Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The True Meaning of Home (and How I Learned It)

Home, for me, is not where I was born.


Photo Credit: eszter via Compfight cc

It’s not my grandparents’ house in Batavia or that duplex we lived in for the year I was home-schooled, and it’s certainly not the Chicago suburbs where my aunts and uncles raised their families.

It’s a little town called Waterman. And it’s where my memories of childhood, good and bad, still live.

When winter comes every year in a much milder form here in Tennessee than in my native Illinois, I’m reminded of that place where I grew up, that place I most often think of when I think of home.

And I remember what it still has to teach me today.

The heist

One year, when the snow had just fallen — I was 11, maybe 12, and my family had just moved to a farming community of 1100 people — I learned a valuable lesson about what home really means.

That day, my parents had gotten into a fight, and to get back at my dad, my mom hid his Mickey Mantle baseball card. 

When I discovered this, I was outraged. Because the card wasn’t my just dad’s; it was mine. Ours. He just held onto it for me for safe keeping. But it belonged to the both of us.

Marching up to my mother, who was cooking in the kitchen, I demanded: “Give me back my card.”

“Stay out of this, Jeffery,” she scolded, using my full first name (which is never a good sign).

“No. That’s my card. I want it back.”

She rolled her eyes, continuing to stir something in the pot on the stove.

“Mom!” I said. “I want my card back. Give it to me!”

“Jeff, this is between your father and me. Stay out of it.”

Then she left the stove and began to walk out of the kitchen. I stood in her way, trying to block her, but she brushed past my preteen body, uninterested in negotiations.

This made me even angrier.

Seething, I did the only thing I could to regain control of the situation: I decided to steal my mom’s favorite pair of earrings.

She didn’t have much jewelry and often lost necklaces and other pieces, but for some reason she had hung on to these earrings. They weren’t expensive or fancy, but they were her favorite nonetheless.

Disappearing into her bedroom while she folded clothes in the living room, I rummaged through her jewelry box while watching the door, paranoid of being caught. 

Eyes on the entryway, I fished out a few unwanted sets until… there. I’d found them.

With the earrings in hand, I quietly closed the jewelry drawer and then the bedroom door behind me, then stepped out the back door into the cold, without a coat.

The crime

“Oh, Moooom!” I called in my best Macaulay Culkin voice, daring her to come see me do something horrible.

At first she didn’t hear, so I raised my voice and shouted again.

This time, she came to the back door and saw me standing in the snow. “What do you want?” She sounded annoyed.

Good, I thought. Let her be mad.

“Give me back my card,” I said.

“Stay out of this, Jeff. It’s between me and Dad.” She went to close the door.

“No! That’s my card; give it back. Or I’ll throw these.”

I pulled my arm back like a catapult threatening to launch. Standing in the snow with unlaced snow boots, I felt the cold creep up my legs while sweat dripped down my forehead.

What?” She asked, squinting to see what was in my hands. And then she saw. Her eyes widened and seemed to darken a hue. “If you even dare…”

I accepted the challenge and released the catapult.

She didn’t react as expected: she just walked away. Standing in the snow, a smug look on my face, I had won.

A moment later, my mom reappeared at the back door, holding what looked like a baseball card in her hands. Without a word, she threw the plastic-coated portrait of Mickey Mantle in my direction and slammed the door, locking it behind her.

Running through the snow and almost losing my boots, I retrieved the card. As I picked it up, I sighed in relief, seeing it was undamaged by the snow. Finally, I had gotten what I wanted; my plan had worked.

So why did I feel so rotten?

The consequences

As the weight of what I’d done hit me, I ran back into the yard, trudging through six inches of snow, to find the earrings.

After searching for nearly an hour, I never found them.

Resigned, I returned to the back porch, wondering how to get back inside. Surprised to see the door now unlocked, I entered and withdrew my boots, quietly brushing the ice off my pant legs.

Then I crept downstairs to my bedroom, hoping I could go to bed without having to face anyone, especially my mom. My plan was to slip out in the morning to search again for earrings.

A few hours later, my mom called for dinner.

Great, I thought. This is going to be bad.

To my shock, she didn’t say anything about the card or the earrings. Unsmiling, she served me my dinner — probably something like meatloaf — and didn’t say a word.

