Wednesday, June 5, 2013

NaBloPoMo: Azua, and the Loss of Place

I've only once gone back to the place where my father came from.  I was very young, certainly less than ten years old, and I remember standing on a windy hilltop, maybe visiting a cemetery, looking down at something that wasn't a town at all, but fields and water.  I remember wondering when we were going to go to my father's old house.  We never did.

Because in some respects, he could never go back at all.  His home town, Azua, in the Basque region of Álava, Spain, was flooded purposefully to become a reservoir.  Sort of like a real-life Atlantis.

It's a lovely reservoir.  But I can only imagine the sense of loss, the inability to go back, even if you never plan to return physically to the place where you grew up; just knowing that you have a place you came from can be comforting, and having that taken away must feel strangely like the ground has been pulled from under you.  It makes me think about children who are not in open adoptions, and wonder how it feels to know that either you can't go back, or that going back is a difficult journey littered with legal and emotional obstacles.

My father's and my mothers' experiences were so different.  My mother doesn't even remember her old house in Queens, because she's lived in her childhood home for almost her entire life.  My father was displaced, over and over, until finally coming to the U.S. as an adult.

I wonder, in some ways, if he ever really called this place home.

I think I can better identify with my father's experience of place.  Though I can still return to my childhood home any time I want to, when I was in elementary school, I traveled with my mother to attend school where she taught, and it meant that I never really lived fully in either place.  Besides the fact that I was just plain different (bookish, less stylish, less street-smart), I didn't fit in because I wasn't there after school.  I wasn't there on the weekends.  I never connected in the unstructured ways that I think now are so important for children.  And though I had people to play with on my block at home, I never really fit in there either, because I didn't go to school with them, or attend after-school activities with them.I was always in-between, always in-transit.  I remember looking out the window on that long ride home, often with a headache, possibly because I needed a snack, but possibly because I just needed to stop moving.  I remember in college calling my dorm room "home," and feeling like that was more genuinely "home" to me than my house had ever been when I was growing up.

And yet, I remember, driving around later on in my adult life on a weekend before I dated S., realizing that I felt more comfortable in the car, on the move, than I did at home.  And that maybe that loss wasn't so much of a loss for me after all.

Can you return to your childhood home?  What does that mean for you?  Do you think it matters to have a physical "space" of origin, especially given how much we move as a culture today?
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  1. Beautiful post. I do think about "home" from time-to-time. I've been living in my current place for 9 years now, which is the longest I have ever lived in any one place. While I am comfortable here, it doesn't feel like "home". But then M came along, and I started realizing that my house as an adult is really HER home, and not necessarily mine. It is where she will hopefully grow up, feeling safe and protected as she explores the world in wider and wider ranges. I pretty much had that, although we did move once, the summer between my 6th and 7th grades. It was a good age, I think, to move as you are transitioning at that age between child and adolescent, so the geographic move mimicked my internal "move".

    Do you think your dad is/was sad about all the moving as a child? Do YOU feel like you missed out on something, having multiple worlds as a child?

  2. My childhood home is in Hong Kong--so a little far away and hard to visit. I definitely intend to go back there with my children, but that trip is still a long way off. I have heard it has changed so much in the 20 years since I've been gone. I've heard I might not even recognize it anymore.

    I have other child homes. The house my parents currently live in, where I lived for the end of middle school and all high school, in the house that I returned to during college and after college, is definitely a place I go home. My parents will likely be selling it, in the next couple of months, because they just can't afford to live there anymore. I think a lot about what it will be like in that house is not theirs and I can't visit it again.

    I really appreciated reading what it was like for you to commute to your mother's school. San Francisco schools are so hard to navigate, there is a lottery system and it is hard to get a school near your home. If my daughter doesn't get into a school that is near us or that we like, my plan B will be to commute her down to my school district about 30 minutes to the south. My one concern was that she wouldn't have any friends that live near us. Seeing how hard hearing how hard that was for you I wonder if that is even a good Plan B. I don't want her childhood to be dictated by commuting like my adulthood has been. I don't want her to know the landscape of that freeway I've driven for 10 years as well as I know.

    I suppose I don't feel like I can really "go home again," not to my childhood home but I have other places that feel like home. And I've always felt like I belonged where I live.

  3. My parents still live in my childhood home, so I can go there whenever we make the trek back over the Atlantic. About once a year, in reality.

    The house has changed from a wonderland to a bit of a millstone, as I look around it and consider that some day all this will be mine to sort out and dispose of, and that's going to be a huge task.

    OTOH, having your whole neighborhood just swallowed up like that must be terribly disorientating. I am still very sentimentally attached to my town (as you may have seen on FB yesterday).

  4. Because of my dad's job, we moved around a lot when I was growing up. At their 25th wedding anniversary, we figured that we had lived in 11 different houses in 7 different towns. (They have settled down & have lived in the same house for 29 years now!) One of those houses has been torn down, but I think the others are all still standing.

    The one constant in my life was my maternal grandparents' home, which was actually the house my grandmother grew up in. In their later years, they moved into an apartment, but we still used to go over to the old house & sit on the porch and sometimes even camp out there in the summertime. The house was torn down several years ago, after years of non-habitation & unpaid taxes. I still can't believe it's gone. I still dream about it frequently.

    Dh, on the other hand, lived in the same house from the time he was a toddler until we got married. His dad gave his brother the house & he sold it shortly after he got married. I tend to be a bit of packrat -- I think I clung/cling to my possessions because they were the one constant in my childhood as my surroundings kept changing. Dh could care less about most possessions. He doesn't even have his high school yearbooks. I am sure there is a PhD thesis in there somewhere...!


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