Finding Home: Journeys of Belonging and Identity
By Sonia de Beaufort
Voices (in order of appearance)
Sonia de Beaufort (Host)
Sonia: Hey, there, it’s Sonia. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of home. I reached out to some of my closest family members to see how they’re handling changes in their lives and how they define home. With people scattered in many places, it turned into a spontaneous virtual family dinner table.
So, let’s just listen in.
Jean-Yves: Je m’appelle Jean-Yves, j’ai 90 ans et j’habite à Strasbourg en France.
Sonia: This is my father. He is 90 and lives on his own in Strasbourg, in France.
Caroline: C’est parti. My name is Caroline Grout de Beaufort and I’m 62 and I’m living in Kenya now. After seven years in China. So it’s a new adventure, new life.
Sonia: Caroline is one of my 5 siblings. After working seven years in Shanghai, she came back to Paris and wanted to find a new home.
Caroline: I didn’t sleep much for seven years, no holidays, no weekends. But it was just amazing. It was, like, huge, but I was very tired after seven years. It was really like, I had to, to find something different.
Jean-Francois: My name is Jean-Francois. My age is 56, I think. I’m not too sure. I stopped counting and I work in finance.
Alison: My name is Alison. I am 22 years old and I am a global road safety activist.
Jonathan: My name is Jonathan. I am 20 and I am a medical student in Syracuse.
Alison: I recently moved back to New York City after spending four years at school in Worcester, Massachusetts, for my undergraduate degree.
Jonathan: I have been studying in Syracuse for almost 2 years. And I will be in Syracuse until the end of my MD and hopefully PhD, which means another 8 more years.
Sonia: Alison and Jonathan are my children. And Jean-Francois is my ex-husband.
As for myself, I am 54, and I am changing my career, for the 3rd time, to adapt to my new life.
Jean-Francois: So, we were living the four of us essentially until, two years ago. And at that time, we became empty nesters and we separated. So, it was a time to rediscover ourselves, to decide what we wanted to do.
Jean-Yves: Nous avons acheté cet apartement ensemble, à la suite du départ de l’ensemble des enfants…. C’était un apartement pour notre deuxième vie de couple…
Sonia: My father explains that he and my mother bought their apartment for their retirement, after all the children had left. And they had also this farm in Brittany that they had bought 50 years ago where we were spending all our vacations. But my mother died in 2006.
She had this car accident… we don’t know what happened… she went off the road, she fell into a ditch… this accident was deadly practically on impact because it was so violent.
Caroline: Since almost, 20 years before I was traveling two, three times a year to Kenya to this island named Lamu. Suddenly I was thinking. OK. Perhaps now it is a time for the change. I stayed there for like three months, four months to be sure that perhaps something can happen there. And, voila, it was a fact, it, it was a point.
Sonia: In Kenya, Caroline worked with an architect and is about to start building a new home. She explained to me what was the most important for her in designing her new place.
Caroline: This house is only with kind of arches open on the garden. On the ground floor is all this lounge, one big space for yoga, meditation or massage and things like that. On the second floor is a small room. So it means that there is a large terrace around the room. And, the bathroom is open on the terrace. It’s like, to have a shower, in the nature.
Alison: I graduated without really having a plan because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was just looking for, and still am looking for the next step.
Jonathan: In two months, I will be moving from the campus dorms to my first apartment.
Sonia: When we separated, I stayed in the apartment where we were living the four of us. And Jean-Francois looked for an apartment he liked.
Jean-Francois: And immediately I fell in love because there was a lot of sunshine, a lot of light coming in from three different directions, and I thought, it’s a place I need because, I come from the south of France and, and light is important to me.
Jean-Yves: Je n’ai pratiquement rien changé aux appartements, ni à mes habitudes de vie, comme si Cecile était la.
Sonia: My father says that he has not changed anything since 2006, neither in the houses nor in his lifestyle, as if my mother was still there. He also hung many photos of both of them, to remember the time they spent together. It’s for him, but also for the children and grandchildren so that they know that someone lived here, in these houses, with him.”
Caroline: I think this simplicity is something I was looking for since long time, and this is, really my dream to achieve that. And of, of course, if I compare to my life in Paris, or especially in Shanghai, for sure. I think this is a new step in my way of life.
Sonia: Caroline, for her new house in Kenya, is looking for beauty and simplicity. Jean-Francois has another take on simplicity in his apartment.
Jean-Francois: I decided to not arrange it too much. As you can see, um, I can describe it quickly. The walls are essentially empty.
Um, but I wanted it to be, very utilitarian, easy to welcome guests, easy for me to store surfboards, easy for me to practice DJ-ing. And, um, and that’s essentially it. And reusing furniture that, we wanted to get rid of or you did not like anymore. And stuff that I found on the street because I didn’t want to invest much.
Sonia: When we separated, I was staying in the same home, but I wanted to have a fresh start. I told Jean-Francois to take anything he wanted. I was hoping that he would take more of the furniture.
