Excerpt: 'Home,' by John Edwards

Home: few things in America are as hallowed or universal. Now, former North Carolina senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards has dedicated a book to the institution.

"Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives" compiles 60 Americans' thoughts on the place in their lives that that has meant most to them.

Some of the contributors are well-known, like actor Danny Glover and football star Joe Montana. Others may not be household names but are notable for their work, like social worker Robert Carr.

Like no book before it, "Home" offers an intimate portrait of the many different ways a home can be defined and how important the institution is to American culture.

Read an Excerpt from "Home" below:

From the Introduction of Home:

Home. The place that helps to define how we see ourselves and how we choose to make our way in the world -- the blueprint of our lives.

Where we learn to dream. Where we become who we are. And where we can always return. The A-frames and split-levels and mansions and ranches and apartments in this book are as different as the people who have lived in them. But this isn't a book about houses; it's a book about homes. About the values they rest on, the dreams they are filled with, and the people they have shaped.

The houses and circumstances are different, but much of what you find inside will be familiar. Much of what you find will be what you already know -- that America at its best is a place of amazing opportunity, deep values, and unlimited optimism. That, given half a chance, we are a people who can accomplish anything. And that no matter where we come from or what we have done, our values are common and our dreams are shared.

These are our homes. This is America. Please come in.


Robert Carr

Most people know me as Robert Carr, but my Indian name is Guwatemo. I was born in July of 1940 on the Pueblo of Laguna Indian reservation in New Mexico, in the same village my parents and my seven brothers and sisters were born. Pueblo society was matrilineal, and one of its customs was that when a couple married, the husband would move in with his wife's family. So one of my first homes was my maternal grandmother's home. It wasn't the only one, though; until I turned twelve, I lived in three different, but very similar, houses. All of the buildings on the reservation were alike, in fact -- one-story structures with floors of mud and straw, kerosene lamps for light, and no indoor plumbing.

One of these houses, my parents' house, was about 1,800 square feet, quite large by local standards. There was a small entry room and the kitchen held the all-important wood-burning stove for heating and cooking. Four other rooms were used for sleeping and storage, and a closet with a cellar underneath kept the staples that my parents purchased using their ration books during World War II. The kitchen stove was our only source of heat, but it really only warmed the kitchen; we lived at a very high elevation, so the rest of the house was freezing cold most of the time. My grandmother's house was about the same size: a small kitchen with a wood burning stove, plus three additional rooms. Behind this house was a large cellar with bins that held grinding stones. The women in the family used these stones to grind corn; I can still see them, dressed in traditional Native American clothing, and singing in unison while they worked.

My father tended sheep, so he wasn't usually found in these houses.

We saw my father often, though, at the third house, a sheep camp where the family stayed during the early spring of each year to lamb and shear our flock. This was a one-room house measuring about 10' x 15', with a wood-burning kitchen stove, a fireplace that we never used, and a large homemade table with benches. There was a makeshift cabinet that held the kitchenware, and against a wall was a bedroll for my parents, who slept on the floor. Children and whoever else was there helping with the flocks would sleep outside in the open on homemade mattresses or pelts. When my father's siblings consolidated their flocks for lambing and shearing, there could be fifteen people staying together. Given the ratio of people to space, the sheep camp house was mostly used for cooking, eating, and shelter from the wind and cold. After the lambing and shearing season, our father and the older children would take the flock to a higher elevation and greener pastures. The children returned home just before school started in mid-August.

Growing up on the reservation was very structured -- our parents and our tribe had high expectations. From a very early age, we had chores to do before we were allowed to play -- chopping wood, going for water from the village pump, hoeing in the garden. We learned that we should never have to be asked to help, nor should we expect to be paid. We were taught to respect our elders, and always to address them according to their relationship to us -- Uncle, Brother, Grandfather.

It was a lot of work at the sheep camp, but we had fun, too. Every day we would compete to see who could find the most bird nests and arrowheads while herding. At the end of each day we'd gather at the kitchen table to show each other the arrowheads we found, each of us judging the legitimacy of the others' findings and tallying up the "credits." Some nights, we'd have pudding, made in a container lined with cornhusks, and everyone would want their share so they could chew the leftover pudding that had dried onto the husks.

The smells of pinto beans cooking on the stove, freshly baked bread from the outdoor oven, and fresh tortillas sifted through the house as my mother cooked. She never made a big deal of it; she never complained about all that she did for our family day after day, and nothing was easy. To wash our clothes, for example, she'd have to trek them down to the small creek that ran below the village.

Everyone worked hard, but after the work was done we relaxed and enjoyed each other's company. While my parents were quiet people, there always seemed to be a lot of conversation and laughter going on especially around mealtime. We were never embarrassed about making fun of ourselves. Both of my parents always seemed to be humming songs -- my mother humming soft church hymns, my dad humming traditional songs translated into Keresan, our tribal dialect. In the winter, he would sit by the stove and sing and me and my younger brother would dance the traditional Pueblo deer dance. While it was very rare that all eight children would be home at the same time, Christmas was often the exception. At midnight on Christmas Eve, traditional social dances were held at the village Catholic church. My parents rarely attended them, but we children always did. When we returned home, mother and father would be waiting with food on the table for us to eat before bed. This was the best part of Christmas -- the reminder that our parents would always be there for us.

My parents had fourth and sixth grade educations. Their only income came from selling lambs and wool, and their vegetable gardens supplemented our food supply. But they managed to give us a good life and show us their love for each other and us in so many ways. They taught us about personal responsibility, primarily by the example they set. They shared responsibilities for our care, watching us in each other's absence. My fondest memories are of my father holding our hands as we herded sheep or my mother as we helped with household chores.

