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From the VQR Vault: At Home


ISSUE:  Winter 2016

We could have burned down the house.
We could have been killed going through
that window. But each of us
deserves, in a reasonable life,
at least a dozen times when death
doesn’t take us. At the last minute

the driver of the car coming toward us
fights off sleep and stays in his lane.
He makes it home, we make it home.

Lawrence Raab, from “Permanence,”  Summer 1999

 

In the early years of the 1950s there were still no tall buildings in Miraflores, a neighborhood of one-story houses—two stories at the most—and gardens with their inevitable geraniums, poincianas, laurels, bougainvilleas, and lawns and verandas along which honeysuckle or ivy climbed, with rocking chairs where neighbors waited for nightfall, gossiping or inhaling the scent of the jasmine. In some parks there were ceibo trees thorny with red and pink flowers, and the straight, clean sidewalks were lined with frangipani, jacaranda, and mulberry trees, a note of color along with the flowers in the gardens and the little yellow D’Onofrio ice-cream trucks—the drivers dressed in their uniforms of white smocks and little black caps—that drove up and down the streets day and night, announcing their presence with a Klaxon whose slow ululation had the effect on me of a primitive horn, a prehistoric reminiscence. 

Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Edith Grossman, “The Chilean Girls,” Summer 2007

 

It wasn’t simply that the white stucco walls had a fortress-like thickness or that we were accommodated with pets and bicycles and a Ping-Pong table on the back veranda. It was the orderly life of the house, the reassuring points of reference for me in the people who worked there: my mother whom I would always seek out briefly after school, never afraid to interrupt her, on my way outside to play in the high, wall-enclosed backyard; the housekeeper in the kitchen, making pastry dough or cooking or ironing laundry; the secretary tapping out my mother’s daily column on her typewriter in the bookcase-lined den; the Filipino gardener, working shirtless out of doors, adjusting the sprinkler system or trimming the edges of the manicured front lawn. It was a house full of industry, a self-sustaining enterprise, in which my part, taking it serenely for granted, was to go my own way within its enclosure.

Wendy W. Fairey, “In My Mother’s House: Images of a Hollywood Childhood,” Spring 1985

 

She knew that her lot was wanted passionately for the new hotel. But when the council visited her yearly in a body, all but in tears, she simply snorted in their faces, rampant on her cane. A new hotel! If the town had got so stingy they wouldn’t bed strangers, send ’em to her house. She’d never seen a body go without lodging yet. Her house would stand where it had always stood until she was carried out of it. And let ’em see what they could do about it!

Elmira Grogan, “Once Again,” Summer 1931

 

In our time we are conscious that our institutions, large and small, are no longer adequate homes for the new modes of life and thinking that are emerging. Yet homelessness is a relative, not an absolute, state. It is possible for us to create new homes for the spirit that will more closely correspond to present and future needs of the human psyche.

J. Glenn Gray, “Homelessness and Anxiety: Sources of the Modern Mode of Being,” Winter 1972

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