Got a Happy Story is a community gathering every Monday night where we share stories large and small that have put a smile on our face. It is a time to acknowledge the joy and wonder we experience. The Happy Story diary exists as a way to anchor the community in hope and comfort while we do the hard work of taking back our country. Everyone and all sorts of stories and pictures are welcome. May we find joy and strength here.
What defines a space as our own? Is it a talisman of some kind? A photo? A plant? Or is it the collective jumble of all our stuff?
Whether in our own home, a rental, or an office cubicle, many of us feel the need to introduce that first item that marks it as our own. Some people hang a picture first. Others bring in a plant. Some go whole hog and move in everything, all at once, and sort it out later.
A friend of mine was temporarily displaced by a disaster: the boiler in her apartment building blew up. Tenants were evacuated, and in the following months allowed only a few minutes a day to return and get what they needed, water their plants, or check their answering machines. The two things this friend took to her temporary digs were her coffee mug and some family photos.
One friend who rents a furnished summer place each year brings only his books and his pillow.
Another friend told me that a new place becomes tolerable when he brings in his bed and couch: if he has somewhere to lie down, he's fine. But it's not really home until he's got his music. When he can listen to what he wants when he wants, then it's home.
Writers are a predictable lot: we bring our computers.
I built a workshop this year. Designed it from the ground up. Plenty of space, climate controlled, sufficient storage and tool space. Perfect. Everything I've always needed but never had. That place represents uncompromised productivity to me.
But now that it's nearly done and time to move things in, my initial choices were based on what was being stored in my house that I most wanted out of the way. So a haphazard collection of work-related items -- lumber, antique bits of furniture, tools, books -- all went in first so I could reclaim some space in my home.
I haven't yet moved my shop furniture -- workbenches and tool stands, client's pieces and stools -- into the new place, as the floor is being laid this week. So it doesn't yet feel fully equipped, fully ready to serve my needs each day. My main workspace has been a board set between two sawhorses. When would it be home to me? When would it feel as though I've been there forever? What would be the item of most significance that would suddenly turn it into a place that feels natural instead of new?
I had a couple of appointments one day, and realized I had no clock in the workshop. I had my cell phone on that day, but often having my hands full of chemicals that would not serve the mobile well, I really wanted a clock to look at -- hands free, as they say.
I'm not a clock-watcher. Not since my last 9-to-5 job back in 1981. I tend to have a pretty good idea what time it is at any given moment, and when I really need to know exactly what time it is... well then I look at a clock.
Only there wasn't one in there.
So I went and got my clock. I studied the layout of the new place, thought about where the clock could best be positioned to be seen no matter what I was doing, and decided on a wall beside the entry. I drove the first non-construction-related nail into that virgin drywall, and hung the clock.
It wasn't a romantic moment. There were things I would rather have brought in first. A number of good-luck items. Some framed posters and photos I made sure to leave room for when I decided where shelving would go.
Something so simple as a clock placed in consideration of where I'm working at any given task -- refinishing, billing, laying out a pattern at the drawing table (not yet there) -- so that I can see it no matter where I am. I won't look at it often, I imagine, but it's there, also showing humidity and temperature readings. It's where I put it. It's the first object not built in whose placement I chose.
I only have analog clocks, except for those I don't choose, like mobiles and cable boxes. The face of the clock is one of humankind's most brilliant creations. It's elegant, accurate, a paragon of functionality.
And it's my clock. In my workshop.
Was that enough? Was that the item that made this place suddenly my old, familiar workspace? That made it home?
Of course not. That would just be silly.
While I was lugging things in there, and getting some work done along the way, I noticed that my dog -- a very polite pooch -- would wait outside, head ducked, looking at me expectantly... and I realized he waited to be invited in each time he wanted to join me, leaving his customary post just outside the door.
I was puzzled by this behavior: normally, wherever I am, he is. He's never "asked permission" before. I mentioned it one day to my builder, who has only ever had cats, though he's very fond of dogs. I didn't expect the simple insight he offered.
"How does he know it's his workshop, too? There's nothing of his in here. There's nothing to tell him he belongs."
My house is full of the dog's toys, many of which the pooch has had and carefully tended all eleven years of his life. He has a basket full of them, and he picks and chooses which is the current favorite, tossing the others out until he reaches the one he wants. He doesn't tear apart his stuffed animals: he bathes them and uses them for pillows and carries them around with him like little puppies. When I occasionally wash them, the first thing he does is to rub his face all over them, to get that God-awful clean smell out of them.
I buy him those enormous T-Rex femurs that have been roasted in gravy (what are those things, anyway? Bull femurs? They're huge!), and he steadily works away at them 'til there's nothing left.
So I got a blanket from the house, folded it in quarters, and laid it on an open patch of floor. Then I brought down three of his favorite toys, and the bone he was currently grinding to digestible dust, and set them on the blanket. I told him to go on in.
The response was immediate, and so warmed my heart that I immediately wished I had done it sooner. I wished could make all my friends, quadruped and biped alike, so happy so simply.
He trotted in, and laid down on the blanket, scrubbing it with his face, rolling on it, cleaning the spots with which he wasn't satisfied. Then he picked up a toy and pranced around the shop with it his mouth, gleefully, utterly at home. He came over to me with it, offered it and then immediately ducked away when I reached for it -- his favorite game and way of making me look foolish: I fall for it every time. So I chased him around the shop for a good long while as he taunted me with the toy, offering and then withdrawing it. My builder appeared at an open window, and the dog ran over to greet him, barking proudly at him. This dog actually does smile -- a crooked smile with a slightly curled lip that broadcasts companionableness and mischief all at once. His eyes soften and his ears relax back against his head when he's truly, blissfully happy.
I had made the workshop a second home for him. Now he trots right in alongside me in the mornings, and takes up his place on his make-shift bed, surveying his toys and bone, and settling down contentedly. He's always been quietly pleased and relaxed when I'm working, and only occasionally comes over for a treat or some love. When we go back up to the house, he's more interested in affection and attention. But when I'm working, he seems to feel his job is to offer quiet, undemanding company.
And, just like that, once it was his shop, it was mine, too: a place at once new and familiar, comfortable as a soft blanket, beloved as a time-worn toy... It's his joy that makes it home to me.
So what makes a house a home to you? And, more to the point, got a happy story to share? You know we'd love to hear it.