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'Home' for the holidays? Not that easy

By Rachel Rodriguez, CNN
updated 8:35 AM EST, Tue December 24, 2013
Hannah Palmer is pictured in her childhood home in Mountain View, Georgia.
Hannah Palmer is pictured in her childhood home in Mountain View, Georgia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Going home for Christmas? What if you're not sure where home is?
  • We asked people without a clear hometown to meditate on the idea of "home"
  • What does home mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below

Editor's note: This piece is the last installment of CNN.com's "Going Home" series, which explores the notion of returning to our hometowns as adults. Once the childhood home is gone, is it even possible? Read Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

(CNN) -- Are you going home for the holidays? If so, you're one of millions. But at this time of year, with so much emphasis on being home for Christmas, what about those who aren't quite sure where "home" is?

The third culture kids, military brats and wanderlust-ridden travelers of the world -- what defines home for them? We asked several of them to meditate on the idea of home this holiday season. They searched their hearts, and here's what they decided is home.

All my homes were 'erased'

Hannah Palmer and her son explore the area near the Atlanta airport where her childhood homes once stood.
Hannah Palmer and her son explore the area near the Atlanta airport where her childhood homes once stood.

You've probably flown over Hannah Palmer's childhood homes -- or, at least, the sites where they used to be. She grew up in Atlanta, near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world, and has been for the past 15 years. As it expanded, the airport and related development projects ate up all three of the houses Palmer lived in as a child. They became "warehouses, runways, and in one case, a CVS Pharmacy," she said. "I literally can't go home again."

Now in her 30s with a child of her own, Palmer still lives near the airport, in the Metro Atlanta city of East Point. She's troubled by the fact that she'll never be able to show her children the places she grew up, and is trying to preserve their history as well as she can. Her MFA thesis, which she's now turning into a book, focused on communities that disappeared as the airport expanded.

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"To find the truth about what happened to my houses, to my family, and to their communities, I have picked through the ruins of kudzu-covered, airport-owned ghost towns, visited carefully preserved cemeteries between the runways, and tracked down an entire subdivision built out of relocated airport-area houses," she said. "I've had awkward interviews with former residents, business owners, community leaders, firemen, homeless men, and my own mom and dad. The quest is like trying to locate a body, 30 years later."

And what has she learned about the idea of home in the process? That it's as much about the stories and memories as it is about the physical place.

"Cities are ephemeral," she said, "but stories remain a powerful force for shaping the places we call home."

'A serious case of wanderlust'

Neha Shastry wanders St. Andrews, Scotland, in 2009.
Neha Shastry wanders St. Andrews, Scotland, in 2009.

Neha Shastry hated moving as a child. Before she went to college, her family had moved seven times and she'd lived in India, Singapore, Indonesia, and Washington, D.C. She was jealous of the kids she met who had lived in the same house their whole lives -- "I craved this kind of stability."

But when it was time for her to go off to college, Shastry had an epiphany.

"I was itching to go somewhere else and begin anew," she said. So she decided to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Even then, "four years in one place seemed like an eternity." By that point, she knew she was meant to travel.

Now that she's graduated, Shastry is living in London and pursuing a journalism career, "a path that ensures travel and instability," she said. "I can't wait to see where I go next."

As for home, Shastry has decided that "it's wherever I want it to be, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

'I really can't say where I am from'

Nicole Eisenschenk, in the striped shirt, is pictured with her family in 1993. They lived in Dallas, Texas.
Nicole Eisenschenk, in the striped shirt, is pictured with her family in 1993. They lived in Dallas, Texas.

Nicole Eisenschenk tells people she's from Florida, "because it's easy" and it's where she lived the longest as a kid. But the details are a little more complicated.

Eisenschenk was born in Hawaii, the daughter of a British woman and an American man who was stationed in Pearl Harbor with the Marines. Her dad's family is in Minnesota; her mom's in Malta. She was raised in North Carolina, Texas and Florida. And she currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand, where she works as an English teacher.

"I remember all the homes I have lived in and each had its great memories," she said. "Each place, there was some significant event that happened there."

Still, Eisenschenk believes it's not really the towns or houses that matter.

"I feel at home when I am with my family, be that my immediate family or my extended family," she said. "The homes don't matter too much, but the love and the memories are what make a family. Wherever they are is where my home is."

Always the new girl

Teresa Lister visits Innis Park near her current home in Ohio.
Teresa Lister visits Innis Park near her current home in Ohio.

Teresa Lister says that being a military brat, constantly on the move, has its challenges.

It means "a lifetime of moving here and there, of giving up all your friends, of not having holidays with grandparents or even knowing your cousins," she said. "There are no high school reunions or invitations to school chums' weddings or watching our children grow up together."

"There are many things I have missed in life because of these journeys," said Lister. But still, as she's gotten older, she's begun to appreciate the things she experienced in her military family.

"Because of my father's career, I have traveled the world and seen things the majority of Americans will never see," she said. She's visited the pyramids of Egypt and enjoyed cups of chai in Pakistan.

Now living in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Lister has decided she knows what makes a home: love.

"Home is shopping with my daughter and sharing our morning together. Home is curling up on the couch with my husband of over 40 years or waking up at dawn to the sound of my granddaughter wanting me to come see the morning glories with her. Home is ... the quiet place where you listen to the sounds of nature or sit alone with the presence of God," she said.

"Home is where you are loved."

This holiday season, what does home mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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