So often I read calls for submissions that say something about looking for work that has a sense of place. Sometimes, when I see this I stop and wonder about place. For most of my adult life I have felt rootless. I have lived in places, but the constant seems to be the need or want to live someplace else. It kind of is an affliction in my family. I can’t blame anyone for it. We are still trying to find our place here after three generations or two or a mix there of. My family is from Sicily. I have family there, but I haven’t seen most of them in almost 20 years. I grew up in various places in metro Detroit, mostly Canton, but when I go back I don’t really know anyone there anymore. My immediate family is scattered, across continents and across oceans. It seems like we are always searching for something, a kind of home, a kind of place.
This weekend I went on a pilgrimage of sorts. It wasn’t a long pilgrimage. We just made a short trip south to St. Marys, Ohio, where my husband, Jay, was born and lived for a part of his childhood. In our nine years of marriage we have never made the trip. We passed St. Marys multiple times and every time Jay would say, “There’s St. Marys.” Not only is St. Marys where Jay was born, but his parents grew up there. He has roots there. He has family there.
We traveled to St. Marys for a wedding, Jay’s cousin Sherri’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. What made it beautiful more than the flowers or the church or the food was the intense family rooted in place vibe, a vibe I really haven’t felt a part of in a long time–if ever. I met Sherri’s longtime friend, briefly, and I listened as she laughed with another cousin about stories of when they were young. People were there because they love Sherri and her family and still know them and still live near them. In essence it was a small community in all the small community kind of ways I’m sure, but I realized that more than them being rooted in place, place is rooted in them. Perhaps this is sentimentalizing everything a bit, but I envy these scenarios sometimes. I envy the real sense of belonging people have when they are rooted somewhere. I envy Jay’s parents that they can go back home to St. Marys and see people they know and care about, people who still live in their hometown or have a strong connection to it. I envy Jay in that his cousins really are not that far away. They are my family now. I do know that, but I am not from a place like St. Marys. Still, I have searched for that sense of place often. I spent years at a small community newspaper trying to make place and roots kind of happen, but none of that can be made intentionally. It just happens over generations, over time. Perhaps, that’s why I am always stopped by that term “a sense of place.” I am an observer of it more than a participant. Hopefully, my children will have more of it than I have.
This morning, we woke and had breakfast lakeside at Grand Lake, the lake where Jay’s mom grew up. After, we drove around the lake and saw the house that Jay’s mom grew up in and then the house Jay lived in as a little boy and the house that Jay’s dad lived in as a boy. I heard how Jay would steal away from home to go to the pool when his mom wasn’t looking. I heard all kinds of stories and appreciated being immersed, for even a brief time, in this sense of place.
Regardless of all of it I feel that place isn’t just about place. It is about the people that are rooted in that place and deeply connected with it. It is Grand Lake and two towns where everyone knows each other. It is the rocky shore and the old little cottages that haven’t been dozed for bigger lake homes. It is the history of the lake itself. It It is the winding neighborhood streets that lead to town. It is the fact that Jay’s parents can return to that place year after year and find friends and family welcoming them back. Now that I know that, I will work with that. I will understand that a little better when I see those calls and when I set my characters in place and set place in them.
Unfortunately, I was so captivated by place in this sense, I didn’t take the time to photograph the lake or anything. Oh well.