When I think about home it’s rooms that pop into mind: the kitchen at my grandmother’s house; my office in the early morning; the dining room where my children did their homework; my best friend Cathy’s teenage bedroom on the morning her mother and I sorted through her clothes a few weeks after she died. These rooms contain within them much of what I see and feel when I sit down to write, each of them a meticulously detailed diorama that evokes precise memories, feelings, emotions, even smells that often surprise me with their insistence on being shared.

It’s as if I’ve built a kind of dollhouse in my mind: ground floor living spaces for eating, cooking and gathering as a family; second floor bedrooms, one for each person to reveal themselves; third floor attic where the memories are stored. This house resembles the one my dad built for my fifth Christmas, a handsome yellow colonial from the front that’s open at the back so I can stare directly into each room and structure its reality as I see fit, decorating each room from photographs before adding the people and voices I remember from the past.

Rooted in these domestic scenes are small stories, and I believe whole-heartedly that from these small stories come bigger truths. While home is and always has been a safe place for me, I recognize that for many others, maybe even most, home isn’t sacred or safe or even a place. It’s that fact that makes me wonder sometimes (actually, quite often) whether our stories about relatives and friends and things that happened are important, are even worth recording aside from a selfish need to be remembered.

Why do I return home in my writing? Maybe it’s as simple as this: It’s the place I know the best, and so I use it because that’s the only way I know to tell you the things I’m trying to say.

Filed under: Writing

About the Author

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Ellen Fowler Hummel is a writer specializing in creative nonfiction and the occasional short story. She is co-founder and managing editor of mutterhood.com, an online magazine featuring original nonfiction writing and photography.