I asked someone I had just met where he lived. “Home is wherever I am,” he answered. I thought this was a smug answer. Where do you go with that in a conversation? As a writer, I long ago embraced the subject of HOME. I have made a living photographing homes and interviewing homeowners on why they did this or that, and how their homes reflect their lifestyle and personalities. I feel happiest at home and am constantly tweaking and perfecting and often changing my home to reflect who I am at different stages of my life. Right now, I’m into minimalizing without sacrificing character and the things that make it interesting.
Having lived for the past three months in a pool house, much like a cabana, I learned the level of pared down that works for me: somewhere between camping out in a lush forest to my simple, edited “real” home with a small kitchen and comfortable bedroom. Growing up on the water, we owned a sailboat that my family lived on for the weekend in the summer. I knew about pared down and close living, and if it weren’t for my tendency toward seasickness it would totally suit my current lifestyle. My home, in fact, was designed by an architect who built wooden Hinkley boats in Maine and he designed a little room for us, the size and compactness of the inside of a boat.
In the spirit of home, in 2014, I wrote a review of a book I received as a lovely gift from Helen Harrison of the Harrison Gallery on White Street. It was written by her husband, Ben Harrison, called “Sailing Down the Mountain, A Costa Rican Adventure.” It’s the story of their first years as a married couple, who, in the 1970s, moved from San Francisco to Costa Rica to build a boat. While I come from a place with a long history of boating, I am no longer into boating unless as a passenger, and with trepidation. That said, I cannot imagine living anywhere that isn’t surrounded by water.
I was thinking about Harrison’s book when my friend, Dave Hemmel, who lives on Southard Street, told me he was moving to Costa Rica. Then I received an announcement from Helen about the new art being featured in the Harrison Gallery and picked up the book again. With an indifference to boat building, I opened the book and once again remembered how charming I found it when I first read and reviewed it. I reread the preface. “I began writing this book in 1978 on a manual Remington typewriter while we were in Costa Rica,” Ben wrote. “After banging out 400 pages and mailing off queries with self-addressed envelopes in which I received rejections, these papyrus relics were stored in a box where they languished for two decades.”
He had me hooked again. I also began my writing career on an old typewriter. I too had so many rejections I thought at one time I would wallpaper my bathroom with them for amusing reading. I knew the subject of building a boat would come up somewhere before "Part I Border Crossing" began, but what got me the first time was reading about a couple who threw caution to the wind and followed a dream. And wrote a book about it that would not come to fruition for over 30 years! In one sentence I knew I loved Ben’s writing and I loved it to the very last of the 417 pages. When I was done, I immediately took the second gift, a CD of Ben’s original music, out to my car to take a long ride with Ben. I have been listening to his music ever since and always get a ticket to his shows at The Studios. I am an unabashed fan. But back to HOME!
According to Wikipedia, a home is a dwelling place used as a permanent or semi-permanent residence for an individual, family or several families. It describes a traditional home as a house or apartment, but also a mobile home, houseboat, yurt or any other portable shelter. For Helen and Ben Harrison, in the early 1970s, their dream of home would be their very own handcrafted boat that would take as long as was necessary to become their ideal of perfection even though, at the time, they had no clue as to what this meant or what it would entail.
For the Harrisons, home, while building the boat, was often temporary; a lean-to, a makeshift shelter, an apartment, all lovingly described by Ben with asides from Helen. They welcomed occasional strangers, friends and co-workers into their fold and vice versa, making wherever they were part of what they called “home.” They would ultimately bring their finished boat down the mountain for the final voyage through the Panama Canal and ultimately to rest in Key West. And here they’ve remained, in a home next to the gallery that is as personal and unique as they are. Their permanent home speaks volumes about who they are.
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her latest books are “Salvage Style” and “Upscale Downsizing” (Sterling Publishers). Her email address is email@example.com.