Facing History and Ourselves, Quaker Style: Indian Boarding Schools Are Our Shame Too

Facing History and Ourselves is the title of a book and a mini-course in Holocaust Education. I took the course and used the book myself in my high school teaching.

But what about that uniquely American, slo-mo Holocaust, the attempted eradication of Native culture? In grad school I learned about the Indian boarding schools of the late 19th and early-mid 20th century: the kidnapping of entire generations from their homes, and the creation of generations of people who felt alienated from both communities, Native and white. And of course I shook my head over the terrible thinking of the past, and its terrible, long-term effects.

But I never realized that people of my own religious background, Quakers, were eager perpetrators of that shameful enterprise, until a friend sent me an article in Friends Journal, by Quaker writer Paula Palmer, entitled “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools: Facing History and Ourselves.”

What’s this? Quakers, you say? But we’re the good guys! Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape! Marching for Civil Rights! Becoming Conscientious Objectors in the Korean and Vietnam Wars! 

I may not be a very religious Quaker, but I’ve always been a very proud political Quaker, the product of Carolina Friends School, the first integrated school in North Carolina.

So, with a sense of unease, I read the article. I read this:

More than 100,000 Native children suffered the direct consequences of the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation by means of Indian boarding schools during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their bereft parents, grandparents, siblings, and entire communities also suffered. As adults, when the former boarding school students had children, their children suffered, too. Now, through painful testimony and scientific research, we know how trauma can be passed from generation to generation. The multigenerational trauma of the boarding school experience is an open wound in Native communities today.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says that for healing to occur, the full truth about the boarding schools and the policy of forced assimilation must come to light in our country, as it has in Canada. The first step in a truth, reconciliation, and healing process, they say, is truth telling. A significant piece of the truth about the boarding schools is held by the Christian churches that collaborated with the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation. Quakers were among the strongest promoters of this policy and managed over 30 schools for Indian children, most of them boarding schools, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The coalition is urging the churches to research our roles during the boarding school era, contribute this research to the truth and reconciliation process, and ask ourselves what this history means to us today.

And this:

In a letter dated May 26, 1853, teacher Susan Wood at the Quaker Tunesassa Indian Boarding School in New York, wrote:

“We are satisfied it is best to take the children when small, and then if kept several years, they would scarcely, I think, return to the indolent and untidy ways of their people.”

And this:

For a child’s view, we have The School Days of an Indian Girl, written in 1900 by Zitkala-Sa, a Lakota woman who entered White’s Institute, a Quaker Indian boarding school in Indiana, at age eight:

“I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair. I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. . . . Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards! . . . I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort me . . . for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.”

Modoc School, Indian Territory, 1877 (Courtesy Friends Journal and Haverford College Quaker Collection)

In these days of Trumpmerica, with its white supremacist marches (“some of them are good people!” said our prez), it’s easy to point fingers and say, “You are on the wrong side of history.” But, I am finding, it is even more important to look at the history of the people I most claim as “mine,” and say aloud: “We did wrong. We need to acknowledge and atone in order to help heal the damage we helped to do.”

So says Paula Palmer:

Native organizations are not asking us to judge our Quaker ancestors. They are asking, “Who are Friends today? Knowing what we know now, will Quakers join us in honest dialogue? Will they acknowledge the harm that was done? Will they seek ways to contribute toward healing processes that are desperately needed in Native communities?” These are my questions, too.

And mine.

Ottowa School, Indian Territory, 1872 (Courtesy Friends Journal and Haverford College Quaker Collection)

Was the revelation of Quaker complicity in Native boarding schools a surprise to you, as it was to me? Please consider passing this post–or better yet, Parker Palmer’s–on to someone else, or to any organization that might benefit from considering the attempt of the country’s most “politically correct” religious organization to face history, and itself.

When Country Songs Get Real: Robbie Fulks and the Bittersweet of Shared Nostalgia

I’m not a fan of country music. I tend to stereotype it as being about–well, stereotypes. Easy to dismiss that ol’ achey-breaky-pickup-trucky twang as having nothing to do with my life.  

