Sunday, July 22, 2007

I've taken the long way home

When I was a little girl in New England, our mothers would take my friend and me down to the riverside to swim and picnic. Across the road from the embankment that led to the river was a big open field. Once a year, in late summer, the back of the field would be filled with a small string of trucks and trailers, all-tumbledown and rangy looking, some even looked like hand-made shacks being pulled by fat 1950’s cars. At night you could see the campfires burning, hear music and echoes of laughter. When I asked my Mom who they were, she said “Gypsies”. They weren’t like Olde Worlde Gypsies, like the gypsy in my genealogy that ran off with a Frenchman’s noble daughter. These weren’t the wild-hearted gypsies in my mother’s bloodline that my father blamed for all he feared in me. And they weren’t the ones I always suspected deep in my heart had left me on my parents’ doorstep with a note to raise me well and a bag of jewels wrapped in a handkerchief to see me through.

No, these were farming gypsies, who would appear around harvest to pick crops. They lived in a sympathetic farmer’s field every year. They were rumored to be of some European origin, but no one we knew was really sure where they had come from. They came and went like a whirl of smoke, never staying long enough for anyone to get to know them before they were gone. For weeks after they left, people blamed missing objects on “the gypsies” as though even in absentia they could lift watches from bureaus in houses they had never entered. Still, every year for many years they came and went as regular as the seasons.

I envied them, imagining a wandering life that took root in me over the years. In fairy tales, parents were supposed to keep their children away from the gypsies, for fear they would be beguiled away, lured by the romance of caravans and violins, kerchiefs and dances in the firelight, the shimmer of silver and the reflection in the fortune-teller’s glass.

And so, because the gypsy in my blood heard the siren call of the farming gypsies, I became a wanderer, living in Nebraska, rural Massachusetts, the city or mountains of Colorado, Appalachia, and several industrial towns in Ohio. The hills of Vermont, the heart of New York City, a house on banks of the Thames, a small town in New Jersey all were home-ish. Not homes, but home-ish. Nothing gave me more joy than to travel, to be on the move. I have twice taken 3 month driving road trips alone, with no destination pre-planned. I have wandered not because I was looking for happiness, but because wandering made me happy. I took delight in discovery, in new horizon lines. The mystery of other languages was hypnotic. I wanted to drink in as much as I could see and hear and touch. I had a job that required abundant international travel. I filled a passport with entry stamps and needed new pages.

But I always touched base for a feeling of home with my parents, specifically my mother, in Massachusetts. It was there that I reported back the results of my wanderings, brought the souvenirs, told the stories. I tumbled the tales of my journeying like shiny pebbles into her lap and we gazed at them together, marveling at the smoothness of one, the shininess of another. Then I would be gone again, gathering more sights and sounds and experiences to bring home again. For that was always home, the link to my childhood. Even in the thirteen years of my marriage when I said “home” in the deepest way, I always meant New England. The gypsies had stolen my heart, but not before New England had claimed me as her own.


Anonymous Basia said...

"Then I would be gone again, gathering more sights and sounds and experiences to bring home again."

What lovely words. I think that's what I spend my life doing too.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Jayne said...

And???? So????? Any word on the house?????

This is so lovely Mata. You've just come full circle. What a rich, rich life you've led.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Kerstin said...

So much of what you say here resonates with me; only you express it much more eloquently and poeticly than I ever could. For all the places I have lived there are only two that feel like my 'heart homes': Bath in the UK and Vancouver in BC. Interestingly enough not Germany where I grew up; I love going back there for visits but am always glad to leave again for my 'real' home.

I now live in New England and I wish I could even feel a fraction of how you feel about it. But this area has been such a struggle for me that I just want to leave again. We are considering a move to Ohio, I wonder how that will feel? Right now anything that is not New England appeals to me. This makes me sad because this is a beautiful state.

The Germans have a somewhat romantic view of the gypsies and I often dreamed of traveling with them, wearing colorful clothes, dressed in beads and long wild hair, taking my home with me wherever I went. But the reality of the gypsy history is anything but romantic, is it?

However much I still love traveling I am realizing that to enjoy the journeys I need a home to come back to. Where I can rest and get grounded again, where I can just be. For now this is my lovely house but not this area. One day I hope to be "home" again.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Basia -- thanks so much -- it is a lovely way to spend a life as it is so appreciative of the world.

Jayne - still waiting for news. Sigh.
Breathing deeply, Inhaling calm energy, etc.

Kerstin - I visited your blog. I would think that Northampton might have been a more hospitable place than Ludlow. "Heart home" is a great term -- Bath is a beautiful town, though I have only visited, and Vancouver is still on my "to see" list, though I have only heard wonderful things about it. I'm so very sorry it has been a struggle to be in New England. Cincinnati is quite interesting and my favorite city in Ohio, although as far as towns go, Marietta is lovely. I hope you do find home -- as I know as well what it is to have lost track of it for a while. By best wishes to you.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a new and updated version of the English language, a fit of sounding extra posh, or simply a mistake, when you, oh Mata, write

"mother took a friend and I..." ???

As I understand it - English is a second language to me - "I" is nominative, subject case, "me" is appropriate for genitive and accusative cases, i.e. object cases. So it would also be "mother and I went to X", and, on the other hand, "they saw Mother and me".

Please, help me improve my language skills.

turnover, who frequents b-net's AG board

11:39 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...


How lovely to see you - and you can imagine how delighted I was to be the beneficiary of your critique. I welcome the opportunity to bow to your obvious superiority and will change the post forthwith. You are, as always, correct. Have a lovely day :-)

8:52 PM  
Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...

beautifully written as always - i remember wandering through the hills of Vermont many years ago - twas a beautiful time for my soul. i reckon you and john muir would have been good mates....

1:01 AM  
Anonymous laurie said...

This was gorgeous, Mata.

I am rather a blog dilettante these days, which is a nicer way of saying I'm flighty, so I haven't been reading everyone at their home page even though I read the BlogHer entries. Your jazz post inspired me. I want to read more. You have a lovely way with words - my other love besides music and pictures. : )

10:40 PM  

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