Sarah Hill

Is There Really “No Place Like Home”?

Funny You Should Ask

This is The Big Idea’s reoccurring segment where we ask some of our top professors from across the University of Houston to weigh in on a truism or idiom – a safe place for them to rant, wax poetic or dazzle us with their clever take on age-old adages.

Dorothy preferred the pre-twister complacency of her life on the farm and though her travels to Oz were exciting, she certainly clicked those heels quickly when it was time to revert to her old routine. What do our faculty have to say about the adage, “There’s no place like home!” – especially considering the current pandemic when we are spending more time there than ever before?

A World-Travelled Geologist…

As a geologist working in different parts of the world, home is where you are living and your family are those groups of people that you are living with in confined spaces: fellow squatters in an abandoned building in Russia where the shared water supply was a single, slowly-dripping, bathtub faucet; an elderly gas station owner in rural Jamaica living in a fortress-like bunker that was locked down at sundown; an Australian expat family running a lodge in the Solomon Islands; an extended family with a bed-ridden young daughter in the Dominican Republic; an elderly mayor and his wife in a small town in Haiti who humbly offered me their bed to sleep in.

When I started as a graduate student, my thesis advisor told me: “Make sure you find a good living situation and that they like you: those are the people who will need to take care of you if you have a problem.” Living in these homes for weeks to months, I became deeply embedded in the family: their birthdays, sitting together to patch a worn mosquito net, the stately Sunday drive in a battered car to see cricket matches; helping the kids do their homework; the ice cold beer and rice and beans after a long day in the sun; the murmuring and creaking of a house full of people waking up in the pre-dawn hours.  Those families always got me through and safely back to my own.

These days, Paul Mann, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, discovers his home is wherever his wife is. Places he has never travelled include Guatemala and the eastern part of Turkey, but there is still time…

A Prominent Psychologist…

One of my favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” However, as a psychologist, I have always wondered if Dorothy wanted to return home because of all the narcissists in Oz, starting with the wizard, or because Oz was so unfamiliar that regular patterns of living without witches, weird monkeys and odd creatures would be preferred.

We have had a pandemic of narcissism and unfamiliarity these last few years that may have abated some, but it continues to reverberate. In the pandemic, we have all spent more time than we like ensconced in our homes and the ruby slippers would not be desirable. Like Dorothy, we don’t really yearn for home, but a return to all things familiar and less stressful. We have been living in a time of high tension and a return to familiar interactions at work and play would be welcome.

Jack M. Fletcher is a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor. His love of “The Wizard of Oz” is on par with his love of the 1974 Sean Connery film, “Zardoz.” But he’s not always camped out with popcorn watching classic films – he enjoys roadbiking and reading, too!

An Empathetic Caretaker…

The words: “is there really no place like home,” transports me back to a time on the frontline with patients when I was a registered nurse caring for people with cancer. The highly recognized uniform for patients hasn’t changed in 40 years. The soft blue cotton gown with ties at the neck and waist is the battle of armor for patients, but it is lifeless without bling or personality.

The room is a haven, their personal space, a home away from home, and is worth decorating especially for patients staying for 10 days and returning every four weeks for life-saving chemotherapy. Nurses can be transported to another world as they walk through the door. There are no limits or rules on decorating the room; it is of little consequence if the tape sticks to the wall.

The sterile white walls become a mosaic of color with banners that read, “Get well!”, drawings and colorings from children, beautiful cards from friends, flowers and planters. Family and self-portraits give a glimpse of a time before the needle sticks, IV poles and wigs. The white, disinfected blankets are replaced with homemade quilts or pretty comforters. Nameplates are adorned with personal touches. Looks like home to me and smells like home. If you stay long enough, you will find chocolate chip cookies somewhere in the room.

Cheryl Brohard, professor in the UH College of Nursing, would say home these days is on her third-floor balcony or on a restaurant patio where she can Zoom call into one of the three book clubs she belongs to.