But I’ll listen to anyone who is a) an excellent musician, and b) someone I went to high school with. Robbie Fulks is both. So when I saw that he was touring in Bellingham, a couple of hours away (including ferry ride), of course I went.

Robbie played with a fiddler friend, Shad Cobb, at the Green Frog, an appropriately grungy tavern, and did us middle-agers the favor of starting before 7:30 and ending at 9. Of course, he’s a middle-ager himself, having graduated three years behind me. His voice is as sweet as ever–think Willie Nelson mixed with John Denver–and his lyrics even sharper. Seems in middle age, Robbie has decided to take his lyrics back to Chapel Hill in the mid-late 70s. And there in the beery dark of the Green Frog, he took me too.

Robbie showed up my sophomore year when his dad took a job teaching history at Carolina Friends School. Picture this ridiculously adorable 13 year-old with long golden curls, crooked teeth and dimples. His dad took him along to the Upper School retreat at the start of the year, and on the last night Robbie played in our talent show. In a voice way, way beyond his years, he crooned that early 60s song, “Earth Angel.”  “Earth angel…earrrrrrrth angel….please be miiine…my darling dear, love me all the tiiiime…” And my girlfriends and I fell madly in love.

OK–in crush. I mean, the kid was 13. And as we all grew older, Robbie became less of a phenom and more of a friend. I can’t say he was a close one of mine because, by the time he entered high school, I was a lofty senior, taking classes and running track at nearby Duke University and spending barely two hours a day on my old campus. I went with my friends to hear Robbie when he played at local clubs, but I all but lost track of him when I left for college.

One tie kept me in touch. One of my three besties, two years behind me in school, was close friends with Robbie’s girlfriend, M. When she told me that Robbie had gotten M. pregnant I wasn’t surprised. What was surprising to me, back in the early 80s, was that they decided to get married, at age 19.

Fast-forward now about 35 years. I attended a CFS reunion in 2015, and spent time with the woman who first married Robbie and had his son. M. and Robbie split long ago, but saw each other amicably at their son’s wedding.

I mention all this now not to gossip, but just as a backdrop, so that you know what I was thinking about when Robbie sang his new song, “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals.” Not only is it apparently about the time when young love changed his life and M’s forever, it contains details so specific that only someone from central North Carolina would understand: “the Airport side of Franklin Street”–the coolest hangout in Chapel Hill. “Northgate Mall”–less cool (and darker, if you listen to the song). And dear Tommy Thompson, founder of the Red Clay Ramblers and dad of our friend Jessie.

This song is about my people. And that means it’s about me. I may not have been one of Robbie’s “Carolina Gals,” but I’m still one. This hits close to home.

I went up and hugged Robbie after the show, small-talked for about a minute (while other folks waited in line), and bought his album. I’ve been listening to it. And now I can’t stop wondering…how many of those cliched country songs out there are animated by similarly specific, poignant, bittersweet reality?

Think of any genre of music you’re not comfortable with. Maybe it’s country, like me. Maybe hip-hop, maybe opera. But maybe, as I’m learning to do, if we listened more closely, we could feel that sweet connection of shared pain or joy. What but good could come of that? 

Thanks, Robbie, from this middle-aged Carolina Gal.

Celebratin’ 50 Years of Redneck Lemurs

How about another lemur update? Here we go.

If you only stop by Wing’s World now and then you might not know my connection to the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC. I’m no biologist; I just grew up there. Literally. My sisters and I roamed the building back when no one knew about it nor worried about little kids roaming among the other primates.

See, I chose my parents wisely. Not only are they largely responsible for Carolina Friends School, my dad’s also the one who turned my hometown into the largest home for lemurs, anywhere in the world outside of Madagascar.

