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Sunday In Germany: Homeless

by Ken Yeager

HOMELESS –  I am a homeless person. Wait, don’t misunderstand me, I have a place to live, a retirement pension, a wife to go to, and am quite comfortable in our house. But I am still homeless.

Let me explain. I was at a political meeting several evenings ago and upon meeting some new faces, the usual question came up, to wit, “Where is home?” How to answer? This is what I mean when I say I am homeless.

Dad was a career soldier and we moved every few years. My father was born in the U.S. Mom was born in the U.K., as was I. My sister was born in Iraq. My folks finally settled down in Florida when my sister was about 10 years old and for her Florida is home. It is where she was raised. She went to school there, married there, is now a grandmother (twice and a third expected) there and it is where my parents died and are interred. So Florida (Mims to be exact) is home for my sister.

I, on the other hand, do not really consider Florida my home in the true sense. I have a son who lives over near Orlando and my sister and her (growing) family are there, but beyond these family members, there is no calling for me to return to Florida. I have no friends there. I did live there once for a couple of years but left in 1971, only to return for short visits. My former colleagues on the police force are all retired and scattered. Gone.

I joined the State Department in 1971 and lived in ten different countries around the world, met lots of great people, had some wonderful times, saw things that tourists pay thousands of dollars to travel and see, met my wonderful wife on one assignment and generally had a great time. My wife and I now live in Germany, but is it home?

Previously I defined home as the place where I hang my hat and that was sufficient for 32 years, but now that I am a bit older, I think differently. Home is supposed to mean something really special, the place you go for Christmas, where your memories of growing up reside, where your old schoolmates still live and get together for a beer at the old corner bar where you hung out as 18 year old kids (except it was 21 then). It was where you lost your virginity to the girl who is now the wife of your old best friend. It is where your best friend would lend you his last dollar to help you when things are bad. That is, to me, what home is supposed to be. But I don’t have that kind of place.

Gisela has created a warm and comfortable nest here in Grosshansdorf, but it is pretty much just her and I. Her closest relatives live far south of us; she does have a cousin to the west about an hour or so away. And yes, we have some friends in the area, and we get together now and then and I enjoy their company, but it is difficult to relate to them in many ways. Different political systems, different problems, different thoughts, different life experiences. Moreover, it is a different language. Yes, our friends speak English but of course, they are always more comfortable speaking German…it is only natural. My German is only good up to a point and then I get in over my head and Gisela has to come to my rescue. But Germany does not meet the criteria of home as described above. With the exception of the 14 months I lived in Hamburg back in the 70’s, there are few memories.

Gisela wanted to return to Germany when we retired and after following me around the world for 20 plus years, it seems like a fair thing to do and so here we are. For her, Germany and the Hamburg area is home…it is where she grew up, where her old friends live and where many of her memories were made…it is truly home for her. But not for me, at least not yet.

I’ve made some contacts in the area but after an hour or so of their company, we run out of things to talk about….I guess it is a lack of commonality or some sophisticated word like that. It is difficult to discuss things that others cannot relate to….hardships of living in Africa or having to deal with visiting members of congress or a presidential visit with its cast of thousands or in my case, the joys of riding a motorcycle. I could talk for hours with others who were in the Foreign Service and lived overseas as we share that commonality, but my sister gets bored to tears when I try to describe an experience that Gisela and I enjoyed in Niamey or Bujumbura. She just cannot see that picture, that experience though our eyes.

Many of you who read this will relate to the lack of childhood memories as I described above, but then you returned to the U.S., when to school and college, married, settled down, made friends, raised a family and are now enjoying the pleasures of being grandparents (or perhaps beyond). You are truly home and I envy you.

What can I do to come home? There is no solution. One must accept the cards that one is dealt and just enjoy what you have. In many ways I am lucky. I’ve had a good marriage. I fathered a healthy son whom I am immensely proud of. I have my working life behind me and earned a reasonable pension and benefits. We live in a comfortable house and are enjoying our retirement, but that one little something is missing and it will always be missing in my life. As I said, I am homeless and will be until I die.

13 comments to Sunday In Germany: Homeless

  • Ken – I feel your pain, oh homeless one. Only I call it *rootless* with many temporary homes – lol. They say home is where the heart is – but, my heart is with ALL the girls I left behind … ALL OVER the dang world!! – LOL – 🙂

    Unfortunately (or fortunately) the day our parents chose transient careers, is the day we’d never have *roots* (a place called home) again … for that is when we became *citizens* of the world.

    Recently, while I was having a conversation with a gal I’ve known since we were about 4 years old, she mentioned “I’ve known you almost all my life, yet the only thing I know about you is that you are always coming from some place and going to some place else” … LOL – I think she hit the nail on the head. She was born, raised and has lived in the same city all her life – Like you, after chatting with her for a couple hours we run out of things to talk about because she can’t really relate to all the places I’ve been and experienced; and, her world seems so very small to me which makes it hard for me to relate too.

