Monday, September 27, 2010

A Sense Of Place

"Would you ever want to retire to South Carolina?"

"What? No! Of course not."

"Why not? We could get away from the winter... winter down there, summer up here."

"Why would I want to get away from the winter? Besides, I don't want to move. Ever. This is home."

We left it at that. My wife thought I was crazy.


Saturday I was driving one of my favorite stretches of road. Route 146 winds through wooded hills. The leaves are just starting to turn. Every now and then you catch a glimpse of cows on a hillside, a peek at a farm, a spire in the distance. The sun was low and yellow. I had to pay attention to the road and make sure I took my exit. It was one of those days where I could have just kept driving.

It's happened before. I've driven a hundred miles out of my way, looking at the scenery, driving down the road on an early autumn day. Watching the birds and the play of light on leaf. With the radio on and the windows down, I forget I am going somewhere. A green exit sign catches my eye. I realize I missed my exit 50 miles ago. There's nothing for it but to turn around. I'm late and I don't care. The road back is just as beautiful. It's happened to me before.

More than once.


My son brought home a worksheet for history class. He needed to find out when his family came to America. He asked his mother first. She is half Sicilian, half French-Canadian. All four of her grandparents were immigrants and she knew them all. She answered his questions easily. Then he came to me.

"Dad, when did your family come to America?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I don't know. It was a long time ago. I don't think anyone knows. Do you want me to ask your grandfather? He knows more than I do."

He did. I called my father. No one home.

"Well, Grampa's not home. But I'll tell you this, I've seen colonial-era graves of some of the family. Why don't you just put 1750." He misheard me and wrote 1715. I looked at his paper.

"It's close enough. Don't bother to change it. I'll ask your grandfather another time."

"Did any of our relatives fight in the Civil War?"

"Yes." I told him what I knew.

"Did any of our relatives fight in the Revolution?"

"Probably. I'll be very surprised if they didn't. But you'll have to ask your grandfather. He's the one who would know."


He asked his grandfather on Sunday. In 1685, we were already here, fishing off Cape Ann. No one knows when those ancestors arrived. Sometime before that. He showed us handwritten notes on fishing vessels lost at sea, land transfers, marriages, deaths. He showed us military records on Col. Jabez Merchant from the Revolution, and Sgt. Thomas Donahoe from the Civil and Indian Wars.

And I could see in my son's eyes that he was finding his sense of place.

I live 72 miles from Gloucester, where my family first lived, in what was then the Massachusetts Bay Colony. My parents live closer. Some of the family has never moved. The drive is under two hours. They think I live far away.

He told his mother that night all the things he had learned. She gave me a funny look. And it seemed like she was beginning to understand why I won't retire to South Carolina. And why I don't complain about the winter. And why I get lost on the highway on beautiful autumn days. This is home. I want to live here and die here, just like all the others. This is where I belong.

This will always be my place.

Respectfully Yours,



Suldog said...

I know how you feel.

My Mother's side of the family has been around these parts since The Mayflower came over, or at least that's what I've heard. One of my more illustrious ancestors - Shem Drowne - crafted the grasshopper weather vane which sits atop Faneuil Hall to this very day. He was born in what is now Kittery, Maine, in 1682. His progeny and their descendants, outside of a very few, have remained in Weymouth, and other South Shore communities, and would no sooner leave the area permanently than they would set themselves ablaze.

Elaine Denning said...

I loved this. And as a Brit, it's lovely to hear place names like Weymouth and Gloucester, which are so close to home.

I've lived in my home town all my life, and I can trace my ancestors (who lived here too) back to the 1300's.

Cricket said...

Hi Elaine -

Well, they don't call this New England for nothing. If we could go back that far, it wouldn't surprise me at all if some of my people came from your Gloucester.

All the relatives in my direct line, save one, came from England, Ireland, or Scotland. Our surnames are all too common though and my father lost the trail.

Thanks for the visit.

Linda said...

I know how you, and Sully, feel too. 3/4 of my ancestors were either here on the Mayflower or shortly thereafter, and stayed in MA and Maine. It just seems right.

Friday we drove down to my son's house and got off 95 near Newburyport, to enjoy the ride down Rte 1, then west on 62. Lovely houses, towns and scenery, on a great early fall day.

Shrinky said...

What a beautiful post, I love the sense of roots and belonging it evokes. I too love the changing seasons, as bitter as winter blows, I wouldn't swap it. I've never had a real home town to call my own, well, never as a child. I believe I have settled in well enough though, to my adoptive one - the one my children can claim as thiers.

lime said...

oh this resonates deeply with me, even though i have great wanderlust. my family arrived in PA from germany in the early 1700s. they helped settled the local towns. one built the first ironworks in the state. i too am considered a rebel for living an hour and half to the north but when i drive through the rolling farmlands and my nostrils fill with the smell of the fields and i see the old stone farmhouses i breathe in the aroma of home very deeply.

Unknown said...

Beautiful post which also deely resonated with me as I'm in the process of making plans to return to my hometown next year... and can't wait to be home again.

Land of shimp said...

One things for sure, you're not descended for nomads :-) You know, Cricket, I can't understand the sense of loving a root structure. I've been in Colorado for twenty years now, but that was just a concession to parenthood.

I don't know about a genetic sense of belonging, although I suppose it is possible. On my dad's side we literally go back to the ship directly after the Mayflower but my mom is from Scotland. Maybe that's why I definitely don't have a sense of home. She always referred to Scotland as home, and my brother was born there too, so he did also. I've always felt that Scotland is a nice place to visit, but you'd better love the hell out of rain and landscapes dotted by sheep to live there.

We lived in one house for ten years, sold that and moved here. People ask me if I miss the house, and the answer is "No." In part because we still own the other house, but mostly because...hope, don't miss it.

Heh, maybe for some people home is geographical. A place, their surroundings. For me it is more "Well, wherever my husband, the dog, my crazy cat, and son are, that's home."

Home to me is a movable thing. It goes with me. I'd say "Well, it must be lovely to feel that way about a place." but you know, what I really mean is that it is lovely that you have that feeling.

Maybe some long ago ancestor of mine had a fling with a Bedouin? Or maybe the ones that hopped the ship after the Mayflower had a secret yen to sail the seas ever after. Don't know. The definition of home isn't as straightforward as "this place, this person (or these people), along with this stuff".

I desperately need more coffee. Home: Wherever the coffee pot is.

Andy said...

Good piece, Cricket! Autumn in your part of the country is truly stunning.

I don't know much about my father's side of the family, but quite a bit about my mother's. German & French & Scots...a mishmash.

Daddy's Dad (my Papaw) was 1/2 cherokee, and half something else. He wasn't real big on talking about his folks.

Really good piece.

Unknown said...

Left you guys something at my place.


Ananda girl said...

Wow... wonderful rich family history!
On both sides.

I too get lost on a drive. It is often one of favorite things to do. No destination... just exploration and enjoying the canvass around me.

I lived in the same home for most of my life as a child and teen, then married and went to where his people lived. That was hard. I think I lost my sense of place for a long time. The one constant for me has always been my family... not so much siblings, but parents and then my kids.

Since then, I have found my place is where I am loved. That there is beauty here is icing on my cake.

Hilary said...

Beautifully crafted. I understand that sense of place.. though I've long moved away, I still feel it for my native Montreal. I feel it in Frank's family when we're in their cottage country and I've especially sensed it in folks I've known in Massachusetts. No surprises there.. it's a beautiful place.