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The Longing for Home

Reflections at Midlife

The Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner
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In this deeply moving book of reflection and recollection, Frederick Buechner once again draws us into his deeply textured life and experience to illuminate our own understanding of home as both our place of origin and our ultimate destination.

For Frederick Buechner, the meaning of home is twofold: the home we remember and the home we dream. As a word, it not only recalls the place that we grew up in and that had much to do with the people we eventually became, but also points ahead to the home that, in faith, we believe awaits us at life's end. Writing at the approach of his seventieth birthday, he describes, both in prose and in a group of poems, the one particular house that was most precious to him as a child, the books he read there, and the people he loved there. He speaks also of the lifelong search we are all engaged in to make a new home for ourselves and for our families, which is at the same time a search to find something like the wholeness and comfort of home with ourselves. As he turns his attention to our dreams of the heavenly home still to come, he sees it as both hallowing and fulfilling the charity and the peach of our original home.

Writing with warmth, wisdom, and compelling eloquence, Frederick Buechner once again enables us to see more deeply into the secret places of our hearts. The Longing for Home will help to bring clarity and guidance to anyone who searches for meaning in a world that all too often seems meaningless.

HarperCollins; October 2009
192 pages; ISBN 9780061748639
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Title: The Longing for Home
Author: Frederick Buechner

Chapter One

The Longing for Home

Home sweet home. There's no place like home. Home is where you hang your hat, or, as a waggish friend of mine once said, Home is where you hang yourself. "Home is the sailor, home from sea, / And the hunter home from the hill." What the word home brings to mind before anything else, I believe, is a place, and in its fullest sense not just the place where you happen to be living at the time, but a very special place with very special attributes which make it clearly distinguishable from all other places. The word home summons up a place -- more specifically a house within that place -- which you have rich and complex feelings about, a place where you feel, or did feel once, uniquely at home, which is to say a place where you feel you belong and which in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren't going all that well at any given moment. To think about home eventually leads you to think back to your childhood home, the place where your life started, the place which off and on throughout your life you keep going back to if only in dreams and memories and which is apt to determine the kind of place, perhaps a place inside yourself, that you spend the rest of your life searching for even if you are not aware that you are searching. I suspect that those who as children never had such a place in actuality had instead some kind of dream of such a home, which for them played an equally crucial part.

I was born in 1926 and therefore most of my childhood took place during the years of the Great Depression of the thirties. As economic considerations kept my father continually moving from job to job, we as a family kept moving from place to place with the result that none of the many houses we lived in ever became home for me in the sense I have described. But there was one house which did become home for me in that sense and which for many years after the last time I saw it in 1938 or so I used to dream about and which I still often think about although by now I am old enough to be the grandfather of the small boy I was when I first knew it.

It was a large white clapboard house that belonged to my maternal grandparents and was located in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called East Liberty, more specifically in a private residential enclave in East Liberty called Woodland Road which had a uniformed guard at the gate who checked you in and out to make sure you had good reason for being there. For about twenty years or so before he went more or less broke and moved away in his seventies with my grandmother to live out the rest of their days in North Carolina, my grandfather was a rich man and his house was a rich man's house, as were all the others in Woodland Road, including the one that belonged to Andrew Mellon, who lived nearby. It was built on a hill with a steep curving driveway and surrounded by green lawns and horse chestnut trees, which put out white blossoms in May and unbelievably sticky buds that my younger brother and I used to stir up with leaves and twigs in a sweetgrass basket, calling it witches' brew. It also produced glistening brown buckeyes that you had to split off the tough, thorny husks to find and could make tiny chairs out of with pins for legs or attach to a string and hurl into the air or crack other people's buckeyes with to see which would hold out the longest.

The house itself had a full-length brick terrace in front and lots of French windows on the ground floor and bay windows above and dormers on the third floor with a screened-in sleeping porch in the back under which was the kitchen porch, which had a zinclined, pre-electric icebox on it that the iceman delivered ice to and whose musty, cavelike smell I can smell to this day if I put my mind to it. To the right of the long entrance hall was the library lined with glassed-in shelves and books, some of which I can still remember like the slim, folio-sized picture books about French history with intricate full-page color plates by the great French illustrator Job, and my great-grandfather Golay's set of the works of Charles Dickens bound in calf like law books with his name stamped on the front cover. To the left of the hall was the living room, which I remember best for a horsehair settee covered in cherry red damask that was very uncomfortable and prickly to sit on and a Chinese vase almost large enough for a boy my size to hide in, and an English portrait done in the 1840s of a little girl named Lavinia Holt, who is wearing a dress of dotted white organdy with a slate blue sash and is holding in her left hand, her arm almost fully extended to the side, a spidery, pinkish flower that might be honeysuckle. In the basement there was a billiard room with a green baize table, which as far as I know was never used by anybody and a moosehead mounted on the wall that my brother and I and our cousin David Wick used to pretend to worship for reasons I have long since forgotten as the God of the Dirty Spittoon and several tall bookcases full of yellow, paper-bound French novels that ladies of the French Alliance, of which my half French-Swiss grandmother was a leading light, used to come and borrow from time to time.