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I’ve been thinking a lot about place and how it can be so important to some people and others can just live where they are and get on with things. I am not one of the latter and it probably seems ridiculous to anyone who knows me that I ever thought I was. I’ve got to keep moving.
I do have big ideas about having a small plot of land on which to grow food without chemicals and whatever other crap we dice with when we shop at supermarkets. And I’d also love to have a house just so that I could have somewhere suitable to cook and to work. I love reading things by 21 year olds who say they are free by living a location independent lifestyle without owning anything and travelling indefinitely, because I thought that too, when I was 21. But, I can tell you that after a few decades of travel you kind of want more than a kitchen space the size of a small chopping board to encourage you to prep real food rather than subsist on takeaways. And anyway, I like food. I write about it.
But, back to place. If I had this house and land, where would it be? For years I thought it would be New Zealand. And, I do like New Zealand, don’t get me wrong. But it is very hard to live here. The houses are full of damp and work is hard to come by. Unhealthy and stressful. Because I spent my childhood moving round the United States, sometimes I think, well maybe I could just go there. I do have family there. Houses are cheap now if you can get work to pay the mortgage and the general cost of living is low. But it’s not that easy, mentally. To go back, I mean. And what about Japan? I love it there, but life can also be difficult not to mention the fact that borne of my own experience is a fear of earthquakes (And, yes, I recognise how ridiculously fortunate I am to get to choose based on this fear). My beloved Thailand? Malaysia? India? Somewhere in Europe? No, I doubt that.
So, to someone like me who has never felt rooted to the ground, it seems like I could just keep looking for that mythical land where things are perfect, well… better. But, do I just keep looking forever? And, even so, the idea of committing to one place for.ev.er. is just scary as hell. I don’t think it’s going to matter where it is. I guess if I could find a good place that also provided enough income for me to keep travelling, maybe…just maybe, I could be content with being tethered to a mortgage.
Where am I going with all this? Dunno. I’m just feeling fed up with the rain leaking into my house and clearing mould off the walls and not being able to utilise the wasted space in my house because it is rented. It’s just a great big, get it off my chest, gripe, I guess. I want to do something.
I think the other kids had already lost interest by the time I found myself staring at a lifeless frog with an ice cube on its belly. That image is still very clear to me. The girl with the fuzzy brown hair and the waffle-soled shoes had put it there, an older kid, one of “the babysitters”. Older kids were usually scary or boring, which is probably why I was the only one left to see this miracle. I was always the one who wanted to know things, especially weird ones, and since this girl had learnt about frogs being cold blooded at school, and deduced that that meant ice would give a dead frog life, I was not going to miss it. Sadly, here is where the memory ends. I just can’t remember if the frog came back to life or not. I must have either been pulled away by some other fascinating endeavour such as playing Star Wars on bicycles, or just walked away thinking it might not work and I didn’t want to know. I remember really, really wanting it to work. Does it work? Wait, don’t tell me.
In the morning, before anything else such as opening my eyes properly, I have a cup of tea. If I were a frog, this would be my ice. I can’t do anything without it. My body is so used to it that if I don’t have tea for some reason, I just stumble round until I realise what is wrong and then put the kettle on to rectify the situation. I don’t need coffee. Coffee is good, but it would put me from 0-100 in 10 seconds, and then I’d crash. Coffee is for later and for special occasions like sitting in cafes with friends. I need gentle tea full of sciency things like catechins and antioxidants. Black tea, freshly boiled water, milk. Americans call this “with cream”. “Cream and sugar?” is the collocated question you are asked in an American restaurant. I love watching English people hear this question for the first time because I can see the internal struggle on their faces when, horrified that someone would put cream in their tea, they politely reply, “With milk, please” . Little do they know it doesn’t really mean cream, it means milk or that strange little animal, half and half. How can you have half cream and half milk if milk IS cream with some of the cream taken out? At which point do you call it milk? Anyway, this is how I have my tea. In the morning, there is no other way.
When my brother and I were little, my family went to Walt Disney World. We drove down to Florida where, we believed, the local kids did not have to go to school. I mean, you could see them all at Disney World so obviously they didn’t have school*. We felt a lot of freedom there because our parents let us run around for hours as long as we “stayed together”. We rode favourite rides over and over and, for my brother, this meant Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I am quite certain that they don’t have that ride anymore because a) it wasn’t sophisticated enough to hold the attention of the kids of today and b) it was based on the Wind in the Willows, a book, with pages and a cover and book smell. I don’t know how many kids read this type of book anymore. I didn’t much care for the ride as there was a scary part at the end, but do you know what my one memory is? There were a bunch of frogs sitting on a picnic blanket…drinking tea!
Look at this teapot!
The photos are by Vince42 on Flickr
*We later moved to Florida and were highly disappointed when we found out that we did, indeed, have to attend school.
As soon as I hear the “Where…” , anxiety rushes in. I’ve learned from experience that not having the ‘right ‘answer creates problems. People don’t want you to be ‘interesting’ or ‘weird’. They want to be able to file you in the folders of their mind discreetly and easily so they have a point of reference from which to judge your actions. People love to judge on place.
I first opened my eyes in a place with beaches, warmth, and never-ending swamps. Water fell from the sky in half-day, seasonal downpours. Like clockwork, heat turns to rain making everything steamy and unbearable save for the scent of Cuban beans simmering that hint at the pleasures in life to come. Home? Within a year my family headed to the cold northern state of Michigan.
The water here falls from the sky in snowflakes and it makes for great fun sliding down hills with my brother in those precious moments when sibling rivalry hasn’t taken over. Detroit has urban things like the Henry Ford museum where my classmates and I saw the chair that President Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot.
“Miss Jones, is that his blood?”
“No, it’s the pomade they used to put in their hair.”
“Sam, what’s pomade?”
“I dunno. I think it’s blood.”
“Yeah, me too!”
Michigan also meant family as once every couple of months my Mum bundled us into the car for the three hour journey “up north” to see relatives and, from my perspective, go to the lake. Lake Huron was a wonderland in those days with giant plaster animals on the beach containing slides and swings and firemen’s poles. There were precious Petosky stones to search for which I didn’t recognise as fosilised coral until I was in high school. But the lake was best in winter. In the daytime people would ice skate along the shore and at night it became a game to spot the glow of the ice fishermen’s lights in the little temporary shelters.
We also explored the woods which were full of exciting things like bear poo and half-eaten prey of some bird or animal. We never played cowboys and Indians…only Indians. We really wanted to believe that we could live like native people and survive in the wild, but in reality we were fortified by pierogies and potato salad (family recipe)until the sun went down and adults called us in.
After those days we lived in the tornado alley towns of Omaha and Kansas City. Scary days when the sky went black, sirens went off, and we hid in the basement with Mum and Dad listening for the telltale train sound. It wasn’t like this in Little House on the Prairie. But there were blizzards which seemed fun for children, but not for my parents who busied themselves stocking up the survival box as they did the hurricane box in southern Florida. Same cans of Spam and stew for different potential disasters.
And there were other homes in other states every two years on average. By 18, the pattern had set and I carried on to the UK, Vietnam, Japan and New Zealand after that. Of course, Lake Huron doesn’t freeze anymore and our house in Miami is long gone thanks to a hurricane. Sometimes I’m surprised at how much focus there is on place when defining home. Home is much more than place to me.