Friday, October 9, 2015

The Pull of Place

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr.

Last weekend, I attended a small reunion at my beloved college. Although fewer than thirty of us attended, we were a fierce and mighty group. We reminisced.  We laughed.  We poured over yearbooks and pawed through photographs. And we wandered the beautiful campus we called home for four years.

This wandering got me to thinking about the power of place. My favorite author is Anne Rivers Siddons. Almost all of her books have a location in the title - Colony, Downtown, Up Island, Peachtree Road. In fact, the main character is often not really a person, but a place - Maine, Atlanta, a river, an island.  These places take hold of the actual characters and never let them go. These places form the basis of their passions and their loves and their lives and their livelihoods.

Four places.  When I think back, there are four places that have infected my spirit, four places I dream of.  Some are home.  Some are places I dream of making home.  All call to me.  Oddly enough, none of these places is where I came from, where I grew up, where home really is.

Four places - three small towns and one large city, Paris. Yes, Paris.

 I think Paris is the most beautiful place on this planet. When I imagine having the luxury of spending a month in an exotic place, that place is always Paris. It would be my first vacation destination.  It would be my last as well. I love everything about it - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Elysee, the restaurants, the cafes, the winding hidden streets, the art deco details, the language. Ever since visiting as a teenager on a school trip (how lucky was that???), Paris has been the reason I travel and when travel is possible, Paris is where I want to go. A month in Paris would be a dream come true. Even a minute in Paris is a dream come true.

When I return from travelling, I am lucky enough to come home to a kind of Mayberry, a small town in northeast New Jersey in which the entire downtown exists between two train lines, where parades are held for Halloween, for the Fourth of July, for the opening day of football and baseball seasons and for Memorial Day. On clear fall days, I can hear the music and drums of the marching band on the high school football field. We have a wonderful town pool, tons of recreational sports, an amazing school system. We have a rich and surprisingly interesting history. Our neighbors are our friends and our friends are our neighbors. Sure, we have national banks, a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts and a CVS, but we have our own inn and plenty of mom and pop stores.  But for a local pharmacy, we wouldn't have our two boys. The recent death of a popular jeweler hit everyone surprisingly hard. I didn't start out here, but I certainly plan to end my days here.

And then there is summer.  In New Hampshire, there is a small village on Lake Winnipesaukee, a throwback to the 1950's with shoreline cabins, a rustic country store, mini-golf and a seafood shack with the best milkshakes (or frappes as they are known in New England) ever made. We cruise the lake on a ship that cannt really be described, but has to be seen to be believed.  We visit amusement parks with a Christmas or fairy tale theme.  We ascent the tallest in the northeast and take in the views with our mouths hanging open. We relax on screened in porches, playing cards or Scrabble or Uno. Until recently (okay, twenty-five years or so), there was only one channel on the TV, the phone had a party line and the road was unpaved. My much younger brother called it The Big Bumpy as a toddler. We still have the Bakelite phone with the rotary dial. When I think of my happy place, I think of my town in New Hampshire.

And then there is my college home.  Really, I spent the least amount of time there of all my happy places except, of course, for Paris. It was my first home-away-from-home. It was my first experience of fending for myself and being totally responsible for no one except me. As a senior, it was the first, and really only, time I lived alone. Those four years were the making of me. When I drive up for the infrequent reunions, I begin to cry when I see the first road sign. The waterworks begin again when I hit the small highway that takes me to the college. It starts again as I pass the college gates. This is the place that comes to mind when I think of growing up, of enduring friendships, of fun and laughter and learning.  My beloved college has changed over the years in response to economic and social pressure, but the campus remain essentially unchanged. I can visit and see my dorms and the windows that looked out on the world. I can wander and reminisce and feel young again.

These places.  They pulled me in and will never let me go. I want to be in all these places simultaneously, all the time, every day.  And, of course, while that can obviously never happen, all I need is a photo to bring me back to all the places I call home.

Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey. - Tad Williams