top of page

What is a Home?

The Story

I never thought about the word home, what it was and what it truly meant, until I found myself without one. I was an eighth child born to a family of twice wed older parents. I lived in the suburbs of New Jersey in my early years, going to Catholic school and riding my bike down at the shore with my friends. There was a lot of family around in those days, lots of birthday parties and family dinners and summer barbecues. Those memories bleed into realizing very early on that my parents struggled with money, and often talked about having to move out of New Jersey, warning me that we're changes were on the horizon.

I was so used to that dialogue for years that caught me by surprise. When my mom and dad said we were actually moving away. They decided to semi retire to the woods of Pennsylvania in the early 1990s. the Poconos To be specific, a place once a destination for honeymooners. And now a sanctuary for people that couldn't afford to live anywhere else. We rented for a while and eventually my parents purchased land and a double wide trailer, their retirement plan, and I was along for the ride being the only child left at home. My mother passed away suddenly, in the fall of my eighth grade year, my world was literally turned upside down.

I was Alice Through the Looking Glass. Although is my mother that passed away. I lost my father as well. She was his anchor in the real world. And without her, he descended into the depths of his mental illness. And once again, I was along for the ride. I ceased to have a parent in the traditional sense. I was an on again off again, caretaker, a compatriot in some of his crazy schemes. And a young girl who is asking the universe, which way she should go. The answer back at that time, was that it really didn't matter.

My dad died when I was 19. Our house was already in foreclosure. The loss actually wasn't as great as it could have been. Because to be frank home. It hadn't been home for a while. I had graduated high school and gotten a partial scholarship to Penn State. It was an uphill battle without support, and ultimately I withdrew at the end of my sophomore year. I stayed in a lot of places at that point, not not really settling down anywhere. I did, at one point have an apartment of my own, but it was as far from home as anything I'd experienced before. And I was adrift in this world, surviving it, but not really living. I found myself pregnant right after I turned 21. The thought of another human being dependent on me, needing me was frightening. Especially after the experience, I had taken care of my dad. To be honest, I lived those first few months of pregnancy in denial, and then resigned that life would just be more difficult. Again, it wasn't until I saw her face, that I felt this warm spark within me, this feeling of wanting more for her.

I wish I could say that warm feeling was enough to change my life at that point. But it wasn't. I continue to stay with family and friends. It was beyond the surviving honestly, that I had been doing for years. But it wasn't quite what you would call living yet. I moved to another state a new town, hoping that would be the key to figuring it out. But it landed me back in survival mode. It wasn't until my daughter became so sick, she had to be hospitalized, losing my job, and being told I had to leave the place I was staying that I realized I might not even survive this. But there was this little girl that depended on me, needed me to more than survive. She needed me to live. I had lost so many of my things along the way. So much when the house went into foreclosure. When I moved out of college and into my car, when I left my apartment, when I left the things with people who I thought were my friends, and when I left New Jersey for a second time and came back to Pennsylvania, hoping I could afford a place of my own. All of our belongings now fit in a grey suitcase. And that suitcase was anchored to my daughter stroller. And that's all we had.

Once again, I was Alice but there was no rabbit or dad that led me through the looking glass this time. It was of my own doing. This time. It wasn't just me though. There was this little girl, this beautiful, beautiful creature, and I realized I needed to fight my way back into the real world. In June of 2005, I entered the shelter of the Catherine McAuley center with my daughter. And that felt that warm spark again, the spark grew as they made short and long term goals. Things as small as navigating a grocery store using food stamps, and as big as graduating with a degree, summa cum laude, and Saluda Torian of my class. The Catherine McAuley Center helped me find an apartment that fit my budget, and we made it our own. We started with the contents of that grey suitcase in a very empty apartment. But we began to fill it with things that make up a life. It held her first Christmas tree that I bought at a local drugstore, the first crayons my daughter ever colored with. And the first books she ever read. The walls absorb the sound of her laughter of the memories we were making. The apartment was where i connected with an old schoolmate, the place where he met my daughter, the place where we fell in love, and decided to become a family. We grew out of that apartment eventually and found a house to hold more things to build more memories, the house absorbing the sounds of laughter and tears. I wanted something more from my daughter.

