There’s No Place Like Home, Or is There?
Where is home?
As Expats are wont to do, we traveled back to the place from whence we came–Chicago, or more specifically the Village of Arlington Heights, IL. For months after our arrival, Chicago was ‘home’, Brussels merely a new, untested acquaintance.
We didn’t sell our house in Arlington Heights. How could we? The house was our home. My parents built the original structure on an empty lot in 1967 and raised three kids. Later, Jim and I bought the house and proceeded to turn it into our own, a new custom-made home built atop the foundation laid by my parents.
Not knowing for how long would out European adventure last, we rented out the house and turned our attentions toward Brussels. Slowly and almost unnoticeably, Brussels claimed a piece of our hearts.
On our first trip back to Chicago since moving to Europe, Jim and I had an aggressive agenda. We only had four full days and nights to squeeze everything in. We had errands: check on our house and renters with hope they weather this year’s polar vortex better than the last. There were licenses to renew. We had favorite restaurants and foods to consume–cheeseburgers, Italian Beef, Mexican food.
We also had a long list of supplies, the things from our old ‘home’ that we couldn’t get in our new ‘home’.
We’ve yet to find a decent Mexican restaurant in Brussels, and my efforts at preparing home-cooked meals in the Mexican style have been thwarted by a scarcity of supplies and seasonings.
We learned quickly that dry-cleaning was a luxury in Brussels. At five times the cost of the US, I took to ironing to save the $6 per shirt cost to launder and press. A friend also told us about Dryel, a do-it-at-home dry-cleaning product. We’ve saved thousands of euros as a result, using some of the savings to buy even more clothes for me to launder at home.
Peanut butter and grape jelly, staples in most American pantries are hard to find. Belgian peanut butter is dry and grainy while grape jelly is nowhere to be found.
Even Sadie, our golden retriever had her wish list. A special brand of dog treats and canned pumpkin. We use the latter to supplement her dinner, providing fiber and nutrients to her diet. When we can find canned pumpkin in Brussels, it costs nearly $6 per can.
Then there are the luxuries, the favorite toothpaste, hand soap, breakfast cereal, deodorant, hand cream, kosher salt, pancake mix and syrup, etc… We had to buy an extra suitcase to cart all these items to Brussels.
Most importantly, there were friends and family to visit, people who represent our roots. Our times and adventures with each have made indelible imprints on our lives. They include my colleagues at the Barrington Writers Workshop (BWW), a group of talented writers who pushed me to become a better author. While Facebook, FaceTime and Skype have kept us in touch from across an ocean, these people are precious. Our friends in Brussels are limited to a rare few. It will take years to recreate the breadth and scope of friends that we’ve cultivated in Chicago.
Can you go home again? Of course! But where is ‘home’? Ten months of grand adventures and simple moments have turned Brussels from merely a new acquaintance into a long-term relationship. Toward the end of our Chicago sojourn, we were looking forward to going home— and we meant Brussels. I can better appreciate the pithy maxim–Home is where you hang your hat. While few wear hats anymore, home is where you share your life with the person you hold most dear.
But lest we think that Chicago no longer claims us, all we have to do is enjoy a breakfast of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup, lunch on Jif and Welch’s grape jelly, dine on Chili con carne seasoned with McCormick spices, and recall the faces of family and decades-old friends.
Perhaps the best definition of all–Home is in your heart!