My maternal great grandmother Pauline McFarland always said, “Home is where you hang your hat.” What does that mean? Was it some superficial expression to brush off something deeper? Did she believe home is not the physical house, but wherever one is at peace? I never thought of Pauline as a philosophical person because she lived a simple life punctuated by struggles. Now I listen more intently to my heart as I reflect, what makes a house a home? I’ve heard my mother tell the story of great grandma’s childhood, growing up in North Dakota in a three-story farmhouse built by her “Papa” Joseph McFarland. The walls of that house held the voices of a family that journeyed late in the 1800’s from Scotland to the snow banks of eastern North Dakota by way of Nova Scotia. It’s hard to imagine how the long journey from the damp bogs of the old country to the icy Midwest could make for a trip worth taking, but those motivations and desires are left to the souls that came before me. Those whose blood courses through me now, who snapped their hats from those hooks in Scotland as they began the arduous voyage to their new home.
Great-great grandfather Joseph was known to be a talented craftsman, as evidenced by the simple but functional house he built. He didn’t have much in the way of money, so I can only imagine how he toiled and saved to build it. My great grandmother lived there until marriage; her childhood stories were filled with hard work, laughter and love. My mother recalls her own summertime visits and how cool the house felt while the leftover smell of kerosene hung heavy. During wheat thrashing season the top floor would fill with young men from far and wide as they worked in the golden wheat fields surrounding Vivian Township, North Dakota. The grain was at its harvest peak and farmers had limited time to make their yearly profits. The young, strappy men must have filled the house with noise, sweat and appetites. I can hear their boots on the wood floor as they grabbed their hats from the hooks, departing at daybreak. They would return with grit-lined pockets after a long day in the fields—tossing their hats back on the token hook by the door. Dusty hats that would be waiting the next morning. For them I imagine it was not just a house, it was a home—a place to hang your hat—for a day, for a season. For my great grandmother that house was a home because it contributed to her sense of peace to be content wherever she was and that sentiment carried her through a lifetime. Home is not just a house where you live. If we are fortunate enough, your house is where you hang your hat. That’s when you know you are home.