And I didn't believe I knew what a home was.

So I created one. I created a world for my daughter from things I thought made up a home. It was gleaming hardwood floors, it was napkins and plates that matched the holiday. It was a dance classes and being a PTA mom. It was the pocket doors flung open between our front room and living room open. So we can enjoy the Christmas tree right in the middle of the big space. We have had some amazing moments in this house and some sad and some moments that changed our lives. We are now in the process of moving out of the house and back to an apartment. That little girl is now in college. And we don't need so much space, so many things. And this made me realize something as I go through the boxes of Christmas decorations and playbills photographs of amazing adventures. The things that make up our life. House and a home are two very different things. For so long. I was seeking a house, a roof walls, tangible things. I thought it would be the key to my success, the answer that would take me from surviving to living. And it wasn't until recently that I realized that I was chasing something that didn't exist. Not in the way that I thought I always had home. A home was a good memories.

I kept close to the heart of my parents, my dad's love of Elvis and books, my mother's love of tea and the Muppets. It was the adventures we have been able to go on as a family of three. It is the traditions we have built with our daughter. And the confidence that as she goes on her own journey, she always has a home to come back to regardless of the house. There is a passage from through the looking glass that that I go back to a lot and it's it says it's no use talking about it. Alice said looking up at the house and pretending it was arguing with her. I'm not going back in again. Not yet. I know I should have to get through that looking glass again, back into that old room. But that would be the end of all my adventures. So resolutely turning her back upon the house, she set out once more down the path determined to keep straight on. A big thank you to the crew today and to all of you for letting me share my story, my definition of a home.

The Interview


Thank you so much for sharing your story, Mary Pat. I really enjoyed it. I love the fact that you ended with the quote from Alice in Wonderland because I couldn't help thinking from the first time you brought up through the looking glass, that it's almost like you were viewing yourself through the mirror of your parents as you're trying to figure out how to create a home. Would that be accurate?

Mary Pat

It is I think A part of my healing process has been been me taking myself out of it. It's not first person, it's easier to, to think about. And to be able to share is is making it a story. It's my story. But But viewing it in a different way. And of course I do because I'm much older to it, it makes it easier for me, I guess I'm able to get through talking and or reading or whatever that is when when I'm able to do it that way.


I also think it's interesting that you define home as memories. Because when I first read through your story, I noticed how you talked about New Jersey as kind of this happy time. And that's built on memories. But then it's almost like you lost that had to go through your life and come back to recapture how that is home. Do you think there was a moment when you suddenly realize like, Oh, I've been wasting all this time? Like, do you remember that moment?

Mary Pat

Yeah, absolutely. It was a couple of years ago, when I had the good fortune of realizing that I was raising a really amazing child. It certainly took a village to do that I do not take all the credit. In who who my daughter is very lucky to have a community and supportive friends and family that has helped raise my daughter over time. What I realized is she and I were kind of separating, and she was finding her own path and finding the things that she loved. That I had a lack of those things that I had built so much of my life around making sure and creating that home for her that I forgot about myself in the interim. So I realized I needed to take a look at what I defined home as what I defined to house as it needed to change for her sake, for my sake. You know, what is it that I needed to be able to move on a little bit. And it was really, it was really being reflective about, you know, who I was at as a person and you can't help but then be reflective of the life that you've led.


I think that's common for a lot of parents. So we tend to lose ourselves in our children. And once they start living their own lives. It's kind of like, Whoa, where did I go? How do I define myself if I'm not so and so's parent. But I also find it interesting that you defined home by Christmas ornaments, matching plates. So you know those little things. But now you're leaving your home to move into an apartment? Do you feel like that has to be defined? Or will the memories you bring with you be enough?