If you’re ever in central North Carolina, you can see for yourself–in a guided tour; sorry, no more roaming. But if you don’t get the chance, here’s a glimpse of how it all began, 50 years ago:

What else can I say? Congrats, lemurs. Congrats, Duke. Way to go, Dad.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Daddy: A Personal Evolution Story

When I say Personal Evolution Story, I mean that literally: this story has to do with me and my dad, and with evolution–as in, Darwin’s Theory Of.

My first post-college job was teaching at the school I had graduated from only five years prior. Since it was a private school–woohoo, Carolina Friends School, go Quakers!–ahem, as I was saying, since it was a private school, no certification was necessary. They knew me, they liked me, they hired me, and I trained on the job. Some of the Upper School courses I taught included Lit & Comp I and II, Geography, History of the Vietnam War, Running, Romance and Satire…that’s all I remember. For a brand-newbie, I wasn’t bad. Considering how at home I felt at CFS, that’s not too surprising.

I felt a bit of pride in myself, becoming a teacher. But as a college graduate, I was well aware of my lowly status compared to the rest of my family. Both my sisters had a Master’s; one was working on her Ph.D, the other on her veterinary degree.

Some time during my second year, as I remember, one of the science teachers needed to go on maternity leave. My father offered to step in as a long-term sub.

This is also not surprising, if you know that my father a) was one of the founders of the school and a perpetual Board member, and b) taught Zoology at Duke. As far as he was concerned, science teaching was science teaching. Apparently the school agreed, and they took him on (probably for free). He taught good ol’ Biology.

After the first couple of weeks, he gave a test. Most of the class failed. Dismayed, he came to me with the test: did I think it was too hard? I remember reading it and thinking, “No, this looks like pretty standard stuff.” Still, his next practice quiz–yuck. Again with the failures. My dad couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

To his credit–and my surprise–Dad then asked me to observe his class to see if I could spot the problem. I’ll never forget how proud I felt at that moment: proud of him for having the grace to ask his youngest daughter for help, and proud of myself for being enough of a Teacher that I could teach a tenured professor a thing or two.

The Upper School Head Teacher and I observed Dad’s class together. Minutes into the period we looked at each other and smiled. Bingo.

The problem wasn’t the scope of my dad’s lessons, nor their sequence. The problem was that, in his normal, everyday speech patterns, he rarely used words of fewer than four syllables. Latin phrases like sine qua non or de facto were a dime a dozen. Having grown up with this high-falutin’ conversation, I didn’t notice, but as soon as I heard him through the ears of a hapless 10th-grader…ohhhh. Uh-huh. It’s not your lessons you have to bring down a few levels, Dad–it’s yourself.

Fast-forward to the end of the story: my dad learned to simplify his language, and to ask his students when he needed to rephrase something. His passing rates went up. Biology was learned.

Now, fast-forward another 30 years, to 2014. I publish my first novel, The Flying Burgowski. That is to say, I self-publish. My dad is supportive and proud, but I’m pretty sure that, as the author of a dozen traditionally-published academic books, he’d be even prouder if my book boasted the imprimatur of Random House instead of Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Meanwhile, however, my father and my veterinarian sister have teamed up to write a children’s book about evolution. It’s well written and clear: nice, pronounceable words, not a Latin phrase in sight! Beautiful illustrations grace the text. It’s a gem of a book. I’m excited for them, and for it.

Unfortunately, as with my novel, they can’t find a publisher. So, this past month, they self-publish. Through CreateSpace.

Here’s the result:

51515907_high-resolution-front-cover_6057779

And here’s the link, if you want to check it out or, even better, buy a copy: Darwin and the First Grandfather

And here’s the point of the story, in case it’s not clear yet: for the sake of the science he loves, my hyper-academic father has come a LONG way. From speaking only Academese, he has (with my sister’s help) made himself fluent in Common-Tongue Science. From publishing only with traditional, academic publishers, he has joined the proud ranks of the Indies. 

(Orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia)

(Orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Not to mention–did I mention?–he and my big sis have written a damn fine book, one which fills a need. Please take a look and pass it on.

