In So Many Words

Books of Educational and Informational Comics from Larry Paros


Book V: Playing House (Marriage and the Family)

Hitting Close to Home

Come on right in. "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."

These words come to us from John Howard Payne who penned them in "Home Sweet Home," a song he contributed to Clari, the Maid of Milan, an opera produced at Covent Garden in 1823.

The subject matter really hit close to home for Payne who, after his mother and father died at an early age, spent most of his adult life homeless. As he wrote in his diary: "The world has literally sung my song until every heart is familiar with its melody, yet I have been a wanderer from my boyhood."

Long before Payne, love was the focus of the Roman writer Pliny who told us that home is where the heart (or hearth) is. The hearth was the center or "heart" of activity in the home, the source of light and heat and the central feature around which the entire family would gather. How appropriate that the Latin word for hearth is focus, underscoring that convergence.

What's the focus in today's home? Not the bedroom certainly. Once a boudoir from the French bouder, "to pout," it was the perfect place to which milady could retreat to sulk and regroup emotionally. It's considered a strictly private affair today as well.

The parlor fails muster as well. It's from the French parler, "to speak," the room having once been the place for hosting sophisticated conversation. But conversation has long passed out of vogue as has the parlor itself, its place having been supplanted by the living room.

Alas, there's no sign of either talk or life going on there also. Not much living either, it having taken on the airs of a museum of sorts, housing relics and displaying goods to be looked at and not touched. The dining room and sit–down dinners — once the focus of family gatherings — are no longer active, supplanted by eating on the run.

The only sign of life you'd find most recently in today's household was in the den (c.1771), a small cozy room from the denn (c.1725), a "lair, depression, or valley," making it the perfect place to which all the depressed members of today's family can safely repair.

Home was where the TV was, apparently making it the focus of family life today and our new hearth. Alas, this too has come to pass. Millennia kids don't even know what a TV is, never mind where to find it. MacBook Pro, Hulu, laptops, and Iphones are where it's at today.

You want the big picture on family life today? Keep looking. With the passing of the giant screen, we appear to have lost the last chance for togetherness in the home – leaving in question its actual focus.