Alison: So, I moved all of my stuff back to New York. Almost a year and a half later, it is still sitting in boxes in our apartment because I haven’t really found the perfect place for me right now to call home.
Jonathan: Of course, I still feel very attached to my home I grew up in Brooklyn for over ten years. But I can also start feeling that Syracuse is becoming my home just because I have been here for a while, and I know I will stay here for a while.
Caroline: It’s true that, it was, um, a difficult choice because I went back from Shanghai because of my family. I was, I had the feeling, I was living too far away from them. And, my, my son was, back to Paris after some years in New York, some years in London. He was back to Paris. So my father was also alone, my brother and sisters. So it was, I had the feeling that I, I need to be too more close for my family.
Jean-Francois: For me, I feel de-rooted unroot, uprooted because I don’t feel, I feel maybe home is still in the South of France because we, we moved to the US and that feeling of being uprooted is, I guess amplified by the fact that both of my parents died and my sister died, and therefore there are very few people left with whom I can share memories from my childhood.
Alison: My family is in New York, which is a big part of why I keep coming back, of course. But all of my friends from school and my partner are in Massachusetts, so I spend a lot of my time there too because the community that I’ve built over the last four almost six years now, are there; and it’s hard to just let that go.
Sonia: Until now, I did very gentle changes in the apartment: I am making my mark but very carefully. Alison and Jonathan have their rooms with new beds so it’s very comfortable when they visit. I want them to feel home when they come back.
Jean-Francois: I slowly realized that for the kids in particular, they enjoy a little bit, a minimum level of comfort. So having a, a bed frame under the mattress was a big improvement; having a little cupboard where they can put their stuff was also a significant improvement where they, and they felt more welcome, which to me was kind of devastating because of course, they’re welcome. But, I thought my behavior, my being with them was enough for them to feel welcome, but materialistically to have a, a room that looks like a bedroom made, I think a big, a big difference to, to them.
Alison: When I come back it’s not that I don’t feel comfortable in the apartment, it’s just that I don’t have a community in New York City anymore.
Caroline: I’m very happy here now. It’s, funny because last year I had to do my decision. It’s funny, I had three months. I was really up and down and up and down. Is it a good decision? Will I not regret after? So it was quite, um, uncomfortable, but, and at the end of this three months, it was sure.
Alison: For the future, I think my home would be somewhere that would allow me to juggle both parts of my life a little bit easier. Being somewhere in between, geographically…
Caroline: You know, it was important not to be dedicated to what I have to do as a daughter or as a sister, but I think I have to achieve something I was always thinking to do and, and it was a long way to accept that I have to be happy and to achieve this thing.
I was thinking perhaps it’s not very generous or it’s a bit egoist, or, but it’s something, it don’t mean that I don’t care about them. Perhaps even I will care more this way.
Sonia: My home is here because my children are not too far. But they are more and more just passing by, and their rooms have also become more their storage. So, I start feeling a shift.
Jonathan: I try not to have any vision or hopes in advance just because with the medical school process, it’s so ambiguous where you will end up. You can be sent to residency in California or across the country: you can’t plan that ahead. I think that personally I can adapt to almost anywhere I go so, I can make a home out of where I am. I have spent the summer two months in Tucson, Arizona, and I ended up almost calling it my home by then. Just because I knew the place, had the connections and, I think home is wherever…
Alison: I mean, my home still has to be somewhere where I can grow and live my own life and be independent and be able to have things to explore, but I still need to be near the people I love.
Jean-Francois: That’s, um, it’s more being able to stay connected than, to be in a specific place. I don’t know if I don’t need a home, but it’s, um, I’m not sure it is it yet.
Jean-Yves: Cet été, il y a une grande reunion de famille …
Sonia: My father is organizing a big party in his home this summer. It’s on the date of his wedding anniversary. He is celebrating the 53 years of his farm in Brittany, the memory of my mother and how she was the life of the house, as well as his 90th birthday.
Jean-Yves: Je suis très heureux de cette fête …
Caroline: In two days, we will put the first stone on the ground and I’m super happy and really there is no regret. I’m thinking this is my dream. I will achieve my dream. And every day is nice. I’m not living in the future. Every day is an adventure. This is beautiful.
Sonia: Everyone is on a path, reaffirming, adjusting, building, finding their home. It’s got me thinking about what’s next for me. I’ve always felt like the mother figure, holding down the family home, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s really my role to play, today, and how I could reinvent my home.
<<Sound: shovels digging into the ground to lay the foundation stone of Caroline’s house.>>
<<music to the end >>
This episode was reported and produced by Sonia de Beaufort. Special thanks to Mitra Kaboli and Chad Bernhard for their editing and sound engineering support.  Music by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue). Additional thanks to Jean-Yves, Caroline, Jean-Francois, Alison, and Jonathan for sharing their valuable insights and stories.