A Home for Father’s Ashes

How far would you go to find peace for your loved ones—and yourself? Author Allan G. Johnson’s story raises profound questions about belonging, identity and place.

| September 2015

  • Johnson embarks on an extraordinary 2,000-mile journey across the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains to find the place where his father’s ashes belong.
    Photo by Fotolia/andreykr
  • Johnson explores both America and the question of belonging to a place whose history holds the continuing legacy of the displacement, dispossession and genocide of Native people.
    Cover courtesy Temple University Press

More than a memoir, Allan G. Johnson’s Not From Here (Temple University Press, 2015) illuminates the national silence around unresolved questions of accountability, race and identity politics, and the dilemma of how to take responsibility for “a past we did not create.” In this excerpt, Johnson is just beginning his cross-country journey to find the perfect final resting place for his father’s ashes.

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Looking out the window of my room, it is hard to imagine that all this concrete, steel, asphalt, and glass lie upon the seamless and continuous portion of the earth that I passed over yesterday. The view is jarring, of something broken into pieces that no longer fit together.

I go down to the lobby, where breakfast is laid out—waffles and bagels and pitchers of dry cereal and the ubiquitous bowl of red delicious apples, which are true to their name only in color but hold up so well they have become the unanimous choice of hotels around the country. I pour raisin bran into a Styrofoam bowl and find a seat at one of the small tables.

A large-screen TV is playing a sitcom that includes one of the few black faces I have seen since leaving home. Behind me, a row of video arcade games flanks the doorway into the pool area. Baskets of artificial philodendrons hang from a fake ceiling beam. A long corridor of guest rooms recedes like one of those dreams where no matter how fast you run, where you’re trying to go keeps getting farther and farther away.

The black man on the TV is having a nightmare that he is about to be executed in an electric chair.

10/5/2015 8:01:57 AM

Well and thoughtfully written article. I appreciated - and have experienced in my travels - the stark contrast between the sterile uniformity of modern hotel hallways and breakfast bars, and the myriad vast stretches of assorted and fascinating country and small town landscapes this country still has on offer (at least for now.) It was also refreshing to hear an insightful discussion, especially coming from a non-native speakers, on the colonization of this country and the spiritual implications of it. While obviously a complex issue, I found the pastor's answer to his query about what Jesus would have thought of it refreshingly forthright and sound. Mr. Johnson's "Not from Here" is going on my Amazon wishlist this morning, and I will greatly look forward to reading it.

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