Tuesday, August 08, 2017
people of place -- part i
The label is old. But it is no less accurate for it.
My friend and philospophical racconteur, John Hofer, and I share similar backgrounds. We were both small town kids. Before he left his central Washington farming community for college, he was raised primarily by his Congregationaliust grandmother surrounded by a bushel of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Whenever we would discuss our backgrounds over lunch or dinner, John would get a bit wistful about his family roots. As if he were an exotic plant re-planted in foreign soil. He really cared about the place he was from. I believe I even wrote a poem about that facet of the human condition.
I, on the other hand, felt a bit rootless. As if I did not quite belong where I was -- or that I could belong wherever I was.
That distinction led to a label for John. He was a person of place. And I was either a person of no place or anyplace.
A similar analysis appears in David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics.
He uses different labels -- a dominant minority of people of "anywhere" against a majority of people from "somewhere." But the concepts are the same.
"Anywheres" have achieved status based on professional and educational success. They value social and geographical mobility. "Somewheres" identify themselves by place, honoring family, authority, and nationality. In Goodhart's parlance, I am an "Inbetweener."
What I am not is a person of place or a person of "somewhere." And I felt that strongly on our trip to southern Oregon.
My mother was born and raised in Powers. She did not leave there until she went to college. After marrying, she returned. But, even when we moved to Portland in the mid-1950s, she remained a Powers girl. Her background informed all of her decisions. The town has not worn well since then.
Even though I often say I am from Powers, at most, I lived there for five years. But I do not identify with the town. Nor do I identify with Milwaukie, where I lived twenty-three years. Or Texas, Colorado, California, Greece, or England where I was stationed with the Air Force. Or Salem where I went to law school and practiced law for thirteen years. They were all pleasant places, but not my "somewhere."
Having said that, Mom, Darrel and I experienced a pleasant two days in her old home town. There are very few places I have lived where the town itself has a town reunion. That is not remarkable when you realize the town's civil society and its high school are the same thing. People may diverge on church and social clubs, but being a Cruiser is the community's cement.
Darrel and I talked with several old childhood friends who lived on our street. My brother had a better recollection of events; I had a better memory of who was related to whom. One neighbor even put on a full court press to convince me I should move back.
The offer was tempting. I retain enough "somewhere" volunteer conservatism to be tempted to live in a community based on personal involvement. School events. The library. Bike races through town. All need people to keep the town running -- or pedaling.
One of the community's great accomplishments is a county park at the north end of town. When we moved away in the mid-1950s, logging put meals on the table in Powers. But The Cancer had set in. Within a decade, the woods were shut down -- or shutting down.
Where the park now sits was a thriving lumber mill. When it shut down, it was an eyesore for a decade. Then, someone stumbled on the great idea that it would make a perfect recreation site. After all, I used to catch tadpoles in the mill pond. Why not turn it into a fish pond?
So, they did. The place is now an RV campground with day use picnic facilities.
And, if you have feel a transcendental urge to become Henry David Thoreau, you can rent a pond cabin for $45 a night.
With this as your contemplative view -- where you might be able to make some sense out of Thoreau's ramblings. "If the day and night make one joyful, one is successful."
I doubt I will move to Powers. Well, that is me being nice. There is next to no chance I will move to Powers. But I will most likely return for a visit. Even though it is not my somewhere.
Tomorrow I will share a visit the three of us made on Sunday that defines a somewhere I could have owned.