Look to the Land

"If you would find yourself, look to the land from which you came and to which you go." - Stewart Udall

One of the many reasons I love international travel so much is that I am so curious about my own heritage.  I am hungry for knowledge of the places that shaped the people from whom I'm descended - German, French, English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Danish, and that rumored-but-unconfirmed "drop of Spanish royalty."  I grew up jealous of people born in Europe; I coveted their deep-seeded ties to the land, to place names, to the traditions that enchanted me as a child growing up in the New World.  Their histories seemed so much longer than mine.  The first time I flew to London and saw the green fields of England opening up beneath me, I felt more truly at home than I'd ever felt in Maryland, the setting of my formative years.  How could that be?  I still can't explain it.  All I know is that it persists, this aching beat deep in my soul, the urge to go and to see and to know.

And yet I always find myself back in the Washington, DC area.  Not quite as poetic or fairy-tale-ish as my surroundings of a year ago, but it has been quietly reminding me that it runs through my story, too, as I am likewise entwined with its history in small ways.

Last summer -- fresh off my most recent European adventures -- I spent a Saturday strolling around North East and Elkton, Maryland.  They were my childhood stomping grounds, the setting of all the great quests and battles and romances and mysteries of my youth.  I hadn't been back to properly explore them as an adult.  A walk down North East's Main Street was surreal; my sole vivid childhood memory of that street consists of getting painful brain freeze from a smoothie at the cafe.  The cashier chuckled at me.  Now I was there as a tourist, a shopper, a diner old enough to order and pay for herself.  I overheard a shopkeeper proudly proclaim to another customer that "Oh, North East is famous for a lot of things; we've had 'Hoarders' here..."

North East, MD has a few claims to fame...
Black raspberry, in a cone, with chocolate jimmies
My travel buddies and I stopped at the Wayside Snack Shack for some ice cream.  This was a precious place to me as a child; we drove by it frequently but hardly ever got to stop and partake of the creamy, sugary wonders hidden inside that beige hut with the inflatable ice-cream-cone on the roof.  Now I strode up to the counter (finally tall enough to see over it) and confidently ordered black raspberry, in a cone, with chocolate jimmies.  Just a sublime as I remembered.

Little House on the Cul-de-Sac
Masterfully navigating the winding, woody backroads of Cecil County without losing a SINGLE DROP of that precious ice cream, I made my way to the most important stop of the day.  My favorite childhood home, lovingly remembered as "The Elkton House."  There are plenty of houses in Elkton, but ours was THE.  It sits on a couple acres of what was once farmland.  When the land had been parceled out all the good topsoil had been removed, much to my dad's chagrin; so intent was he on having a healthy green American front lawn that he paid us to dig up any rocks hindering the grass's growth.  10 cents a bucket, 25 cents for a wagon, as I recall.  It was a boring and dirty job, but I made up stories as I worked.  As a child I read so many books about pioneer families, young girls growing up in big snowy woods or amid endless rolling hills.  I liked to look beyond our yard to the old white farmhouse on the distant ridge -- no more than a mile away, but a daunting trek to my young eyes -- and imagine that I was one of those girls.  I loved winter nights in the Elkton house.  Everything around us seemed so expansive, the sky nowhere so sapphire as it was here, the stars nowhere so bright and ancient.

Is the house smaller now, or am I bigger?  Whose fault is it that passing years warp the familiar?  Of course, it belongs to someone else now and is tailored to someone else's life.  Nonetheless, I still felt a swell of pride and ownership upon seeing it again; it's rather remarkable to realize that a home exists on that particular corner of the earth because my parents decided it should.  They chose the plot, they designed the house, they dreamed this life for their young family.  Something exists there that didn't before, because of my parents.  In their way, they shaped the history and the possibilities of Elkton, Maryland.

We had to leave that house long before we would've liked to.  Sometimes it seems like it was all a dream.  But it was worth it.  I think that is the lesson I've gleaned from the Elkton Years, as I've thought about them since; no matter how long or short a time you spend in a place, it is worth the investment to make a home there.  It will change you, it will form a habit in you.  The habit of making a home is a legacy I'm grateful to receive from my parents, and one I don't have to travel very far to find.


It was delightful to read this and enjoy a little visit back to our former neighbourhood with you. Thank you!
Caroline Marvin said…
Oh Ginny,
I loved reading this so much!
We are definitely from the same genetic pool...feeling England as a homeland, honoring the sacred process of "making home."
Thanks for writing it...you have such a special consciousness and your writing is so lovely.

Caroline, your family member from Boston. (I could say "Aunt" but it feels too old...)

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