Syreeta Cox takes in the aftermath of her former home on April 3, three years after it burned to the ground. | Photo by Dakota Cox

There’s no place like home

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The best memories in life involve the people we love most. With the passage of time, simple occasions become extraordinary through the tint of our rose colored goggles. All too often, we fail to appreciate the blessings in our lives until we no longer have them.

Celebrating Easter with my family on my grandmother’s lawn, on the cliff overlooking the ocean, I think to myself: “what could possibly be better than this?” But we all have our own idea of happiness.

When I was a freshman in college, I woke up one day to tragic news. The family loaded up in the car and we drove two and a half hours from our house in Ettersburg to pick up my grandmother in Ukiah. Then, we drove back, past our home, to Whale Gulch, where she lived.

When she was in her twenties, my grandmother moved from the city to Humboldt County, bought a house, and gradually added to it in the years to come. For more than half of her life, she lived off the land, harnessing energy from the sun, growing vegetables in the garden and pumping water from a well. Then, in an instant, it evaporated in a cloud of smoke.

I didn’t really believe it until I saw it for myself. All that was left of a lifetime of meticulously collected and maintained possession was a smouldering heap of ash, shattered glass and unidentifiable tokens of the past. For hours, we watched helplessly, as the smoke continued to rise from the ground. Then, the sun disappeared behind the trees and we drove back to Ettersburg in silence.

For nearly two years, my grandmother struggled to motivate herself to research the values and put together a list of everything she lost in the fire, for the insurance company. For nearly two years, she focused all of her energy on a project that constantly reminded her of the loss she suffered – she no longer had a home. For nearly two years, she wasn’t the same joyful grandmother I grew up with.

Time passed and my grandmother eventually found a new home in Shelter Cove, on the cliff overlooking the ocean. Out of the woods, she no longer has to be concerned with collecting her own water and power. Her new house is not as large, but more than makes up for that fact in elegance. Despite the breathtaking view, however, the land is drastically smaller and less private. The property is amazing, but it’s not home.

Since beginning college, I’ve lived in five different locations. The place I currently call home is a roomy apartment, centrally located between nature and society, and only a brisk walk away from campus (if it were open). I love where I live, but it’s not home. My home is up the street from my grandmother’s house in Shelter Cove, where I spent the formative years of my youth riding bikes and playing Pokémon.

Standing now on the ground where my grandmother’s home used to be, weeds have begun to take over, but evidence of the destruction that took place here clearly remains. All I can see, however, is the house where I spent countless hours shooting baskets on my Nerf hoop and riding my big wheel down the driveway. I see the table where we played board games, cards or dominoes each time I would visit. I see the couch where we rewatched the same dozen Disney movies a million times and where my grandmother read me bedtime stories from the Clifford the Big Red Dog collection. I see the outdoor bathtub where I would play with my collection of rubber pirate toys. I see the room my grandmother set aside for me when my mom threw me out of the house.

Nearly three years have passed, since I or anyone else stepped foot inside my grandmother’s home. Just because it’s gone, however, doesn’t mean that it no longer exists. Home is much more than just a destination on a map. Home is an inescapable connection you share with an environment and its inhabitants – for better or worse. Though there may come a time when you cannot physically return, home will always live on within you and those you’ve shared it with.

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