A “Sense of Place”

As I mentioned earlier, the pivotal “moment of truth” for me when I realized that I truly was back into the thick of the day-to-day with my family (particularly my mother) occurred while shopping for her at the base commissary some 15 years ago. When after having grown up and then having moved away for almost 30 years, free from a childhood spent wandering in and around Boston punctuated by over 70 moves by the age of 18, I found myself back home in New England after a long military career, and inexplicably thrust back into the center of family strife.

Most of my siblings were still dealing with decades of anger, pain, and resentment towards our parents, who were no longer dangerous (my father had long passed), and clinging to a past best left behind, while holding on to a psychological demand for parental contrition and penance that could never be satisfied. Of course there were many reasons for the holding onto of the hard feelings, and all of those 70 plus childhood moves were certainly among those atop the list.

In his book “The Town and The City,” Jack Kerouac wrote about the fictional Martin family, and the effects on their children from being constantly shifted from place to place around a city closely resembling his home town of Lowell, MA. There is one passage from the book where he describes how the Martin kids felt inside from being moved around so much, and it captures perfectly for me what it was like for my siblings and I as we ourselves tried to keep up with the dizzying changes of address.

He wrote how the constant moves were: …”a catastrophe of their hearts. What dreams children have of walls and doors and ceilings that they always knew, what terror they have on waking up at night in strange new rooms, disarrayed and unarranged, all frightful and unknown.”

While a graduate student at UMASS Lowell in the Community and Social Psychology Program, I first learned about and became fascinated with the concept and importance of each of us needing to form and possess a “sense of place.” This referred to the emotional bonds and attachments people develop or experience that they associate with having grown up in basically one town or neighborhood, attending the same schools each year with the same friends and neighbors, and the comfort, stability, and security that results from knowing where you came from, and the steady stream of cherished memories that kind of growing up provides.

That idea struck a perfect chord, and gave me at least a piece of what I needed as I tried to puzzle together an understanding of just what those things were that were niggling at me (and maybe all of us), over so many years, that still had such a lingering and unsettling grip on our family. And although there are indeed many things that contributed to that, it was that blur of moves we had made as kids that had been particularly negative and impactful, preventing us from truly developing that “sense of place,” and leaving each of us, although now adults, feeling more than just a little lost and disjointed.

That realization and others, combined with my being back home again with my Mighty Mike costume once more out of mothballs and retrofitted, helped form an anchor against which to tether a story about a rootless family from Boston, and that story into a book—The Last Ride In To Readville.

More to follow soon…..

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