Road Trip VI, Final Installment: One Day None Of This Will Be Yours

This will be the final post of Road Trip VI; after this, Wing’s World stops being a travel blog and morphs back into its un-pigeon-holeable self. Unlike past years, when I’d now be accompanying The Mate on the drive back across country, vowing never again to eat that much fried chicken and BBQ (until next year), I am actually home already, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Red Rover and The Mate are still faithfully road-tripping back to me, but my bakery is opening early this year under new management, and I opted to fly home early.

But I’m still gone to Carolina in my mind. Because the weather was so sweetly springy last week (for once), I spent a lot of time wandering around the grubby little farm I grew up on. In between cuddling Stevie, the World’s Cutest Donkey, I took some time to meditate on this fact: my family’s farm is slipping away…but not the way you might think. 

Even cuter in real life!

Even cuter in real life!

My parents jump-started Carolina Friends School by donating land. That’s why I grew up next to CFS, and why I refer to it as “My Sister the School.” And since my real sisters and I have moved away and feel no desire to return to the South, our parents have decided that CFS will inherit all the rest–the pastures, the barn, the garden, the pond, and the house I grew up in. And, being wise people, they have already begun the bequest.

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Slowly but surely, my sister the school is taking over the farm. Where dense piney woods once separated the pastures from the school buildings on the other side of the creek, now the construction of new athletic fields and a road to a future performing arts building have left only a handful of trees to delineate the old from the new.

Follow the red clay road!

Follow the red clay road!

It’s changed my whole mental geography. There’s no longer a “here” and a “there.” Now it’s “old” and “new,” but new gets newer every year I visit. My little sister is moving in.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

Don’t get me wrong–I think this is great. It’s just weird. I know I’m lucky to have hung onto my childhood geography for over five decades. So few people get to do that! And now, I’m even luckier: rather than watch the Old Home Place fall into disrepair, I get to see it transformed, into classrooms or Quaker conference facilities, or whatever the CFS Board decides.

Dormitory? Hmm...

Dormitory? Hmm…

Come to think of it, those new roads are a good idea. Future Quaker educators might have a little trouble with my parents’ driveway.

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it's only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it’s only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

So rather than singing “What Have They Done To the Old Home Place”, I’m looking forward to next year’s visit. Hey there, lil’ sis–my, how you’ve grown!

 

Secret To a Happy Life: Choose Your Parents Wisely

Wish I could take credit for that idea. Wish I could take credit for my own blessed life. But I know better. There’s Providence, luck, fate–and then there are good role models and good genes. My mom gave me both.

Today (June 3) is her 80th birthday. 60 years ago this month she married my dad. I’m blessed to have both parents very vigorously in my life. But today is Mom’s day.

My mom is psyched to turn 80: a new age group for her to dominate in track! Here she is, just a few days ago, getting ready for the 80-and-up mile:

What I want to be when I grow up

What I want to be when I grow up

When she first married my dad back in 1955, Martha Smith was no athlete. The family joke is, she was probably in the worst shape of her life at age 20, and she looked terrific. Raising three kids, starting a farm and co-founding a school toughened her up, but then a new path opened. Some time in the late 1960s, my dad discovered distance running and immersed the whole family in it. And Martha Smith Klopfer discovered a hidden talent.

She was FAST. And tough. And competitive. At age 45, she held the national age group 10k record. But she also excelled at the marathon, with a personal best of 3:07. And she did all this with no team to support her, no coach but her husband, and a full-time job of raising teenagers, running a farm, and helping to guide the school she had helped to found.

Lest you imagine from her athletic creds that my mom’s a driven, Type-A personality–nothing could be further from the truth. More like “Type B…or, no, maybe C…but then again, B is nice, I could see B…” Time has always been a fluid substance for her. When I was in high school, the words, “I’m just going out to the barn for a few minutes,” spoken in late afternoon, became code for, “So someone else might want to think about fixing dinner if you want to eat before eight.”

