"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Returning to my roots

An often-quoted statistic is that 50 percent of all Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace, a phenomenon known as "propinquity". However, in the small Massachusetts town where I was born and raised, this figure appears to be much closer to 80 or 90 percent. I know this because I've spent the last couple of days leafing through the alumni directory of my high school, which lists every graduate since 1959 along with their current address and occupation (if known). Accounting for the fact that the publishers most certainly had considerably more luck contacting local alumni than those who had moved away long ago, the overwhelming majority of my classmates still reside in what's known as "The North Shore" ... Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich, Essex, Rockport, Beverly, and Salem, to name but a few towns in the area. Wandering around these places for the last week has brought on a strange nostalgia that I had not expected to feel, as when I was younger, I couldn't wait to get away from here. Whether it was the tyranny of parental domination, the dreary cold and snow of New England winters, the fact that everything seemed so old, drab and "un-modern" in historic colonial Massachusetts, or merely simple wanderlust, I'm not sure. It most likely was a combination of all of these, but as soon as I was able, I moved to a tropical island in the Carribbean -- a place about as far away from my hometown as I could get, both in distance and attitude. I'm one of the ten percent that got out.

So considering this, the fact that I have felt drawn to return some 1,800 miles on this trip from my present home to the place of my raising is somewhat perplexing to me. For example, this is the little shoebox of a house in which I grew up:

Can you believe that anyone could be nostalgic for this this little cottage, with barely 800 square feet of living space? Still, this tiny house holds a vast quantity of my childhood memories, and to be fair, not all of them are unpleasant. I can remember standing on that front porch having my picture taken during a long-ago birthday party; next to me and holding my hand was a little girl from my class who had stolen my eight-year old heart, and the look of bliss on my young face in the resulting photo was priceless. Other memories are not so good; the two upper windows were my parent's bedroom, and my father would summon me there for a spanking when I had done something bad. Even now it makes me squirm just to think about that.

But having no choice in the matter, I was born here anyway, and eventually I suppose this small town will be my final resting place as well. I forgave my Dad for his cruelty to me, and we were thankfully able to reconcile before he died in 1979. My mother passed nearly ten years later, and they are both laid to rest in the historic Hamilton Cemetery. We own two more adjacent plots, so there will be room for me when the time comes ... which hopefully won't be for a very long while yet.

This week, I went to their gravesite to pay my respects, and cleared off some brush and weeds which had grown up around it. I would like to think that perhaps they were looking down from above approvingly at their prodigal son, at last come home to visit them and care for their headstone. I do miss them, and maybe that's why I've felt drawn back here.

It's either that or the clams.


  • At 8/20/2006 09:42:00 PM, Blogger April said…

    Its cool that you got to go back to your house. It would have been really wierd going IN I bet. Its small, yeah, but it looks very cozy.

  • At 8/22/2006 07:06:00 PM, Blogger Chandira said…

    That's cool I eahr you on the 10%, I am one of those people too. They all seem to be married to each other, too, which is odder. ;-)

    I feel like that, my mum's house (she still lives there) always brings very mixed feelings up, and I have always thought I can't wait for her to sell up and ship out, but I dunno, maybe I'd be sad.


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