If I haven’t had a paintbrush in my hand the last ten days, I’ve had a parang – the bush knife which has been in our luggage since Papua New Guinea days – slashing the omnipotent Bride’s Tears, a skittish pink vine not native to St Croix, which takes a hold of our garden whenever we have been absent a few weeks. Pretty but invasive, and something I have come to loathe despite its beauty. Both actions, whether painting or slashing, allow the mind to roam free.
Mine has spent a lot of time thinking about our children both of whom, with their respective partners and a couple of grandchildren in tow, are joining us for Christmas and the New Year. It will be the first time we have all managed to be together since a Christmas shared in Ireland four years ago. Such are the trials of a global family. We all see each other, but rarely are we all in one place, let alone one time zone, at the same time, which makes our eventual reunions that much sweeter.
Our son has spent many hours working on the wreck of a house we bought on the beautiful island of St Croix – first demolishing and later rebuilding. He and some mates spent a memorable couple of weeks both partying and painting. He has an intimate knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing. Our daughter, due to babies and relocating, has not yet visited our patch of the Caribbean. Both though, have a set of keys. Does this make our island house their home?
Not necessarily. They both have homes in their respective countries, but I think for Edward there is a sense of coming home. He has memories of the place, he loves it and his parents are there, sporadically. But for Kate it is coming on holiday, rather like when we all converged in Ireland. Maybe it is having a husband and children that makes the difference, she has built her own nest, her own home.
We have friends who have lived here forty years, their children were born and bred on island, and when they return from the mainland for high days and holidays, they are coming home. And maybe that is the difference. When I think back to when my parents were alive, visiting either of them was just that, visiting. A cherished time, but it was not home. Possibly because I had not grown up in England, where they moved for retirement.
I am curious to know what Kate will feel after having spent some time here. A sense of ownership, or home, or rather a lovely place to visit? Either is fine with me. No one can dictate where we feel at home.
I though have always felt, and still do, that home is where I happen to be at any given time, for a certain length of time. Let’s say an arbitrary three months. I think that acceptance of home as a moving target has eased my many transitions around the world. It allows me to compartmentalise my life. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about my previous homes, or friendships from them, or that I ever stop caring about a place in which I have lived. It means I can say goodbye with relative freedom and fondness, which allows me to say hello to a new place to call home with anticipation and excitement.
Or as Emy Thomas, a new friend in St Croix who traversed the seas on a yacht for ten years succinctly says, and indeed named her book, Home is Where the Boat Is.