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that my mom’s also a poet. A very good poet. Here’s one of my favorites, written about something that happened between her own mother and the Guatemalan gardener she practically adopted:

 

Little Bird

 

I think I washed the windows too clean.

The little bird saw straight

through the living room and right out

the other side to the sky.

He flew fast, like a pelota, hit the glass,

fell to the ground and was still.

A drop of blood came out near his long beak.

I picked him up. Pobrecito.

He weighed nothing and did not move.

I wish that I had left the window dirty.

 

But I want to do good work for Mrs. Smith.

She is kind to me, tells me to sweep the patio

or trim bushes, even when they don’t need it.

I don’t want her to see this dead bird.

It would make her sad.

Quickly, I get the garden trowel,

dig a small hole under the Pyracantha,

cover the bird with earth and leaves.

I wipe the window clean again.

 

Once my mother came to visit.

Mrs. Smith helped pay for the flight.

She practiced Spanish with my old sick mother,

both of them laughing.

Later, I could not go to Guatemala

to help bury my mother.

My father and brothers had been killed.

The same people also wanted

me in a shallow grave.

 

Mrs. Smith comes out of the house.

“Good job, Manuelito,” she says.

I say, thank you Mom.

She thinks I call her “Ma’am,”

but she is my California mom.

She has made tamale pie for lunch.

She says she likes to cook for me,

though she doesn’t cook much

since Mr. Smith died.

 

We sit down to eat at the patio table.

Something moves under the Pyracantha.

I jump to my feet.

“Look! It’s still alive!”

I tell her how the little bird hit the window,

how I thought it was dead and buried it.

I dig it up and brush it off and lay it in her hand.

 

The little bird blinks and ruffles its feathers.

Mrs. Smith says,

“He was only stunned.

I’ll keep him safe until he can fly again.”

I love that poem. But poetry’s not Mom’s only art. She’s also a weaver. Wish I had a picture of one of her weavings to share, but you’ll have to imagine the gentle interplay of color and shape inspired by natural scenes.

Then there’s Carolina Friends School, about which I’ve written before. Click here to read about how she helped to found North Carolina’s first integrated school.

All in all, my mom has given me a good dozen reasons to look at her as a role model; I’ve only mentioned the most obvious here. But chief among those is Mom As Athlete. I mean, look at those legs! Here she is, biking down a mountainside in Greece at the tender age of 78:

Wheee!

Wheee!

So, to sum up: Character: check. Talent: check. Athleticism: check. Oh, and terrific genes, ’cause did I mention HER mom lived to one hundred and three?

So, yeah. Can I pick a parent or what? Pretty proud of myself for that.

Now’s your chance to brag on your own mom or dad or Significant Elder in your life. I love when you share.

 

My Sister the School

This week I’m back in my home state of North Carolina to celebrate something special: the 50th anniversary of my alma mater, Carolina Friends School. But I’ve been telling people it’s a family reunion, and that is not a contradiction.

North Carolina in the early 1960s was as segregated as the rest of the South. When my parents moved here from Caand started a family, they could not stomach sending their kids to all-white schools. Along with a handful of other Quakers from the Durham and Chapel Hill Meetings, they decided to start their own Friends school–Friends being the name Quakers call themselves.

CFS's beginnings. (All photos courtesy Carolina Friends School)

CFS’s beginnings. (All photos courtesy Carolina Friends School)

After a year or so of helping to run a pre-K at the Durham Meeting House, my folks donated the land across from our pond for an independent campus. So CFS was born, amidst pines and beeches and poison ivy, with a creek running through her.

Lower School students doing some creek work.

Lower School students doing some creek work.

I’m the youngest of three girls, but I consider CFS to be my younger sister. She’s the only one I got to watch grow up behind me, from Lower School (a traditional-looking red brick building) to Middle School (classic 1970s open-classroom structure) then to Upper (imagine a cozy ski lodge with science labs).

On rainy days, we used to play "seat soccer" in this big room, before there was a covered sports facility.

