Where I come from.

November 3, 2013 § 12 Comments

Halloween 2013.There is little to see in this photo: an unidentifiable boy in an unidentifiable costume at an unidentifiable door.

Trust me, the boy is my grandson Matthew, and trust Matthew, he is a skeleton wearing a pig hat.

According to him, he is either “a pig skeleton” or “bacon.”

And the door?

The door belongs to a house that used to be mine: 5 Canoe Brook Drive, Princeton Junction New Jersey—a fact I must take on faith. I can’t see even a glimmer of the house I grew up in.

What’s with the vinyl siding? That’s not our front door.

Were the year different, say some time in the sixties, I would have been the kid in costume, but I wouldn’t be ringing the bell.

I’d be running out that door, claiming to be George Harrison, a gypsy, or a cigarette girl in fishnets carrying a tray full of my grandfather’s cigarettes.

I have so many memories of that house and that nothing-special suburban development.

Bet you have similar memories. Despite our great mobility, humans remain creatures of place, anchored. For many of us that place is in the past.

For my father it was Congers, New York, a town built to lure Scandinavian immigrants out of New York City.

Into old age, he wrote about Congers. If he had any say, heaven includes a branch of the West Shore Railroad, the track running right behind the house, just like up home.

In editing other writers I see that their hearts, and even their identities are wrapped up in place–Southern writers in particular. Being Southern confers bragging rights and proud peculiarities.

Everything from cathead biscuits to quirkily constructed prepositional phrases are treasured as I learn every time I correct them (correct being my take on the situation).  “Oh, you wouldn’t get it,” they allow magnanimously. “It’s a Southern thing.”

My brother, behind our house.But most of us are proud of where we come from, we’re enlarged by it–we’re not a solo act. We’re part of something much bigger.

We are proprietary, even exclusionary about the attributes of home.

Come from Buffalo and you’re proud of how the place’ll freeze your butt off.

New Yorkers take personal pride in all their city has to offer, as if the Guggenheim were something they thought up themselves.

Walking Colonial Park 1966_0001As we remember a place, I wonder, does it remember us?

That house clad in new siding, does it hold onto the fourth grade girl who closed the door on her first room-of-her-own, and discovered the luxury of solitude?

Is there an echo of the sixteen-year-old who sat on the roof with her guitar, imagining she was Judy Collins?

Does my family’s past ghost around that 1960s split level?

It’s not grand, this place I come from, but the smell of its summer-mowed lawns and the shouts of its kids running the streets on August nights, the slap of its screen doors linger in my writing and in my sense of who I am.

It’s where I come from.

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§ 12 Responses to Where I come from.

  • craig reeder says:

    That sure took me back. I remember when I got my own room in our house in Coral Gables. I was about 12, I think. By some miracle, I inherited my aunt Mimi’s piano right there in my room. I covered a vast territory on my bike, east all the way to Biscayne Bay, and south all the way to the mangrove swamps. Didn’t occur to me at the time, but it sure was a kid paradise.


    • It’s funny how, as kids, we feel constrained. Heck, we can’t drive, we’re not in charge… But unless we work at it we are never as free as adults, and never as appreciative of the piano in the room–we know we don’t have time for it.


  • KM Huber says:

    I have come to believe home stays in our heart for moments much like this one: you show me your home and mine comes back to me. I put our places–where we were once home–side by side, as the screen doors slap in the always August evening. Where we come from is forever, I suspect.


  • Liz Jameson says:

    It’s no wonder that Karen and I focused on that same line re August summers and slapping screen doors — we grew up in the same town: Casper, Wyoming! We met by chance in Tallahassee! I am 56. I spent 28 years in Wyoming, and I’ve now spent 28 years in the South — exactly half my life. Yet, overwhelmingly, I’m 90 percent Western in my soul — I still get excited when I come across a cotton field in Georgia! Thanks for taking us all back — couldn’t agree more!


    • I finally understand my grandfather’s yearning for the home he left behind–in Italy–and the fact that when he returned for visits it was never the place he yearned for.

      Maybe the best of home lives in our memories.


  • Genia says:

    Is Matthew the cutest trick-or-treater in the world or what? I wish we could have seen a frontal view of the pig hat. I’m sure it was priceless. Is there any chance he inherited his grandmother’s amazing creative talent? I think we both know the answer to that one! He’ll probably be blogging before he’s five!


  • “…sixteen-year-old who sat on the roof with her guitar.”
    What an evocative phrase within a mighty fine photo album scrapboook journal entry post, Adrian. I picture you outlined against the sky, thinking of the strummers/singers in The Village or at Woodstock. And as for your present-time little trick or treater, how cute to know his skeleton & pig get- up brought smiles at Canoe Brook Drive doors. How cool that he is walking the same streets of his beloved Grand.


  • Like you Amy I have a hard time looking at that picture and seeing our old home. Where are the bushes that partly obstructed the door’s view? Siding? It just looks too clean, too antiseptic. I guess my past is relegated to memories too now.


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