And they made sure we went to school. Despite their meager income, they sent us to a Presbyterian boarding school in Arizona instead of the government boarding school in Albuquerque. (There were no high schools on the Laguna reservation until the 1960s.) As we got older, we worked to pay our own way. Four of us eventually graduated from college, two with master's degrees.

My parents also taught us that life could be hard at times, but we could overcome whatever challenges we faced. They never let anything get in the way of giving their children a stable and loving environment, teaching us that we were always worthy and always capable.

When I was eighteen years old, I traveled by train to begin my freshman year at a small Midwestern college. I slept through my stop and ended up in Topeka, Kansas, where I got off the train and went to eat breakfast at a local diner. They told me I couldn't be served. And in that moment, I realized what a profound impact my parents had had on me. I wasn't scared; I didn't want to run back to the safety and security of the reservation. I thought of my parents, of what they would do, and what they would expect me to do. And so I got back on the train and went to school.

I like to think that I've put their good values to good use -- I've been a social work administrator working with Native Americans for most of my adult life. In our home, whichever house it was, you respected people and you helped people without expecting anything in return. That's how a village works, and that's how I've tried to live my life. -- ROBERT CARR, Social worker

Hometown: Pueblo of Laguna Indian Reservation, New Mexico

Danny Glover

The first house my family owned was in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. We moved into it in 1957, when I was eleven years old. Before that, we lived in subsidized housing. We were among a group of families first to move into a mixed neighborhood, away from the two neighborhoods in San Francisco that had been home to African Americans.

Our neighborhood was made up of newer houses adjacent to Golden Gate Park, built in the twenties like ours, and older ones -- big houses -- some had been owned by shipping magnates.

We lived upstairs and rented out the downstairs. I can tell you what our house looked like, but the thing I remember most is what living in it was like. The thing about my home was that everyone participated in the work that had to be done. When we had to paint the house, my dad, my brother Reginald, and I painted the house. When cleaning needed to be done, someone would mop the kitchen floor, someone would wax the kitchen floor, someone would clean the bathroom.

If we were cooking Saturday night dinner, one of us had to be peeling potatoes, one of us had to be frying potatoes. I learned how to cook because that was a responsibility we all shared. All the boys knew how to cook. My dad knew how to cook.

There are twelve years between my youngest brother, Martin, and me -- so you know what that meant. I had to babysit Martin; I had to change him; I had to bathe him. So did the other children who were old enough. All those things we did, we all had to do. A lot of that structure was the structure my mom had when she was growing up on a cotton farm in Georgia. Everyone worked on the farm, everyone picked cotton, everyone had a responsibility.

And you combine that with the pride, the sense of ownership, the whole idea of middle-class aspiration -- well, you can see why it was so important to us. Still is today. Because we all knew that when we had to clean out the junk in the basement -- it was our junk and our basement, you know?

All of my siblings have owned homes. It's no surprise. I think that's how family works; I think that's a little bit of what home is. Conscientiousness goes from one generation to the next; the values of your parents that become yours in the watching and the doing.

For us, it was equanimity and responsibility, ownership and aspiration. And the idea that you work together, that the family becomes an organization where everybody puts their own personal agenda aside to contribute to the agenda of the whole. Mutual support and collaboration and teamwork -- this was a very poignant part of what I felt growing up. Of course, there was also lots of fun to be had. The neighborhood was exciting, changing, moving all the time. A big multigenerational family lived across the street. I think they may have been from Arkansas, but what I really remember was people -- grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles -- filling three floors. Seven boys and two or three girls. I still have dreams about that house. You could make up a baseball or basketball team with them. Go to Golden Gate Park. Play football. And always make up a reason to fight afterward.

There was music on those streets. Leon Pattilo lived right down the block. He had a band, played piano with those long hands he had, sang lead vocals with Santana. His father was a cab driver. You could always find musicians hanging out at their house, and music coming out of it. Sly Stone was a DJ then, and he used to come sit in all the time. Three doors down was Bobby Freeman, who had a red Impala and a big hit with "Do You Wanna Dance?"

We used to stand on the corner and I would sing like Smokey Robinson. And then we'd run off to the park, up to the high school for basketball, or just play football in the streets and make believe we were Joe "The Jet" Perry or Alan Ameche or "Alley Oop" Owens.

And then it was home. You'd come up the steps into the living room, with the kitchen next to it and one tiny bathroom for all seven of us. Next was the dining room and then the hallway leading to the bedrooms, with a large, tall heater, heating the whole house. Back to the left was my parents' room, to the right was the room my sister and my youngest brother shared. You'd have to go through their room to get to what would have been the sun porch -- but instead was the older boys' room, three of us in there, me and my two other brothers. That was my room, but it wasn't my own place, and with all that activity, inside and out, sometimes you just needed a place of your own, you know?

The room I cared about most wasn't a room at all; it was the space between the dining room and the bedrooms. I always found myself getting up in the middle of the night just to stretch out in front of the heater and create a space for myself. My mother used to wake up for work and find me there. In between washing dishes, I would lay there. In between doing homework -- when I did my homework -- I would lay there. It was my sleeping space and my day-dreaming space -- you know, where you'd dream about the girl you liked who hasn't said two words to you in the two months since you've been liking her.

It was just my space. That's what home is, after all. A place to call your own, to take care of, to grow in, in the company of the people and the things you love.


Hometown: San Francisco, California