not being a bind, but a base from which to explore the world. I’ll remember that.

  2. Pingback: You say tomato, I say… how do we define home? | Love All Blogs

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