I could tell she was mad. Why wasn’t she saying anything?

We shared a warm meal together, the whole family, and few words were exchanged. I don’t recall my mom bringing up the matter to my dad or shaming me with what I’d done. We just ate, each person quietly keeping to himself. 

I even had seconds.

Later, I would apologize to Mom. I would do this many times, in fact, even pleading for forgiveness. And of course, she forgave me, saying it was okay. 

But I knew it wasn’t. How could it be? Those were her favorite earrings. And although I tried to make up for my crime with other gifts and forms of retribution, I couldn’t.

The damage was done. Forever.

For days after, I would return to the back yard to scan the area for the earrings, hoping the old pair would turn up, but they never did. Even after the snow melted and winter passed, I never found them.

The lesson

Those earrings taught me an obvious lesson about consequences and why we sometimes can’t undo the hurt we cause others. But years later, they taught me another lesson, a valuable lesson about home.

Home is where we sometimes hurt the ones we love, but the back door is always open and there’s always a seat at the table. It’s not a necessarily a location but certainly more than a feeling.

Home is the place that we are loved, even when that love is complicated and messy but still takes time to set a plate for you.

It’s where we take things for granted and sometimes do things we’re not proud of, where we cry and scream and shout — but always have a hot meal waiting for us.

Home. It’s the one place that never really goes away; it’s always there, wherever there may be. And it’s the perfect place to return to.

Note: This was an adapted excerpt from my latest book, The In-Between, which is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and elsewhere. Also, the full version of this story appeared in Under the Gum Tree, a creative literary magazine. To read the whole story (and others), get a free download of the magazine here.

What does home mean for you? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Johnny Lee Phillips

    Wow Jeff. Thanks for sharing this. Home pretty much means the same thing to me. There’s a lot of good and bad there but it is still home. Nothing will ever change that. When I am away, I will always return home. It’s where my heart is.

  • One of your best pieces I’ve read on here, Jeff. Good work!

  • Meg Clare

    hye Jeff, that was a good solid story that makes me know that the tough times are what makes the story real and lasting.

  • renee

    Did you ever get your mom a pair of earrings?

    I love this story–of all that you have written, this one touches my heart the most.

    Who has the baseball card now? and did she ever say anything?

  • LisaAR

    Loved this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Wow. What a story, Jeff. So well written. I felt your justifiable anger, your smugness, your shame and your unhappiness. And you’ve got it exactly right: home is where you can be forgiven even when you don’t feel you deserve it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anne Borrowdale

    That’s a powerful story Jeff, thank you for sharing it. Brought back a memory of being age 7 and so jealous of my little brother getting a lovely clockwork boat for his birthday that I threw the key away. I felt so guilty I couldn’t sleep and crept downstairs in tears to confess to my mum. I too learnt lessons from my horrible act – though my brother doesn’t remember it!

    • I’m honored. Thanks for sharing, Anne!

  • Ann Odle

    Oh, this brought tears to my eyes. The memories of things we’ve done that we wish we could take back….

    • Indeed, Ann. I’m grateful for forgiveness and redemption, though, the power to get back more than was ever lost. That’s what love can do.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Oh! I could see your card, your mom’s earrings, the knee-deep snow, your back door…all of it. What a beautiful read Jeff. Thank you for sharing such a poignant story.

    • Thanks, Caryn. That means a lot.

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen


  • This was great storytelling, Jeff. The little-kid-you made me angry. The little-kid-in-me slunk in the door with you and waited to see what Mom would do.

  • One of my favorite stories from your book, Jeff. I would agree with you home is home even when it is complicated and messy. My childhood home has changed so much over the years. As a teen, I had to adjust to losing my mom and home became a place where the glue of our family was no longer there. It was hard to adjust to new normals. I learned to love my dad in a whole different way…and he has been there for me through some very challenging times. Now, home has changed again. Going home means taking care of my dad who had a life altering stroke over a year ago. I guess home for me means that even though there are no guarantees it will stay the same, I’m still accepted and loved.

    • I agree, Eileen. Home for me has changed a lot since becoming a husband and dad.

