When my long-dead father told me in a dream the other night that a housing development had been built in the little Northern California valley where I grew up and that the home place has not 24 but 63 acres, I wondered how many dwelling units would fit on that much land. A lot, I thought with excitement. What? For years I’ve held that place sacred, unequaled by any home before or since. Unfortunately, since my parents committed the unpardonable sin of selling it in the 90s, it’s been a Home I can return to only in memories and dreams. Regardless it’s always been Home.
In most of my dreams about Home I stand outside the gate, consumed with sadness and unable to go in. But six months ago a new dream led me beyond the gate and into my Dad’s old shop. Built of cinder-block, it was always 20 degrees cooler inside than outside. It smelled of mold, dust, and sweaty saddle blankets. Full of boxes of dishes, clothes, tools, horse tack, fly spray, and sheep dip, I loved to pick through things he no longer used but wouldn’t discard (and never bothered to organize). There were stacks of old books: Readers Digest Condensed Books going back to the 50s and his old Animal Science text books. I’d sit and read for hours. I never knew what I’d find out there. It was delightful chaos.
Discordantly, in the shop dream the Professor and I have a few shelves behind the door where everything is organized and neatly catalogued. But in this latest dream, I’m am no longer just past the gate and putting the shop in order. I am seriously pondering subdividing this place where my affections have too-long lingered. What’s up with that?
A developer can build a lot of homes on 63 acres. Today, here in Boise, they build day and night. This causes no small amount of consternation in the Treasure Valley, recently ranked the 16th most congested city in America by some national newspaper. Locally, there’s too much traffic on Eagle Road and State Street, we whine.
We blame Californians who are said to be ruining the place (I never say it because I’m a Californian). It’s mostly native or nearly-native Idahoans who presuppose that if the new people come instead from Pocatello or Lewiston it’s ok because they are “us”. Except it really wouldn’t be ok if these were coming in any great volume. More people equal more people and more houses and more cars.
No, what we mourn is the loss of home – the Treasure Valley as we knew it, the Boise, Meridian, and Eagle that existed in the past. What we mourn is a place where we knew our neighbors and our place in the world, if not the community. Sadly, it’s a place that no longer exists except in our hearts, which are filled with memories of how things used to be forty, twenty, or two years ago. More than origin, what we mourn is loss and change. And Idahoans are having a hard time letting go. As have I.
I know a lot about loss. I’ve played the queen of Our Lost Western Heritage, the self-appointed poster child for Displaced Rural American Refugees for years. I’ve bitched and complained about those who came after us, who don’t understand our ways. I’ve shrouded myself in sacred memories and nostalgia for the way we were. I’ve tried to make the case for protecting our home from the other, and loudly mourned what others have called necessary evil – urbanization.
I’ve resented paving over pastures, ripping out orchards to put up two story apartments and single family dwellings. I’ve acted like a native Idahoan but with the whole Western United States to protect. And even though I knew the population is growing and people need housing, I’ve wanted to plug the dyke, tried to figure out ways to mitigate the negative impacts to rural communities. I’ve fought change. Futilely.
So perhaps you can understand why subdividing the Home place for me is such a strange tangent to take, even in a dream. Perhaps I’m finally acknowledging that change is inevitable and that it can even be good if I am courageous. Here I am embracing something that would have been unthinkable even in a dream. Giving up sacred things for the future. Considering paving over the Home place and all its significance and memories.
What would Freud make of these dreams? Perhaps he would say I am evolving. Ready to leave behind once and for all this dependence on the former Home of my heart: the place that raised me. That I have finally learned about how Home can’t be lost when I carry it with me. That I’m ready to relinquish things and perhaps even willing to give up sacred things to meet the needs of others. If so, Freud would be right.
My former Home was a place against which all other homes were measured and fell short. Home was geographical: it was where I made my horse jump green hay bales before they were gathered into the barn. Where I galloped Shank’s Pony down dusty sheep trails with my faithful dog, pretending we were the Lone Ranger and Rin Tin Tin. Where I licked my wounds when a guy I asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance turned me down. Where I wept inconsolably when it was sold, willing myself to remember the hot sunshine on my back, every smell, every leaf on the oaks. Home was where I could easily find the Big Dipper in the night sky – just above the eastern corner of the barn.
But I’m no longer there. It’s no longer Home. And perhaps it’s right to let others make their Home there, subdivision or no. For me, Home is no place but inside me.
So free of my old dreams and affections, I’m fashioning a new dream with eyes wide open. One where the Professor and I wander where curiosity leads and I tell stories about what I learn there. One where we’re tethered just enough to our family here to have a place to return to if they need us or if we need a geographical place to rest.
I’ve begun to do the work necessary to disentangle myself and go. It will take some time – years maybe – but the first step is ridding myself of things that have possessed me: Dad’s red leather chair, my Grandmother’s secretary, photos, an oak rocking chair. Still to go are old china, rugs, books, and more. Maybe eventually we’ll sell the house and dare I say it, the horses too. I can’t let go of this place without first releasing everything I’ve held sacred. Except the dogs. Not releasing them.
Though this is all very new, the Professor is evolving too. Yesterday he mentioned selling a car, giving the kids some of the things out in his shop. Truth is, we both have a way to go, but we’ve both acknowledged our dependence on place and our need to come Home. We realize that wherever we are Home comes along with us. And that, my friends, is something sacred that I – we – are never giving away.