For many years I have traveled in many parts of the world. In America I live in New York, or dip into Chicago or San Francisco. But New York is no more America than Paris is France or London is England. Thus I discovered that I did not know my own country.
I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light. I knew the changes only from books and newspapers. But more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years.
Like Steinbeck in Travels with Charley, I have become a stranger to my own country. The last time I was on American soil was November 1995. I had won a free flight to Boston from one of the daily papers. At that point, I had been out of the country for a few years so thought to make the best of the trip by flying into Boston and then taking a Greyhound bus from Boston to Georgia I felt a thousand mile bus journey would help me get reacquainted with my country and its people. I had also planned to stop along the way to see some of my family. I have relations all along the east coast of America. Sad note: I didn’t know this at the time, but this would also be the last time I would see my mother alive.
When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job.
I searched my old blog and found these entries from my last visit to the States. It’s funny reading through them after all this time:
Travels to America
Boston to New York
Newark to Baltimore
Once I traveled about in an old bakery wagon, doubled-doored rattler with a mattress on its floor. I stopped where people stopped or gathered. I listened and looked and felt, and in the process had a picture of my country the accuracy of which was impaired only by my own shortcomings.
I feel like I need to go home again. Where that is I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe I need to do my own version of Travels with Charley and go in search of America.
I wonder what I might find.
So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land. Otherwise, in writing, I could not tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.
Time to make a plan, I think. Anyway, if you haven’t read Travels with Charley, it’s a fine read. In fact, it’s my favourite piece of John Steinbeck writing and it always makes me homesick for the open road and my homeland.0
I vote road trip to visit all of your US based pen-pals….
Depending on time, you can also fit in all of the national parks – http://www.randalolson.com/2016/07/30/the-optimal-u-s-national-parks-centennial-road-trip/
Sounds like the beginnings of a plan 🙂
You have struck a chord with my today, friend. I’m also missing that other home. Has only been a year and a half, but feels too long since I’ve seen my dad, brother, or best lifelong friend. (Luckily mom comes over to visit). And sometimes too I miss being in a place where people don’t constantly ask where I’m from assuming that I am a tourist in the town I’ve lived in for over a decade… Love my life here in the UK but missing my other home.
I feel out of touch with home. It has been 11 years since I saw my father, brother, and sister in real life. I feel the traveler in me stirring. And ha, maybe when we become famous writers Leamington Spa will become the new ex-pat American writers’ spot and the Havana Cafe will be its hub. 🙂
I particularly liked this blog, Clay. I think it reveals in all of us what we truly consider home and I get the impression (from both yours and Sarah’s comments) that it is likely to anchored where ever our formative years were spent. Very often the people, the sights, the smells remain familiar even through the changes that time brings. Perhaps these our very own “home in my head”?
My own “home” is anchored in Leeds and the Yorkshire Dales. In reality I left when I was 19 and I’m now 46. I do find it curious how I feel like this.
I think our formative years sets the context around which our worldview is formed and who we we become as we grow older is anchored in the place we call home regardless of how much time and space may be between us our formative home.