What is it that provides a sense of place? For some people it is their birthplace, an inexplicable but deep connection to their ancestors and the very soil beneath them. Sometimes it is geography – people who grow up in the mountains or at the seaside seem at their greatest comfort when near those features. For other people it is the location of loved ones that creates home – think of all the centuries of immigrants who came to America, still come, braving loss and indignity but determined to make a new home. They carry their sense of place with their children and their hope for the future. There are travelers and restless wanderers whose sense of place is within, and who are everywhere, and nowhere, at home. And for many it is some combination of these conditions which creates a sense of where we most belong, the place where we are comfortable and loved, the place where we enjoy life and friends, the place where we most want to be.
Growing up in the rural and then suburban Great Lakes area, it was a conservative and even retrograde experience, lovely and green and quiet, with lakes and trees and farms, not a lot of people and, thankfully a small village library. I longed always for someplace else, for new places, beautiful art and music, great challenges and experiences, different people, cultures and thoughts. When I return to my parents’ town now, I feel utterly out of place, estranged and uncomfortable. I feel no more “from there” than a bird stopping during a migratory imperative. Whatever it is that makes up a sense of rootedness has been obliterated by my subsequent life. I do not grieve or feel loss, for my home is wonderfully created by other environs, people and air.
One would not think the same would be true of my mother, who is still, at age 90, living in the town where she was born, where her parents and grandparents lived and worked and died. But something has shifted in her mind and she too is now sensing displacement. Sitting in her own home where she has lived for almost fifty years, she is sometimes disoriented and thinks she is elsewhere, swears that someone else took her house number, that she is in “the other place.” Gently showing her the garden she tended for so long, her bird feeders and fence and beloved trees will usually help her to reconnect, at least for now. Is it simply the encroaching dementia that is making her confused? Is it the debilitating stroke that stole her mobility, her social life and her ability to function independently? Is it that her children are far flung and unable to visit frequently? Or is it the loss of her husband of fifty years who shared her life in that house and provided her with her strongest sense of grounding? In her safest and best loved place my mother now feels lost, bewildered and alone. If home is where the heart is, hers has been swiped away by illness and time, in an earthquake of dislocation.
“There’s no place like home”, Dorothy says after her harrowing adventure in Oz. My mother started high school the year after The Wizard of Oz came out, and wore her hair like Judy Garland in that film, but for her the devastating loss of home is inside. I can only offer momentary equilibrium through patience, kindness and love, for no magic can bring my mother home now.
©Melody S. Owens, Poets Sinews, 2016. Reuse with permission. [Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers, which holds the rights to The Wizard of Oz].