Searching For a Sense of Home

Do Americans buy a sense of home from the store? How can we create meaningful, authentic connections to the places we live?

| July/August 2012

  • Tree-In-Moonlight
    Like most Americans, I yo-yo back and forth between the restless desire for the imagined better place that must be somewhere other than here and the yearning for a burrowed-in sense of belonging.
    SAINT EAGLE / HTTP://WAINTEAGLE.DEVIANTART.COM

  • Tree-In-Moonlight

Recently, driving home from a soccer game in the pouring rain, I looked into the rearview mirror and asked my two young and very wet daughters, “If someone from another country asked you where you were from, what would you say?”

Without a heartbeat’s hesitation, they responded in unison, “Portland, Oregon.” I drew a sharp breath. For them, it’s not even a question to ponder. When I am asked, I always say, “I live in Portland, but I’m from Springfield, Oregon—from East Lane County.” When my husband is asked, he always answers, “Harris County, Texas,” though he was born in Tulsa, has lived in a dozen states, and has bounced around the same two zip codes in Southeast Portland for more than fifteen years.

“What about Springfield?” I asked.

“That’s where you’re from. We’re from here.”



For me, it is profoundly unsettling to have my daughters—who I am closer to than any other human beings—be from a place that I don’t fully claim as my own. And yes, that 109-mile distance between unincorporated Lane County and inner Southeast Portland makes a difference—topographically, economically, culturally. So, they are from Portland, I am from East Lane County, and David is from Texas. What does it mean when each member of a family living under one roof answers that question—“Where are you from?”—so differently?

This is the story of America, and, in particular, it is the story of the West. Here we are—a mishmash of descendants of the first residents and transplants pulled west by the first Homestead Act and the Dust Bowl, then another desperate Homestead Act, and most recently, restaurant raves and a stratospheric bike-friendly reputation. Now what? On darker days, I wonder if the very basis of the Republic—Thomas Jefferson’s notion that self-governance depends on small communities intimately connected by place—has been worn out by contemporary life, by tremendous cultural forces spinning us away from, rather than toward, a mature and orienting sense of place.

JOHNT
12/19/2017 10:34:34 PM

We moved a lot when I was a child because my father was transferred a few times. From California, to Oregon, to Utah, to Florida and finally to Atlanta, GA, where I attended high school and college. Since then, I have also lived in South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and full circle now -- back to California. Moving was always exciting to us and each new place enriched us culturally. - While many identify as coming from a certain city or state, I just consider my home the U.S. - The different states are like counties to me. If there weren't such lunacy, hate and war in the world, I'd probably feel that way about the whole planet.


JOHNT
12/19/2017 10:24:53 PM

We moved a lot when I was a child because my father was transferred a few times. From California, to Oregon, to Utah, to Florida and finally to Atlanta, GA, where I attended high school and college. Since then, I have also lived in South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and full circle now -- back to California. Moving was always exciting to us and each new place enriched us culturally. - While many identify as coming from a certain city or state, I just consider my home the U.S. - The different states are like counties to me. If there weren't such lunacy, hate and war in the world, I'd probably feel that way about the whole planet.


Quentin
12/19/2017 10:20:48 PM

I have great sympathies for the topic and the emotional tensions at hand. Born in the shade of corn in rural nowhere Wisconsin, off to top-college-town Madison, far afield to SoCal Mojave Desert, NorCal Central Valley, plains city Sioux Falls SD, NY Adirondacks, Sonoran Tucson AZ, and now Coastal Maine....Where am I from? What do I call home? Who and where do i call home? We carry nostalgic home, people home, and chosen geographic home, but we are always reliving our childhood...that is where we are truly from.