Maybe you can go home again

This week I got to go to “the place we call “home” even if we have lived somewhere else for decades longer than we ever lived there.” My mom is turning 80 this week, and I met a cousin and a family friend at my parents’ place to celebrate her. I went up a day early to visit and stay the night with a college friend who has moved back to the Puget Sound region after years away; she’s now living just a short drive away from my parents.

On Thursday morning, while taking a bath in a clawfoot tub at the top of a house built in the 1800’s, with windows that look out to the water, wishing I could live the rest of my life in such a place, I read an essay by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, “On Moving Home.” In it, she describes her experience of moving back to Seattle after living in New York, and of her homesickness–“a full-blown virus from which I could not recover”–that precipitated the move. (You can find that essay, along with other rich meditations on home, in This is the Place: Women Writing About Home, edited by Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters.)

I know that particular kind of homesickness.

My parents no longer live in the south Seattle suburb where they raised me in a house at the edge of woods with paths we took to the beach; for more than 20 years they’ve been living on the Olympic peninsula, in a different house within walking distance of rocky beaches. Both places are home to me. Bellingham, a city just south of the Canadian border, is the third place I think of when I think of home. All my grandparents lived there, one set of them on a hill overlooking Bellingham Bay. When I long for home I am not longing for any of these particular places, but for the things that mark all three locations for me. I am longing for a place along Puget Sound where you can smell salt in the air, and when you look in the distance long stretches of firs seam water to sky. I am longing for the plaintive cries of gulls and a ferry horn’s guttural bellow.

Friday morning I took a ferry from the peninsula to Seattle, where my son has been living. It was the kind of morning that makes people from other places think this corner of the world would be an amazing place to live: mild temperatures, quaint towns, and so much watery blue.

As I walked across the ferry’s loading zone parking lot to get the view above, I felt so lucky to be native to this place, to have this be the kind of place I feel most at home. (But, just to be clear for anyone who is not from here: Part of the reason such days feel so wonderful is that they are not common. There are many, many days of grey drizzle in the cold part of the year, which, in my youth at least, could be nearly nine months long. But many of us who grew up here love those days, too.) My deep sense of familiarity and of knowing how to be here–so deep I am usually unaware that there are, in fact, things to know about how to be here–felt so comfortable and comforting after the discomfort of the summer.

I am reading a book of essays about home, and thinking and writing about this home, because I am still thinking and writing about our experiences in Louisiana this summer. Last week’s post feels like a beginning more than an ending. It’s a piece of writing that I know I am not done with.

This week I have also been reading Kelly McMasters’s The Leaving Season, a memoir in essays about marriage and divorce I am appreciating far more than the one that was all the rage a few months ago. (McMasters is one of the editors of the essay collection that contains Lunstrum’s essay; I’d like to tell you how I stumbled upon her work, but I can’t remember. It was sometime in the spring that I placed both books on hold at the library, and I am only just now getting them.) From McMasters’s essay “The Ghosts in the Hills” I recorded these words:

“When we enter into a place that is outside of our usual experience, it is our position as an outsider that often allows us to see things differently. It also magnifies those things about ourselves that remain constant, no matter what world we enter.”

I suppose many readers would take these words to mean that a position as an outsider in a place allows us to see things in that place differently from those who are insiders–which is often true, of course–but my experience as an outsider in Louisiana is allowing me to see the places of my usual experience differently than I had before, too. For all the beauty I see in western Washington, for all that I love it more deeply than I will ever love any other place, I can now see, in a different way, its flaws, too. And my own.

This month, I’m entering into my third year of retirement (sort of, mostly) from education. A fair number of people asked me, when I left, if I was going to do more writing or focus on writing. It was a thing I always thought I would like to be able to do. It was a thing some part of me thought I probably should do. But any time I thought about it, I felt nothing but ambivalence. There was nothing much I wanted to say, and no goals related to writing that I could feel myself caring much about. Given that, writing hasn’t been something I’ve given much time to. Other things felt more compelling.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about renovation and Louisiana, I’ve been feeling a shift. I don’t have a goal in mind, and I don’t have something particular to say. Instead, I have questions I want to think about, and this week it occurred to me (in a duh! kind of way) that questions are always my best way in, the best reason for me to write.

I’m not feeling ambitious or dutiful or purposeful. I’m feeling curious. That, too, feels like going home.

4 thoughts on “Maybe you can go home again

  1. Kari says:

    Both of those books have been added to my TBR pile. I pushed them to the top because I’m a rebel.
    I’ve been to places that feel like home even though I’ve never lived there. Even though I didn’t want it to, California felt that way. Maybe I lived there in a previous life…

    I can’t believe you’ve been retired for three years. The post-pandemic period has been strange. At times, it feels like a decade has passed, and at others, it feels like we’re wading through syrup.

    I love that you’re feeling curious. Keep following that feeling.❤️

    • Rita says:

      When I have to play the name game, I’m often Rebellious Rita, so… 🙂

      I am curious about this: Why did not you not want California to feel like home? I was actually born there, and I have had wonderful times there, but it does not at all feel like home to me. Even Portland doesn’t, even after all my years here.

      I am only entering the third year, so it’s really only been two years. But yes, I agree that the post-pandemic period has been strange, especially when it comes to time. Or maybe it’s just this stage of life?

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I’m not familiar with the books you mention, but obviously they’ve influenced you in positive, reflective, ways. I know that some people make an assumption that if you don’t have a specific job title you must be at loose ends. No further thing is from the truth for anyone who’s curious.

    I understand feeling a sense of place as an outsider as well as someone who feels rooted. It might be one of those scenarios that as you age your perceptions change, making your former outsider-ness evaporate, adapting as you have to where you are now. That’s been my story.

    • Rita says:

      I wonder if changing feelings about insider/outsider status are primarily about age or something else? I was asking Cane about this over the weekend. He moved from Louisiana to the northwest nearly 30 years ago; he does not feel like an outsider here at all. That might be about age or simply a long length of time, but he said that he never really did feel like an outsider, even at the beginning, and thinks it is because his personality (quiet, reserved) is a good fit for northwest culture. He said it was kind of a relief to not have to converse in public with strangers in the ways that he had to in his original home.

      I am in strong agreement with you regarding job titles and loose ends. I am never bored and always wish I had more time in a day for all the things I want to do!

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