Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Losing Home, Finding Home

When I was young, I lived in a very small house with my parents and three sisters. We owned the lot next door, where my father planned to build the house where I now live. We moved in at the end of 1994, after three long years, but he built it entirely by himself, literally down to the woodwork. My father is a mason, and he can do anything with stone: fireplaces, foundations, walkways, bricklaying—it is his form of art. The most striking feature of my home is, not surprisingly, the stonework. He split each Delaware stone on the entire fa├žade of my house, the front porch, the chimney, and inside, a fireplace that extends up the living room wall to the vaulted ceiling. My house is one of his greatest accomplishments.

Nearly ten years ago (only five years after we moved in), my house caught on fire. Luckily, no one was home at the time. While the structural frame survived, the damage was still immense. We lost a lot. I remember walking through my house the next day—the living room was the worst—the walls were gone, unrecognizable legs and arms of furniture lay in heaps of ash, shards of glass from the picture window on the floor, a rectangle was cut out of the ceiling twelve feet above my head that ventilated the smoke—everything was black with soot. The stone fireplace withstood the flames.

It would be a year before we could move back in. In the meantime, we downsized from our five-bedroom home, to a doublewide trailer the insurance company set us up with in our backyard. We worked together to salvage what we could from the fire, we picked out our new furniture and wall paint—I thought it would be an entire new start. As devastating as it was at the time, looking back now, I think it brought my family closer together. We still had each other. Most material possessions ultimately can be replaced, although I can’t entirely say that home to me doesn’t include the physical place. I think part of this is because it is my father’s artistic creation, and partly because after it was nearly lost, my entire family had a say in its new design.

I think a lot of this resonates in Patricia Grace’s Potiki, when the wharekai caught on fire. I really connected to the sense of loss of the beautiful house, steeped with meaning and values. The theme of loss is prevalent throughout this entire text, but ultimately the characters seem to prevail, move past the pain, but ultimately do not forget. The loss of the land on the hills, their gardens due to malicious flooding, the wharekai to fire, and Potiki to death, all bring the weakened community together, ultimately strengthening familial bonds and a sense of home. The community begins again, but they grow from their experiences of loss and pain to become who they are, who they were, and who they will be.

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