Home is often the place that grounds us. It’s the place we return to at the end of the day and where we find the people and things that are most familiar to us. I applied for the Habitat for Humanity build in Bulgaria because of how passionately I feel that others should have such a home. I didn’t come on the trip with any expectation that I would discover the things I miss about home. Nor would I have expected that the camaraderie of my teammates would be the trigger point for my childhood memories of home.
I remember the smell of Folger’s coffee mingled with pan-fried bacon. How it invaded my sleep on Sunday mornings and urged me into a wakefulness that transitioned into eavesdropping. My ears straining to hear the hushed sounds of my parents two floors below. I remember the gurgle of the automatic drip coffee maker as it sputtered the last drops of hot water over the coffee grounds that my mother had scooped into the drip basket which transformed the hot liquid from clear to dark brown before it accumulated in the glass coffee pot that sat on the warming element. Meanwhile the sounds of bacon cooking in the nonstick frying pan underscored everything else, snapping and popping as the strips crinkled and curled themselves in the pool of rendered fat that would soon bathe freshly cracked eggs and turn them white. Sunny side up, please.
I remember lying in my bed two stories above, delaying the moment of being fully awake. The minutes ticking by as I luxuriated in the the warmth of my bed. I don’t remember why I chose to postpone engagement, but I often did.
I looked forward to these smells and sounds of my parents going about their Sunday morning routine. They were so familiar, so recognizable that I could map my parent’s movements in my mind purely from the aromas and the sounds.
There was the shuffle of the Sunday morning edition of the Kansas City Star newspaper as my father passed its pages from right to left between his hands, occasionally shaking it with an authoritative snap to smooth the crease where it had been folded in half by the delivery boy. I knew precisely where he was sitting in the family room, the cobalt blue tweed chair facing the TV animated by the newscaster who would be supplementing what had been printed only seven hours earlier. My dad’s feet – bare in the summer months but warmed by black or white gold-toe socks in winter, and the $5.99 drugstore cheaters resting slightly closer toward the tip of his nose so he could easily peer toward the television for any story that might draw his attention away from the print version he held in his hands.
Meanwhile, my mother would be in the next room moving from coffee pot, to stovetop, to table preparing breakfast in the kitchen decorated with golden-yellow wallpaper and brown laminate woodgrain cabinets and drawers. I could trace her barely audible steps in my mind as I matched them to the sounds of the actions that sent her back and forth across the patterned kitchen carpet. (My parents preferred carpet to linoleum.) I heard the opening and closing of the side-by-side doors of the white refrigerator, the pause as she probably stood at the black glass-topped electric stove to check the status of the bacon, a plate on the counter immediately next to the stove covered with several layers of paper towels ready for draining excess grease from the bacon strips to increase their crispness as they cooled. The rustle of the plastic Wonder Bread bag as she removed four slices and slid one into each of the four slots in top of the stainless steel toaster so the bread could be transformed to toast at a moment’s notice. She may or may not have remembered to set the butter out to increase its spreadability.
I don’t remember that we had breakfast together any other morning of the week. Primarily because my father was responsible for opening the local branch of the post office in Raytown. He left the house promptly at 4:20 in the morning Tuesday through Saturday every week from the time I was 16 months old until the day he got diagnosed with cancer and was forced to retire. That first surgery left him too weak to return to work.
And now, here in Bulgaria I am reminded of these Sunday mornings with my parents. I smell scrambled eggs and sausage mingled with the scent of coffee long before I arrive at the door of the dining room in the basement of the Budapest Hotel. (Yes, that’s really the name if you’re a Wes Anderson fan.)
I also notice how the dining room sounds. I hear silverware, dishes, and glassware clinking even as I begin my descent on the stairs from four floors up. More important, I hear my teammates laughing and talking about things that matter to them. Stories about experiences we’ve had on the trip or possibly intimacies shared in the course of getting to know each other. Upon entering the dining room their voices become louder and clearer, and twelve now-familiar faces finally come into view.
In that moment of arriving I am reminded that home may be a structure where we feel grounded, but it is the people within the structure that possess the capacity to truly create home – especially when home is away from home, and even when building a home for a stranger in an entirely different country. ~