  • I wish I could say I had a ‘home’ as a child. The abuse I suffered never left space for that. In spite of that I somehow learned to love and to MAKE a home when I married and eventually had children. They are my home, now. Actually, I think it was a dog that taught me what love was supposed to be. You can read that story on my website at http:/newfantasyauthor.com

  • youaremysuperstar

    i’m crying.

  • Great story!

  • I left my childhood home at age 17. A junior in high school. I guess I had unfinished business.

    But the business began to matter less once Sandy swept ashore and washed most of my home – that place with the memories stuck to it – into the ocean. My home was the Jersey Shore. Seaside Heights. I grew up in Toms River.

    I watched with joy as they began to rebuild. Then the fire struck, wiping out the historic boardwalk pieces Sandy had left behind. Then the Tower of Fear came down. The streets are the same; the same seagulls and the people whose homes washed away felt this much more keenly than I, now a Connecticut resident. But I felt home burning all the same. I’m not sure what to do now.

  • Shauna Viele

    We always try to tell ourselves that home is where the heart is, or wherever you are right now. But somehow when a place that you loved is damaged by nature’s storms or mankind’s foibles, it’s like taking a punch to the gut. And when the people are gone that made that place a home, it’s never the same again even if you do go back. I grew up an only child, and our home was full of love. Were we perfect? Not by a long shot. But when my parents told me they were selling the house I’d grown up in, I was in shock. It was bad enough that my dad had been told he had cancer on Christmas day 1996; but when they purchased another much smaller house, I was horrified. They closed that purchase on my birthday in November. On December 31, Daddy went to his heavenly home. Mom had to finish redoing the”new” house on her own and sold the home we loved 6 months later. (Ironically, she turned over the keys on what would have been my grandmother’s birthday.) I love my husband and the home we’ve made with our daughters, but I still feel like a piece of me has been cut out every time I go by my childhood home. I had wanted our daughters to have wonderful memories of going to grandma and grandpa’s house, and though we live near my mother, it just feel like I had imagined.

    • Thank you for sharing, Shauna. I think home is more than where the heart is; I think it’s an ideal that transcends emotions and context.

      • Shauna Viele

        True. Very true.

  • It’s crazy the things we do as kids. As we get older we can’t help but think “what where we thinking?”. But I guess that’s life. 🙂

    I also just got my copy of the book and now I can’t wait to start reading it!

  • Skip

    Hey Jeff, I just wanted to take a moment to say how I have noticed that your writing is getting more and more powerful and meaningful and well, just rather inspiring to me to strive for the same gains you seem to be making. Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, Skip. I really appreciate that.

  • Tammy Hawk-Bridges

    Hi Jeff, LOVED this. I can’t hardly picture YOU throwing those earrings though. LOL Home to me was stability. My parents moved us around so much – they rented and didn’t own a home so they never put down any real roots. I was probably in 7 schools before 6th grade. When I discovered my own voice I finally said enough and went to live with my grandparents. I was 13 and that was the first time I felt a sense of home. My grandparents lived right across the street from a huge community complex where there was baseball fields, a swimming pool, an auditorium, swings… the whole deal. My Pa and I would sit out in our yard in lawn chairs and watch the baseball games (that’s how close we were). I learned to swim in that pool, I had my first kiss in a closet, downstairs in the auditorium. Everything is gone now. A shopping center covers the entire ground where the complex was – my memories are all buried underneath cement and cash registers. I will never forget the first time I saw this – the sadness was so intense that I couldn’t cry – it was deeper than tears. I felt like someone just walked up to me and jerked part of ME away. As painful as it is to see, I still have it in my heart and think of it probably every single day.

    I love your work – about to dive into your book.


  • DS

    Home is more of memories, and a major metro area. It’s a place I know where everything is, even in the dark. Home is where I’m comfortable, and where I feel like I can always be myself.

  • This is a subject I’ve been putting quite a bit of time and energy into lately. It’s so important to identify with “place”. The stories that connect us to our home is vital to that connection. There’s allot in this piece Jeff timely for me anyways Cheers.

  • Such gorgeous writing. This excerpt really moved me…I pray that perhaps one day I may be favored to touch some one’s heart with my writing, in such a way.

  • KL

    Hey Jeff, you were a brat. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. You forgot to mention, we learn that things are not as important as people at that place we call “home.”

