The Home Place

Monday, August 23, 2010
For whatever reason, when we’re driving home after some evening event, Andy and I frequently have this conversation:

Ada: I always thought I’d end up in a big city, like Chicago, New York, or London.

Andy: Ick! Not me!

In the British Isles, they have a concept called “the home place.” The concept is a central component of modern day Irish dramatist Brian Friel’s play entitled, well, The Home Place, but I’ve also run across the concept in other pieces of literature set in Ireland. The most recent reference of the home place I ran into was in Minnesota author Erin Hart’s mystery Haunted Ground. The “home place” is a reference to a member of the English Ascendancy’s old family home in England. It’s a place often shrouded with mythical symbolism that is only magnified by the person’s geographical distance from the location. It’s something used to define a person, even if it’s been generations since any direct relative lived on the land.

In the States, our sense of home isn’t tied as tightly with tradition as it is overseas, but our sense of home is just as complicated. We are raised on the American dream and a sense that home is something that travels with us, that with the unpacking of a suitcase we can simply will a new place to be our home. But it’s not quite that easy.

While plenty of Americans head overseas to find their roots, few find more than just a pleasant experience and, if they’re lucky, a deeper understanding of who they are. They usually don’t find a newly realized home. And maybe that’s because there seems to be an infantile understanding of home that haunts us well into adulthood.

I have put in time in the big city. I have proven that I am perfectly capable of living in dorms, in cities, in suburbs. But in all those experiences there was a strain of inexplicable homesickness that tinges such experiences. A sense that after all the newness is discovered, that this really isn’t the place I want to spend all my time.

Is northern Minnesota really my home place? It certainly seems to be Andy’s.

In the movie Orange County the main character, Shaun, finally runs into his writer idol who is also a professor at Stanford. After talking for a while, the writer/professor tells Shaun: “You’re a writer. Every good writer has a conflicted relationship with their home.”

We may not know where our home place lies exactly. But we certainly know when we’re not home and from that, through deductive reasoning, we should be able to determine our home place. When feelings of anxiousness or smothered longing are absent, we may find that we’re already home.

Where’s your home place?

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