I am an incurable romantic. I fall in love too easily, both with people and with places. Wherever I travel, I daydream myself a new home.
While in China, I fell in love with Souzhou, a magical city of formal gardens and temples. The people were warm and welcoming. Many stopped me on the street to talk, each “conversation” rich with waving hands. One elderly gentleman shared his lunch with me. I wanted to stay forever.
One day I stopped in Ritzville, Wash. I parked on Main Street, hunting for a mom-and-pop café. I felt an unmistakable energy in the air. Rather than give up their downtown to the nearby freeway, folks had restored their classic old brick buildings, opened new businesses and dignified the street corners with sculptures. I sat a few minutes, transported by a daydream of creating a new life in this little farm community.
I could name a dozen such places where I have left a piece of my heart. So is it any wonder that, after returning from a recent trip to the Indiana of my early childhood, I began to entertain dreams of moving “back home.” My yearning for the rolling hills along the Ohio River is based on more than idle wanderlust.
This feeling is familiar to me. It is the same desire for home that plunked me back in north-central Montana after my 25 years in Washington. The land pulled me back, the smell of sagebrush, the forever sky and upland plains.
My first full day in Indiana, my cousins, Roger and Shirley, asked me what I most wanted to do that afternoon. “The cemeteries,” I said. Wandering among our gravestones gives me a strong physical sense of my family history. We talked about our ancestors, how they traveled from England to southern Indiana. How they, merchants and farmers, made a life in the New World. How we inherited their traits. Here lie my beginnings. These people anchor me. I come from strong stock.
Most of my Indiana family lives within spitting distance of the cluster of small farms where we each grew up, where we jumped rope, played Andy Over, Hide ‘n’ Seek, and Red Rover on the lawns in the dusk. They look after one another.
In Montana, I have no family ties. I need my history. I need the continuity. I need my family. I love those wooded hills and red clay of my childhood as much as I love the grassy plains and gumbo where I now live. I know if I lived back home in Indiana, we might not be together for huge family dinners every Sunday. But caring family would be near-by. Oh, I am torn.
Then just yesterday, I drove with friends out to the campgrounds at Montana Gulch. While southeastern Montana burned, our green hills were alive with blooming wildflowers and yucca. It made one want to break into a chorus of the “Sound of Music.” We lounged beneath the pine trees and munched fried chicken and watermelon, while the youngest generation splashed in the creek. Later, after her daughter and family packed to leave, Bev and I meandered along the one dirt street of Landusky. I told her tales from my past and pointed out what I remembered of who used to live where way back when.
On the drive home, we fantasized how we each could move from Harlem and build our little nests in Landusky. We would still be neighbors. By the time we arrived home, our castles-in-the-air were constructed, furnished and we were ready to welcome guests. In our dreams, it was Christmas. Snow blanketed the ground in soft drifts, the lights on the Christmas trees glittered, grandchildren stamped snow off their feet, propped skis and snow shoes in the corner and plopped down in front of our fire places with steaming mugs of chocolate.
Back in Harlem, after eating another slice of rhubarb pie, I went into my backyard and harvested my first ripe currants to make jelly. Then I sat under the Canadian poplars and watched the setting sun. Indiana? Oh, I know how I am. It doesn’t much matter where I land — there I make my home.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)