    Several years ago while visiting friends in Pennsylvania we went out to the local pub (they do this every Saturday night like clock work). Everyone in the place was sitting around complaining about not having a job and being out of work. They lived in a factory town and 2 of the 3 factories in town had closed down about 3 years before my visit. So about 2/3rds of the people in the town were unemployed and had been for the past 2 to 3 years. After a couple hours of listening to them all complain about not being able to take care of their families, etc. because they couldn’t find work – I finally said to them “why don’t you move to some place where you can get work?” … Suddenly, the room became so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Then at the same time everyone looked at me saying, “We can’t do that this is our HOME. Our families have lived here for over 5 generations!” I actually got the feeling I insulted them to a degree by even suggesting such a thing. I know I sure felt like a fish out of water for the rest of the evening – LOL.

    After having traveled over half of the world before I completed high school, I think my horizons where broadened so much that it became next to impossible for me to turn back and settle down in one place for the rest of my life … because as you well know … it still wouldn’t be home.

    Even tho, I like you, have that little empty feeling deep down inside of never having had a place to call home … I don’t think I’d live my life differently if I could do it all over again. I’ll always be a *wanderer* while loving every minute of each adventure and new experience … rootless but HAPPY!

    Bob

  • Steve Gregg

    I understand what you guys are saying. After growing up in the Army and travelling the world from Saigon to Germany with my parents and 30 years in the Army myself, it is hard to find a “home”.

    When I retired I bought a home on a beautiful lake in Alabama thinking that I was “home”. However that did not last. After a year or three I married and we started a contracting business. For the last 10 years we have travelled from state to state never spending more than a few weeks or months in one place.

    Fortunately, the business has been good and we have a home near Hilton Head, SC and a condo in Montana. Still not “home”. The South Carolina house is on the market and the condo is comfortable for about a month at a time.
    My wife was raised in the same town until after college and than only moved 60 miles away. She has taken to the road and so,together, we are still looking for “home”.
    Basically, we have each other.
    I would not change a minute of the last 60 years for anything.
    Steve

  • Jo Brown Strasburg

    Aw…hometownlessness…that’s what I call it. We all have learned to create a home wherever we are. But, I agree, that question of “where are you from?” always causes me to pause for a minute. I usually say I was an “Air Force brat” so I’m from nowhere and everywhere. SInce marrying I have lived in Wisconsin 3 years, Florida 13 years, and Louisiana 30 years (in March). Yet the concept of hometown still eludes me…but that’s ok…who can say they have been fortunate enough to live all over the world, go to 13 schools in 12 years, and know people from many cultures. I don ‘t see that those who grew up in one town ( like my husband) have any advantage over me, it’s just different. I loved the life of moving around and find, to this day, it sometimes boring staying in one place very long. The “itchy feet” syndrome is alive and well for me. I have taught my husband how to travel, take risks with new food and people, and enjoy the thrill of new things. I find I can talk to almost anybody from anywhere without hesitation. I work with international students at our local university and they feel I understand the problems they encounter trying to adapt to a new culture. I still keep up with my best friend from High School (in Florida) although she lives in New Mexico now… I will say that sometimes, I too find a “brick wall” when trying to talk with people who have mostly stayed in one place all their life. But that’s ok too. I know I will never have a hometown…but I will always have a fascinating early life to look back on. And…great people like on this site to reminisce with.

  • Ken – you’re right, after a rootless childhood, adolescence and young adulthood (my dad was a Foreign Service officer and in my 20s I moved from the East Coast to the West, and then lived for a year in Europe), at 30 I was able finally to put down some roots in the San Francisco Bay area. I have friends here that I’ve known for 30 some years, and shared a lot with. I share a home with my partner of 13 years. So I’m lucky to have that.

    But I still really resonate to your experiences with living abroad, not having quite enough foreign language to really express myself deeply and easily when living in another country, and above all, not finding many people who have the experience of moving not only around this country (Americans are very mobile) but in a foreign country where English is not the main language. It’s hard to find other people who’ve done that kind of traveling, and who have the same kind of gaps in their experience of American popular culture that I do.

    I also feel lucky to have traveled so much, and to have what feels a bit like an extra sense – that Americans’ (even progressive ones’) assumptions about people from other countries are often somewhat limited.

  • Sandy Hanna

    When I had finally gotten on my own (after attending three colleges just to keep moving) I found that even while staying in one town, I’d move every two years – even if it meant just down the block. A trick I have now come up with is to simply move all the furniture around into different rooms and that usually is good for a two year rest. The restlessness, “itchy feet”, is definitely something that is hard to get rid of.

    This moving also creates an interesting disconnect between siblings too. With four children in the family, we all had different experience of schools (we lacked the thread that I notice in others from elementary through high school), we all ended up with different accents…the usual shared common ground is not there. Our only constant being our parents and in some ways there was a real need that they not change. I wonder if others have noticed that within their families.

  • Kevin L. Wells

    Ken,

    You H A V E a home, what you don’t necessarily have is a culture. What you are describing is the anomie as the sociologists term it. If you are into the sociologists, try starting with:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomie

    Another way to look at this is through the work of Geert Hofstede. Try starting with:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geert_Hofstede

    I have a rousing two hour lecture on this. I will spare you the full thing, but I can tell you this from what I know about you in your writing here.

