Discovering the romance of my castle

Posted May 29, 2009, at 12:24 a.m.

For a couple of years, my material life — insofar as possessions are concerned — has largely been on hold, stowed away in bins in my parents’ basement. Now I’m unpacking my things and dusting them off: bowls, baking dishes, my coffee maker, my collection of mugs from New England diners. I repair my old picture frames and clean the glass; now, I will have a wall of my own to hang them on.

It’s more than a little exciting to have a place that is mine for a while — and it’s not just being able to finally put my books on a real shelf. Your home is your castle, they say, and I have been living in other people’s castles during countless months of seasonal jobs and travel. When not staying in someone else’s house, I have been nomadic, living out of a backpack, defined by my own mobility.

No more using sugar in packets because keeping a bag of it in my van would be impractical. No more storing toilet paper in plastic bags to keep it from being rained on, or wondering whose couch, bunkhouse or dormitory I will be staying in two weeks from now. For a little while, I will have a real place of my own — and sheets. That simple household item that many of us take for granted is a novelty for this backpacker. I’m accustomed to zippering a sleeping bag around me at night; it has been awhile since the phrase “going to bed” has been more than just a figure of speech.

I have become an expert at making home wherever I lay my head, at finding my niche everywhere I go. I have found my own corner in many places: housing at seasonal jobs, desert encampments, a lean-to — and I have been grateful to those who have shared their houses with me and made me feel welcome. And yet, this apartment is different, it’s something a little more. I have found a home that is both solid and mine in a fundamental way. I possess the remote. I call the shots.

I have my own kitchen and I can cook what I want, rather than walking to the galley for a hot meal or firing up a propane stove. I can buy food that needs to be refrigerated. I can grow plants — just a few pots on the windowsill; no permanent garden, but still, plants.

When I lived at South Pole Station, I brought with me my photographs of Maine, my family and friends, intending to put them up on my walls. Of course, my Jamesway — the rounded huts that house Antarctic seasonal workers — didn’t exactly have “walls.” Instead, I used safety pins to fix the pictures to the blankets that insulated my tiny room from the subzero temperatures outside. I learned not to lay my clothes on the floor, where they would freeze. I focused on the romance of where I lived, rather than the disadvantages.

Now I am finding that unwrapping my dishes and putting them on a shelf — my shelf — has a romance all its own.

This new, territorial sense of ownership began when I loaded my car full of possessions in Maine, stuffing sweaters around mixing bowls and carefully bracing a lamp in the back seat. Every mile I drove brought me closer to my first toe-dip into semipermanence. While I was not without some nervousness about this change, I was eager to go about deciding exactly where and how to place my newly reacquired possessions.

I had a good feeling in my chest when I first walked down the street where I now live. My narrow row house is just three blocks from the harbor and cater-corner to a Mexican grocery store. The scent of salt water blows in from the harbor, and Spanish mingles with the accent I am beginning to recognize as “Baltimorean” in my street.

As I unpack my long-neglected sheets and quilts, I make a mental list of all of the people whose couches I have slept on. I want to invite all of them to come and stay with me, and, though I am sure it is impossible, I fantasize about throwing a dinner party for all of the many people whose homes I have been welcomed into around the world. It doesn’t matter that my dining room is also my kitchen and my living room. I have learned that, wherever you go, as long as your home is where your heart is, the boundaries and borders can be stretched for all houseguests who would stay.

Meg Adams, who grew up in Holden and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and Vassar College in New York, shares her experiences with readers each Friday. For more about her adventures, go to the BDN Web site: bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at madams@bangordailynews.net.

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