Mary Pat

Yeah, I think it comes down to a lot of a lot of the little things. It's the small things that make up a life. And for a long time, I didn't have the small things. And so when I reached a point in my life, the privilege of having those small things, I still didn't know what it was exactly what I needed. And so often, you know, in sharing my story, I talked about the fact that I use TV to create what home was, so like the Gilmore Girls and like starry hollow, like how everything was perfect. And my house reflected that to the point that like I needed to even step back from that, like everything had to be a certain way I was setting a stage.

I wasn't necessarily creating a home. So there has been many stages of home to me, you know, and what that means. And so for many years, I I collected things to create that home. And then over time, I realized, you know, as I said before it that wasn't what was making a home for me it was the memories, the adventures we were able to go on, we're able to do some really cool things. And it makes it super easy to let go of the little things, the stuff and realizing you know a daughter that is on her own journey and having this big old house which is something that we wanted for so long, I don't want it anymore. I want simple and I want to create more memories create our home that way in this new life, you know, being able to be For two years old with a grown daughter and have like this whole other life I could live is exciting. But I think I need to let go of some things to be able to do that. So I think going into a smaller place and letting go of some of the tangible things is going to allow me to do that much better.


It's funny, you talk about collecting stuff, because when you got to the point in your story, where you're talking about having one back, that all of your things fit into moving into your home and collecting things to make a home, I can't help but think there is a little bit of a parallel with the apartment, because again, you're letting go of things to create a new space that you fill with new things, except for this time, there'll be more value, maybe based on the adventures you've had, rather than setting a stage.

Mary Pat

Absolutely, there are some things that I never thought I would be able to let go of. That is very easy to me, some of those, what we call around her tchotchkes that make up a life that I've been able to give away or yard sale like things that were so meaningful to me in that moment of time, often, though, for what it's worth, generally also attached to a memory, right. So it wasn't just having the thing. Normally, it's attached to something, it's really I don't know, if it's a maturity on, you know, in the way that I'm thinking or, you know, the world changes and so to you that I realized that I could keep the memories, I don't have to keep the thing.

So that is really where I've, I've been feeling much better about that those memories don't go away, even if those things do you know. But yet, there are some things I can't get rid of, you know, like that gray suitcase is forever with us. My daughter got a brand new luggage, like all of this stuff for college, we still packed that suitcase and helped her move into college with that, that. So there are some things that I just cannot let go of even her memories, those crayons that I talked about, I still have those crayons are like little nubs. And I'm not going to let go of them. You know, I finally got rid of the Christmas tree that we purchased at the local drugstore that I slipped in the bottom of her stroller I had it for years, there was like just like a couple of like little branches with like nothing on it. And it took me a long time to let that go. Because it it was it meant so much to me, you know about creating that new life. But I realized the memories don't go away. I don't need to keep on. I don't need to keep that tree you know. So once I got to that point, it has become a lot easier to let go of the things.


So you mentioned the Catherine McCauley shelter, and you're now development director there. How does it feel to provide a first home and shelter to others who are in a similar position that you were in.

Mary Pat

It is surreal to me in the way that I've lived a life that I needed to seek shelter. And then at one point, also do direct service work for for 10 years. At a at a at a place, you know that provide services for women and children who are victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. And then, you know growing on that, you know becoming a funder when I worked for the city of Scranton and being able to fund those, those programs that helped me and now in this really weird, you know, thing that we call our lives and this world is that now I'm working for that very shelter that saved my life. I think that's why it's so important to me. That I am able to define what it is for me. Only because how how do I then better share the story of the Catherine McAuley center How do I better serve the women and children individuals and families is is sharing with them my story and letting them know there is no perfect home. Right? We can all have ideas about what a house is what is you know, dignified living, you know, stable living. But these women have the chance to make a home that works for them and their children and it has nothing to do with the place that they're staying in. It's the memories and it's the feelings that they have. If they're living in the shelter. If they're living in you know public housing if they have found a forever home, it doesn't need to be tied to the place that you're at. You do not have to wait for a perfect place to start living your life. And I wish that I had learned that a little bit earlier, I wouldn't take back any, you know, any of the journey that I've been on, you know, I hope in the way that I found it and can share my story and share my thoughts that, that people hear from me, at least, you know, my goal is for people to hear that wherever they're at is, is the opportunity to build memories and to build a home, they don't have to wait to do that.