    You have spent much time immersed in other cultures and in consequence you have acquired a wide experience with different cultural features. You have adopted some cultural features. This is perfectly normal.

    The problem is the mis-match. The details are not as important as the fact that there is a mis-match that cannot be resolved regardless of where you live, although some locations may present fewer problems than others.

    The good news is that this problem will decrease over time and become less of a problem as you earn the “ropes” so to speak.

    Of the two Wikipedia links above, Hofstede is probably the most transparent. You can, from the very first, identify cultural features and dimensions he identified.

    Good luck on this and keep up those postings!

    KLW

    • Kenneth R. Yeager

      No culture, huh? Am I being insulted here??? Just kidding. My wife tells me I lack a number of things, culture being one of them, but I think she means it somewhat differently than what you are describing.

      Today while in town doing some shopping I was approached by two Mormon missionaries and it was such a pleasure to just strike up a conversation with two young men who spoke my language, brief as it was. That is the sort of thing I miss, to just have a conversation with someone who immediately knows we have something in common – the language and being Americans…that “brotherhood” if you will.

      I think Bob called it right…it’s rootlessness, not homelessness.

      Today it is cold and it snowed last night and I do wish in was in Florida right now…would love to being banging around in short sleeves and my Birkenstocks….Hurry up summer/

      Hugs to all. Ken

      • Well, actually we do have *culture* – that is why they call us *Third Culture Kids* (TCK) or *Third Culture Adults* (TCA) once we stop being kids (I’m still in the first category as I never grew up and behaved like an adult, according to some folks anyway – but, what can you expect from a Clod! – LOL). Some folks on here have even gone so far as to conclude that I’m a *moron* with a *moronic* newsletter. I usually just reply to them by saying, “It’s a cultural thing. Step over into my reality to experience *true worldly culture* – you might like it!” – LOL – 🙂

        … a rootless Clod *culturist* from the new wave Third Culture destined to roam the earth spreading worldly culture of love, peace and happiness from here to eternity … 🙂

        Bob

        PS: I just read an article titled *Bible Thumping To Save Your Butt* – at WTF Tips – hilarious!

  • Kevin L. Wells

    Ken,

    Don’t worry, what your wife thinks you lack is couth.

    You are not unusual, many husbands have none of that stuff, and I am among the worst.

    I have been known to matriculate off the back deck on a spring afternoon. (I know, “matriculate” means something entirely different, but go with me on this one.)

    So, does matriculating off the back deck mesh well with the German culture of everything in order?

    My nearest neighbor is over 100 yards away and on the other side of the house. To the back there is nobody for 500 + yards and that distance is through a stand a hardwood and pine.

    But your wife would still be uneasy, particularly if you matriculated off my back deck.

    KLW

    • Kenneth R. Yeager

      Kevin, pleased to tell you I have tons of couth (whatever the hell that is!)….LOL. Pleased don’t forget I am a retired diplomat (you know, the ones Congress people refer to as striped-pants cookie pushers, the ones who do nothing but go to cocktail parties and mingle with Russian spies and other sorts of low-life). Never did push a cookie but enjoyed the cocktail parties that I attended, probably less than 30 in 32 years of service to my country (ahem). I learned how to balance a plate with hores overies (?) on one hand and a drink in the other and still stuff my face. I still own suits, sports jackets and ties (although I seldom wear them anymore I am happy to say). But to get back on thread, regardless of what the dictionaries and encyclopedias may say, rootlessness is the right term. Lets put this thread to rest. Ken

  • don schaudt

    hiken this is don s. from dalat. great article on “homeless feelings “. must admit I had those feelings when I returned to the states.Good youare doing well. Still no computer, will call you to get your email address again. Did you ever reach Terry Clower or his brother? Still trying to figure a way to get to Germany to see you and the half-sister I wrote to you about earlier . Any further news on the interview with Elvira–will it be available anywhere? Bye for now. Dalat Friend Don S.

  • Mimi

    First to dear Bob administrator:
    “Moron” or “Mormon”??? you know, wife n0 1, wife no 2, wife no 3 etc…

    Second to rootless Ken:
    I think Paul Christensen wrote a piece that he sent me, or just wrote me about sometimes feeling rootless. And I answered him, that on the contrary we are like the banian tree, with roots everywhere. A matter of perspective, like a half glass, half empty or half full.
    Sometimes I think it must indeed be somehow cosy to be born, live, marry, die in the same place, but on the other hand, had this happened to me I would have died early of boredom.
    As for the “where are you from” question, in my case I have to pause for at least 2 minutes! If I am travelling the world, to cut it short I come from Canada. If I am travelling in english Canada, to cut it short I come from Quebec. If I am asked in Québec, no way to cut it short , I have to go through the unabridged version.
    All in all, I must confess I like it that way.
    Hugs to you all.

  • Claude Arcache

    Hello all,
    like Mimi , when people ask me , I answer :” from Paris” because it’s simpler. I couldn’t imagine being born, living and dying in the same place and I feel so lucky to have friends all over the world.

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