It’s a bit of a blustery day here, one that makes being inside with a nice cup of hot, sweet tea and healthy slice of Pumpkin Spice Cake just the thing. I have been decadently reading in my Red Chair with puppies sprawled about me. The book of choice today is about the west. It’s called Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs. It is a collection of writings about the author, Wallace Stegner, his growing up in the west and mostly about how it became his place of tap root.
Reading his prose about the west, his west is my Mother’s west too, made me examine my own tap root. I do love the west also, it’s wide openness, it’s “dry clarity and sharpness in the air, it’s earth colors of tan, rusty red and toned white” and especially the wonder of the Pacific Ocean in all it’s majesty and swirling greatness. But, it also made me wonder where my own true deeply planted tap root really is still growing.
I am convinced that the reason God has sent me here to Ohio is to discover where that root that goes through the core of my very being is planted. I am beginning to see that there are some wide spreading roots here, roots that have small tendrils that branch out from the center of the deeper one that truly thrives and are deeply content here. Something passed down from my fraternal grandparents I think. The weather that is always in your face, sort of a constant challenge to you; “so, puny little human, try this bit on for size” as it blasts you with another dramatic offering from its storehouse of true weather. Like today with the gloriously intense sunshine bursting through the deep gray clouds that are pushed along by a bitter wind. This is a place for the truly strong, the truly tough to disregard the latest offering from the storehouse of ugly weather.
Which makes me wonder about myself. I can see the beauty, the majesty of these native plants and animals who just accept this dramatic change is temperature as the norm. The turning of the leaves is truly the most gorgeous color I have ever seen, much more fantastic that any combinations man could devise. I am just not too sure how I will manage this. The point of reference for this place is too far back in my memory, too many dramatic and life-changing events have come between my memory and the ability to do this.
Which brings me back to the tap root question. It makes me travel that circle of my life, it makes me look at the whole in a better more clear sort of light.
I was born in Toledo, my Mom said in the middle of the last blizzard of the season. But, since she was a true Californian, southern one at that, it could have been just a “small snowfall” to the Ohioans. I remember her commenting that she could never get warm in the winter no matter what she did. I must have absorbed that from her while I rested under her heart for I have that same problem no matter where I am.
I really don’t have any memories of living in Ohio as a child. I was four when we moved away from here, not quite old enough to have a point of reference to have a memory. I look at the pictures and nothing is stirred in the deepest part of me. I see a little girl, a bit on the small side, with the trappings of a 1950’s childhood surrounding her; dolls, toys, teddy bears and a frosted window behind her in one, but no memory of them.
My very first childhood memory is a house on Lake Barton Road outside of Orlando. It is small, I remember it as being a kid size sort of place. Nothing about it was too big for even me. And, I remember the soft rain, the sunshine and the coral snake in the tires stacked up in the back yard. There was an older couple who lived next door that seemed like Gramma and Grampa to me. Not so much mine, but like mine enough.
What I do remember about living in Orlando was the settledness I felt, the belonging I lived there. My friends and I all dressed and talked and worshiped and played the same way. We were all a part of each other’s lives and became a huge slice of that childhood memory. The playing baseball out in the street; the learning to skate and ride a bike on the front sidewalk; running through the sprinklers together; going to the lake at the end of the road with the whole neighborhood—all of us living like children did then moment to moment. We all felt that this was the way that everyone lived, we weren’t self-centered we were just growing in our own little lives.
There is a story about a frog who doesn’t want to be in his little pond any more, he feels he is a big frog and wants to be in a big pond. So, he leaves his little pond. He finds that life in the big pond is scary and cold and unsure and very uncomfortable. So, he returns to his little pond a wiser and much, much happier frog.
I may be related to that frog.
I was ten and a half when my life was altered forever. My Mother, my two brothers and I moved to California after my parents divorce. I was like that frog, completely in the most uncomfortable pond I had ever been in. To the kids at school I dressed funny, talked funny, played funny, worshiped funny and my home life was funny—my Mom was divorced! For the first time in my life I was on the outside looking in.
When I think of that time, the changes and the wrenching away of things familiar, I found a revelation. My yearly bouts of depression started that October. We arrived on the 3rd, two weeks later I started at a strange Lutheran school with decidedly unchristian children who excluded me and made fun of me for two years. Now they call it bullying, then it was just a fact of childhood. It was that experience from those children, my Mother’s sinking into her own personal Hell, my brothers moving into their own lives which left me utterly and completely alone that triggered the depression. It was a natural, human reaction to such traumatic happenings. I was only ten, I had no means of understanding or coping with any of those.
So, the root question has to have a lot to do with the feeling of belonging, the feeling of being a part of and accepted as me. My cousin Angie made an observation when we drove to Georgia and Florida this summer. She said when I crossed the Florida state line my whole body language changed. She said my face was lighter, more relaxed, more open. Those memories from that time in my life when I was truly a part of the place triggered that. It could be that Florida, or some place like that is where my tap root is still growing.
The west was my Mother’s place. She was withering away when she was gone from it. My Dad would have to drive her back from Ohio every so often because she just couldn’t stand to be away from it. Drive her back when there were only two lane roads, tiny little motels, hot, dry desert to cross with your own water bag and make sure you have tires too sort of a drive. Her tap root was in Escondido.
I think truly mine is in the south somewhere. Maybe Florida, maybe Georgia with its deep red earth, maybe the Carolina’s with the strong southern root of their own. Or maybe another of the deep south’s hidden places I have not quite found yet.
As much as I have loved the west, as much as I miss my family and friends there; it is not where my tap root is. If it was I would have never even entertained the idea of packing up my flock of boxes, my dogs and my memories and headed to the beginning of my life circle.