So I have to ask with your daughter, having started in the shelter move to the apartment into this home that you built for her, how does she feel about you dismantling this home to start a new space,

Mary Pat

mixed feelings. So for me, it's very meta, you know, the idea that I, you know, was able to create, you know, on my own two feet, and then with the support of a wonderful village, and then with my husband, this this world for Isabella. And, you know, in, in the idea, you know, as a as a, when I share my story, that she's always going to have a home, regardless of the house, house means something to her. And so we are in the midst of of really figuring that out, right. I worked, you know, so hard in creating the world for her. That that means something to her. So even to add, you know, the, to the ridiculousness of how far I was willing to go when I talk about that apartment to house that we moved to literally across the street on the same street. So I went from a shelter to what was considered transitional housing, and was able to keep that apartment in West Scranton. And it was very important to me, even when we were going to build our lives, build it bigger if you will have a beggar environment. I didn't want her to change schools because I knew what that was like I didn't want her to have to change, daycares at that time, change the friends on her street, I live that it was very hard for me. And so when it came to picking our new home, ultimately, it was when I talked about across the street, I could walk out onto my front porch now and see the apartment that I was in. It's catty corner and like down, you know, a core, but I could still see it.

And, and so for her, you know, and for our area house is very important. And so it's interesting, you know, what her thoughts are, she's very supportive, I'm lucky in that, that she understands and gets it, but I know there'll be a mourning period for her, you know, in regards to what it means, you know, to give up our house, but she understands what a home is, too. And, you know, so I feel like I've done my job and that's okay. And, and in no way, you know, for me, I guess my little bit too is as much as there is that home versus house, it's okay to feel a way about your house and to feel a way about your things. That's what makes up a life. Right. And, and I know, that's what makes up my daughter's life. And so I very much respect that too, and will hopefully find a way to navigate that. But that is happening real time right now.


Well, I think there's a very beautiful thing happening here, you created space in yourself for your daughter created a space for her that she could call home growing up. And now you're graduating to your own space that you can call home and actually be a real home. So I'd like to hear how the journey goes later. If you'll come back and share.

Mary Pat

I would love to do that. It'll it'll be interesting, you know, embarking on it, even these last couple of months. Everyone had said to be, you know, in this space, I've never been farther away from her than I am at this point for this amount of time. And everyone's like, Don't worry, they come home all the time. You know, like you're gonna be sick of them. And I'm like, I don't know what world you live in. I got my daughter for 11 days for Christmas break. It was not enough. But she is on an amazing journey of her own and opportunities to do projects and stuff. I want to also realize a home when it's memories and not things means it can be anywhere. So she had an opportunity to do the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and do that. And so what normally would have been a place you know, a certain place for Turkey Day and all of that we picked up and moved because when For me home being memories means that could be anywhere it doesn't have to be tied to a place or to things. And so that allows us to be a little bit more movable and, and create memories and moments may be in the, you know, the not so traditional sense. So I'm excited to see where that takes me.


Well, I hope you enjoy the journey.

Mary Pat

Thank you. Thank you


Life And Show Logo_Season 3_1400x1400.png

Thank you for listening!

This podcast is made possible by the combined efforts of the Northeast Counties Medical Society (NEPAMS), Scranton Fringe, and Park Multimedia. 

To learn more about NEPAMS and the work they do in the community, click below.

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Spotify
bottom of page