A Place Called Home

The house I was brought home to as a newborn was the home I grew up in and lived in until I married. I never had to think about what "home" meant.  Then we moved to DC and three states over the next 8 or so years-finally landing in Gainesville, Florida with 2 kids and a third due within a month or so. We divorced about 2 years later.

I moved into a rental home in Gainesville, one I had chosen with no help from anyone. Soon Denise and two of the big kids joined us. We lived in that house for six years. It was the right size house for our "Lesbian Brady Bunch" family. We liked the back yard. We liked the neighborhood. I am not sure either of us would have called it "home" except in the "It's good to be home." when we returned from a trip or "When will the little kids be home?" kind of way. It was the Flamingo House. We were in love and happy. We were busy raising a family and working.

I worked for a few years at the University of Florida and made some friends. Once I stopped working there-I would meet those friends for coffee dates. My now boss had known me from when I worked at iVillage (she had also worked with Denise) and lived in town. Our kids went to preschool together. My youngest and her youngest planned wedding each other for a while. We would have coffee from time to time. We "knew" a lot of people in town because of various kid activities-but our friends generally were online-especially friends of us as a couple.

We aren't super social people. Our Starbucks baristas still know more about what we look like on a regular basis than our friends.

Denise read a lot of blogs back then. (She still does.) She read Snarkland for one reason or another-something connected to UU I think.

One day I decided to learn to knit so I could make some socks for Denise. Space Invader Socks. It was 2007, Sock Day was coming. Surely, I had decided to make these socks and therefore I would. I knew nothing about knitting. I emailed Denise's mother who said "Socks? How about a scarf? Socks are hard"

Denise recommended I ask Lorena. I said Lorena who? She said "You know, Snarkland. She lives in Gainesville and knits." I rolled my eyes.

I went to Michaels. I got some (nasty) metal needles and sport weight stretchy blue yarn and the Stitch and Bitch book. I taught myself to cast on. (using a video on YouTube and careful reading of that page in the Stitch and Bitch Book.) I knit a few rows.

I went to my first knitting group in Gainesville meeting the next day. I did NOT want to go. Strangers. New knitter. I did not want to go. Lorena was there. Sharon was there. They sat in the shade at the book store that day-knitting, spinning, talking, welcoming us into their group. I went again each week-steadily getting better and better needles and needing less rescue from the others. We moved inside the used book store-then to the Books-a-Million.

Then an announcement-Lorena, Sharon and Ginger were opening a real live yarn store, Hanks Yarn and Fiber . I wouldn't need to go to the one that told me I was buying needles that were too good for my kids. I would have a place every day to go with my knitting crisis.

Not only were they opening a store-it was literally a 3 minute drive from my house. I could have walked or biked if I were a crunchier type. They had coffee and Wi-Fi-I am sure just for Denise and boy child, who loved going to the weekly stitch and bitch as much as I did even though neither knits. They tolerated my bouncing child.(though I think sometimes they really wanted to grab a skein of yarn and tie her down) They welcomed the older boy child, the half child, Michelle belle, the loud child-the whole family. We got invited to a New Year's Eve party. (We didn't go-we didn't know then...) We found a place in town, friends, and Gainesville imperceptibly became "home."

We moved to the Chicago area. I still am a novice knitter. Lorena came right before our first Thanksgiving and took the fear out of a few yarn shops for us. We like the people at Three Bags Full nearby-but haven't ever gone to their classes or get-togethers. (We have bought a ton of Alpaca there-now that I finally need, and do make scarves and hats)

But, home is where the heart is and that heart has been safely stored at Hanks. The LYS ladies spied on our big kids still in Gainesville. They gave updates on girlfriends, on the half-child, on girl child growing up. We tweeted them, watched them on Facebook, and ordered yarn and needles and soap. (Nothing like calling your LYS that isn't so local and saying "I am going to be doing this project and I need...-can you send me the stuff?" and getting just the right thing a few days later.)

It was always one of our first stops when we went to see the big kids in Gainesville. It was always like we had just been there. That time warp that space, love, and friendship can provide inhabited that place.

The day girl graduated eighth grade-Denise had a phone meeting that she stayed in the car for until it was done-and on the way in peeked at her mail-Hank's was closing the bricks and mortar. They will be online-but no more store.

She told me on our way out. Did you hear me she said? I said "I think I did." but it was still sinking in. I pestered her with was she sure.

I have spent the time since then thinking about all of this-about knitting, friendship, about independent businesses, about the economy, about what makes a community a community, about what makes an area home. Since I hadn't won the powerball the week before-I can't swoop in and rescue the independent businesses that made Gainesville home.

Even if I had won-that wouldn't have been all of the answer. (It would have been one of my favorite things in the world-to give those businesses the feet to stand on and grow for a few more years.)  The answer lies in our behavior and where we choose to spend our money. The answer is in explaining over and over to our kids why independent bookstores are better than Barnes and Noble and why farmer's markets make a difference other than variety on the plate. It answer means choosing local baked goods, local yarn stores, local businesses over the big chains.

As I wrote this I realized something else-this is true of where we choose to spend our time online. Online communities work much the same way-do we spend our time and page views on the big news sites, big social media sites, A-list blogs that everyone reads, or do we go with the ones like BlogHer, SVM, reading other smaller community sites-smaller communities that support what we believe in?

I am as guilty of Starbucks, big box stores, CNN and Facebook as perhaps all of you reading this post. As convenient as those choices are for easy, reliable consumption-I need to remember Hanks, Alibi books, BlogHer, and all those places that make somewhere home.

The PetCo and Pet Supplies Plus have less expensive pet supplies by a dollar or two-which can add up when faced with our prairie dogs. The Wilmette Pet Center-knows us, loves our prairie dogs, loves the fact that we love Wilma, Betty, and Pebbles. They gush about how much they love that these wild girls of ours share our lives. The store doesn't make for lounging-though I suspect that some of their employees started there just because it felt like home.

I will miss Alibi books-I already do when I pass the papered over windows.

I will miss Hanks more-even though I can, and will order online, and definitely will wrangle time with our friends when we go to Gainesville.  Gainesville will be missing a chunk of what made my town for a decade finally feel like home.

Remember those places in your town. Spend your money there-it might not seem to go as far when you take home your bags-until it goes away and you find you need more than "stuff" in your life-you need the community.

Remember that when you have a few free moments online that there are the same sorts of communities online that need you to visit them-so they can be there when you need them too. You don't need to spend money there-just time and supporting others like you.



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