Home for the Holidays
I have made an honest attempt to find the exact quote from Kurt Vonnegut about the importance of home. As I remember it, Vonnegut noted that no matter where a person moves in life, his real “home” is the place where he was brought up. That’s the emotional center of his universe.
Both my father and I have been wanderers in our lives. Following his mother’s death when he was 18, my father left his home near El Dorado (pronounced “El doh RAY doh), a small Arkansas town (and certainly not Coronado’s famed city of gold), and found his way as a 20-year-old recruit in the Army Air Force to Savannah, Georgia, where he met my mother and “settled down.” He found and created a new family in
I am not sure whether Savannah
became the true center of his universe, however. We never discussed it. I can
remember only one trip that we made to El
Dorado when I was eight or nine years old, and I don’t
remember anything about the town itself. My only memory involves our driving
through a small cemetery where my father pointed out his parents’ graves. When
we left the cemetery, we didn’t stop to see the town at all. Instead we drove straight to other relatives’
homes in either Mississippi or Louisiana. My father was
not much for telling stories of his youth, and he didn’t tell any that day
either. (I once considered writing a biography of my parents until I realized
that the part about my father would probably, of necessity, be more fiction
than fact. I have heard some stories, of course, but they were related by
relatives who I would consider to be very impeachable sources.)
At age 18, I too wandered far from my hometown—Savannah, Georgia—leaving for New Haven, Connecticut, to attend college, then settling in various towns in New Jersey. I have returned to
Savannah for short visits once or twice a year since then. Yet, if someone asks me where I am from, I will say Savannah,
where I spent those early years, much more readily than Glen Rock, New Jersey, where I have
lived since my late 20’s.
So the trip that I made with my wife and children to
Savannah last week really
felt like a return home. My cousins Debbie and Joel Rotkow added to the homecoming
feeling by hosting a cousins’ party for some 50 extended family members. They
have done that each year in late December for many years now, and each
gathering is warm and funny and solidifies the sense of Savannah as my emotional center. It’s where
we can tell stories aloud about the crazy cousins who are no longer with us (or
simply unable to attend the party) and gossip about those who may be in the
same room but out of earshot. We are not just catching up on family news; we are feeling at home.
|The cousins from my generation, minus a few who couldn't |
make the trip. But, we talked about them anyway.
(photo by Lynn Levine)
During the rest of our visit, we go through Savannah rituals—eating at favorite restaurants, driving out to the beach where I continue to hope that the store that carries boiled peanuts will be open (but it is more often closed for the holidays, and I have to settle for inferior peanuts in a can or a sealed package), and threatening to take my children past my childhood locales. For some reason, they have almost no interest in seeing my high school or junior high ever again. So I drive by and reminisce when they are not in the car.
I also make my own ritual trip each year to visit my father’s grave, in my own way mimicking that trip to
El Dorado so long ago. Each year, I find more
gravestones nearby with the names of parents of childhood friends etched on
them, and I have to find more rocks to place upon the gravestones to indicate
the connection I feel between them and me.
Most of us these days are wanderers. A few of us are lucky enough to find our way home at least once in a while.