Be It Ever so Mumble

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
I find you or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be.

—”This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” Talking Heads

Give me a country or pop song about home or going home and my immediate reaction is often, “That’s right. That’s what I need.” I am a sucker for cliché. I am not someone who makes wherever I am at the moment into home. The myth of Home will always outweigh the fact of Residence in my psyche.

Conversely, whenever I hear a “road” song like Geoff Mack’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” (best spoke-sung by Johnny Cash), it becomes a to-do list in my heart. I have not been everywhere, far far from it, but I ran when I could. Not far and not often, but let no one make your journeys anyone else’s cliché. My travels are unique to my eyes and ears.

Wherever I have resided, I have carried a deep, living nostalgia for my previous residence. Not when I moved from one apartment to another across town—I once moved myself on foot across town, not because I owned so little, but because this is how small the town I lived in is—but certainly when I moved across state or country. My nostalgia for the previous places in my life really only amounted to a present-tense desire for a someplace else to be current in my life. My friends in Iowa learned much about the Hudson Valley in New York; my friends here in New York, well, they took no interest in the Midwest, but they learned about the Hawkeye State and Iowa football (the Hawkeyes are 3-0 so far this season). My Facebook feed is full of updates from different towns I have visited and lived in, from different newspapers I have written for or aspired to write for.

Visited 22 states (44%)

There are about a half-a-dozen “I almost lived there” cities that sit in my memory like books unread on a shelf in a library I no longer have a membership card to. Two suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts; Jersey City, New Jersey; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Nashville, Tennessee.

Each one of those place-names sounds to me like a bullet whistling past my head, an anecdote of a disaster that I did not have to watch unfold in front of my eyes as if I was a bystander in my life instead of a participant. I had quite a few disasters in the places in which I actually resided; and, yes, I might have found recovery in any one of those fine cities and be celebrating many more years of recovery than I now have, but I did not. Life is perfect where I reside, even in its many imperfections. I may have made a lot of errors, but no mistakes.

Oh! and California. I had a few job interviews with newspapers in the Bay Area. It was the late 1990s and several friends and acquaintances had moved to the Golden State. By the late 1990s, several of them had moved back to New York, of course, but not all. I myself have yet to set foot west of Phoenix, Arizona.

Wherever I moved, the fact of successfully landing a new job, which was always the spur for any change in residence for me, carried with it the idea that I was a success in this life and had no problems ticking away in my psyche. None. “Sometimes sooner, sometimes later,” as the saying goes, this hubris that masqueraded as self-knowledge always resulted in the loss of employment, change of address, loss of friends.

For 41 of the 46 years that I have spent unraveling what had been a wonderful and perfect spool back on Day 1 but was already unraveled the second day I was alive, I have lived in upstate New York. New York is a large state and most of it is “upstate” in that most of it is not New York City. My personal swath of upstate is a band about 60 minutes (by car or train; it is longer on foot) north of the city. Between Poughkeepsie on the Hudson and Narrowsburg on the Delaware. Hyde Park. New Paltz. Goshen.

Where is home? My mother is from Poughkeepsie, and so was her father; her mother was from Brooklyn, and her parents were from Pinsk, which is now in Byelorussia but has been within the borders of so many countries that I guess that is why my relatives just called it the “Old Country.” Being Jewish, the name of the country sometimes did not matter and it sometimes mattered to a nearly lethal degree. Around 1902, my great-grandfather left or America, and he was followed by my great-grandmother and their baby son, a great-uncle to me who died two decades before I was born. A young woman and a baby traveled across Europe; her passport is still in the family—it was stamped in Germany, in France, in England, and then in Ellis Island. She never learned much English, even though she lived for more than 40 years of her life in Brooklyn and then Poughkeepsie.

I once set foot in nearby Minsk and found myself feeling less stirred than I felt I ought to feel. I suppose that that absence of emotion when one knows an emotion is expected is an emotion unto itself.

My father is from Vermont and so was his mother; his father was from Massachusetts, in a part that looked a lot like Vermont anyway. Most anyone with my last name, Aldrich, is related if they can trace their family histories back to Massachusetts in the 1600s. The first Aldrich came from England and was a founder of Mendon, Massachusetts. His birthplace is sometimes given as Derbyshire, England, and sometimes as Little Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, which happen to be nowhere near one another and were no closer together in the 1630s when he left than they are now. I do not understand the error, if it is one. From my father’s and my own genealogical research, it seems quite likely we are descended from that Aldrich, wherever he was from. (Derbyshire is in the north, in the East Midlands; Hertfordshire is the county just north of London. I want my Aldrich homestead to be Little Berkhamsted because the name is cool. Strangely, Little Berkhamsted is all the way across Hertforshire from just plain Berkhamsted. There must be a story behind this.) Someday I will stand where the Aldrich family came from and perhaps feel something. Or not.

The states in the map are those that I have at least breathed a sigh in. In some I had a place I called “home.” More often than not, it was a residence, even when it contained some neat things. (Someone gave me a terra cotta gargoyle. Lost it somewhere.) I carried me wherever I went, however, so too often I was what needed to be changed more than the neat stuff or mailing address. Somehow change came, in upstate New York and inside me, so now I can live anywhere. Perhaps Pinsk? Little Berkhamsted?

“Home is where I want to be”:

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This is a re-write of two ancient columns, one from August 2014 and one from March 2015.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 21 asks, “Name five things in your house that make it a home.”

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One comment

  1. rogershipp · September 21, 2015

    What astute personal insights. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

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