  • Joy Collado

    Hi Jeff, this is sweet, inspiring and moving. I love how you gave the details of the story, it made me feel like I was there with you watching the scene.

    There really a lot of times when we take things for granted. At the end of the day, after everything is said and done, we go back to that home sweet home where we are accepted despite our faults.

  • Maude Rigby

    I love this story! I agree-home is where we can cause so much pain to those we love and they just keep on loving us. How does that work?? I have no idea-but it’s true!

  • Tracy Stella

    Quite possibly, this might be one of my favorite pieces I’ve read of yours. Heartwarming and vulnerable.

    • Thanks, Tracy. I’m trying to be more vulnerable here.

  • Jodi Woody

    This is one of my favorite parts of the book. I was thinking “what a brat”! Until I read the rest of the story.

  • Melissa Reyes

    Lovely story! Thank you for sharing it!

  • Melanie Fischer

    What a powerful story Jeff! Thank you so much for sharing

  • Sheryl

    I grew up on the west side of Chicago on a block with 35 kids! My home was not just my house but those of my friends as well. We were surrounded with love and acceptance not only from my immediate family but those of my neighbors. So many life lessons learned in my “home” base. The first friend I ever had is still my best friend after these many years! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  • Michele Szymankowski

    Jeff, you have always had my attention with your insightful writing tips and such, but you’ve got it also on a personal level too! The timing also leaves me speechless. As always, Thank You!

    • Thank YOU, Michele! That means a lot to me.

  • Eva Maria Nielsen

    Wonderful story! Thanks! A hom eis for me, where people love me, so I can come back!

  • home is where I am drawn back to … and where I pull away from home. complex.

  • DeborahPenner

    Home is my soft place to land .. and now I get to facilitate that space not only for me but for and with my adult children.

  • This is my favorite post that I have read from you. It is exactly what I hope to one day read from my own son. We aren’t there yet, my heart is still hurting, but reading your story gives me hope that things will one day turn around.

    • Keep being a safe place. Hold onto that hope. All you can do is love your child and trust. Thanks for making your house a home. It matters more than you know.

  • Just love this…Home isn’t always the place of our happiest, but our deepest memories. Home is the many places I’ve lived, but has more to do with my peeps than my place. And I hope for my kids, home is a haven, a safe place in the best of times and the worst of times.

  • Very touching. Beautifully written and expressed.

  • A moving story that we can all relate to – either in memories of when we were children, or as grown-ups now with our own children. Home may not always be outrageously happy but it’s where we should (the lucky ones amongst us) always feel safe.

    • You’re right, Johanna. It has to be a safe place, or it’s not a home at all. I hope to create that for our son as the concept of “home” begins to shift for my wife and me (now that we’re parents).

  • Home is where I would live if I could pick any place I wanted to.

  • Sue Neal

    Thanks for sharing that moving story. For me, home is where I can be myself – it’s where I don’t have to wear any kind of mask or put on any kind of performance. It’s the place where I’m loved and accepted as I am, warts and all.

  • agraciouslife

    This is beautiful. I am so glad I found it. How you describe home — it’s perfect for me. So worth sharing. Thank you once again.

  • Cathy Pullins

    I just went to a seminar in which the leader, Mary Alice McArthur from New Zealand by way of Indiana, said, “This is my home”, then drew a line around her feet with her finger. I can relate to that.

    • Interesting. Home for me is more than a place. It’s community. It’s people.

  • Stella

    This is a great insight to a little bit of everyones feelings of “home”….wherever that may be.
    Home is forgiving and unconditional, its where you belong despite it all. However it may be at times a place you wish you were never a part of….

  • mercynotes

    This is lovely! Getting a sense of what home is in a couple of different places — moreso WHO they are with as I grow older. Thank you, Jeff.

    • My pleasure. Thank YOU for reading!

      • Federico (Mexico)

        This is a wonderful story: clear, deeply moving, and masterly written. Hats off, Jeff!

  • This is an amazing approach to looking at ‘home.’ We all have a ‘home’ (good or bad), and we very seldom think to find the good in our experiences. Thank you Jeff for sharing this. It is heart warming, and very eye-opening to read a post like this where you help us to see the good in our experiences. Thanks Jeff

  • This is an amazing insight. I literally feel like my eyes have just been opened. Thank you, Jeff.