On rainy days, we used to play “seat soccer” in this big room, before there was a covered sports facility.

Today CFS comprises three Early Schools–the original one in Durham, one in Chapel Hill, one on the main campus–plus Lower, Middle, Upper, and an array of sports fields so extensive I’m still adjusting to them. My, how she’s grown.

Upper School students removing Ivy from a tree at Duke Gardens

Upper School students removing Ivy from a tree at Duke Gardens

But at 50, CFS is exactly the same bright-spirited child she was back in 1965. She’s still focused on community, on service learning, on justice, on creativity, on a harmonious relationship with the land. Academics are perhaps more pronounced now than they were back in the hang-loose 1970s when I graduated, but hey–I got into Harvard, OK? So even then they were no slouch. But no one will ever mistake my sis for a prep school, is what I’m saying.

Upper School students marching with the NAACP to protest NC's restrictive new voting rights legislation

Upper School students marching with the NAACP to protest NC’s restrictive new voting rights legislation

Upper School Students For A Working Democracy presenting to the Friends General Council on Legislation in DC

Upper School Students For A Working Democracy presenting to the Friends General Council on Legislation in DC

Since my older sisters and I do not intend to return to NC, my parents (still quite vibrant, thanks) have willed their farm to our sister the school when they pass on. So who knows? Someday this scruffy farmhouse I grew up in might be classrooms, or even housing for retired faculty. Or a day care. Or an even bigger school farm, helping to feed the surrounding community as well as itself. I love imagining the possibilities. And I know that, however much she grows, my lil’ sis will always welcome me home again.

What you see? Pretty much what you get. She's not flashy.

What you see? Pretty much what you get. She’s not flashy.

Happy Birthday, Carolina Friends School. I’m so proud of you.

Early School teachers and students starting their day in Quaker silence.

Early School teachers and students starting their day in Quaker silence.

If you’re interested, I hope you will click on the link to learn more about CFS. If you’d like to hear more about Quakerism and Quaker education in general, please click here to visit Iris Graville’s excellent blog on those topics.

Yep--that's my sis.

Yep–that’s my sis.

Road Trip V, Days 18-20, Durham, N.C.: Community Lessons For a New Author

One year ago this week I proudly debuted my first novel at the bookstore in my hometown. Yes, Durham is 3,500 miles away from where I live now, so The Regulator didn’t figure to loom large in my new author “career.” But this week, as The Regulator hosted an event for my second book, I realized it had taught me a lesson.

Author readings are not about the author. They’re not even entirely about the work. They’re about community.

Just the author? What else ya got?

Just the author? What else ya got?

Think about it. You’re a busy person. What would make you take time out of your week to sit and hear an author read? You might be enamored of that particular author and happy to get a close-up view. You might wish to ask questions, or get an autograph. But for an author like me, I know you’re there mainly to support the idea of authorship. You are accepting a role in the literary community. Authors need to honor that role.

So here are three new tenets I’ve adopted:

1) Involve community members, especially kids, if possible. I’m a very good reader, having practiced with my two sons and 20 years of students, but still–just my voice, my presence? After my debut reading, I decided I could do better. Now, if I can, I stage dramatic readings with myself as narrator.

Now this is more like it!

Now this is more like it!

2) The beginning is not always the best place to start. I’d thought starting anywhere else would require too much explanation, but audiences catch on quickly. And in the case of my first book, the Prologue is one of the saddest sections. It took me most of the way through Chapter One to cheer the group up again. Since then, I think about it from their point of view and try to choose the most entertaining part. Duh.

3) Offer cookies afterward. Hey, these nice people are giving up an hour of their busy lives to support me. The least I can do is say “thanks” the most tangible way I know, with butter and chocolate.

Terrific students from Carolina a Friends Middle School--my alma mater--with their teacher who used to be mine!

Terrific students from Carolina a Friends Middle School–my alma mater–with their teacher who used to be mine!

I have a big reading coming up next month in Seattle, and I have some more ideas for that one. What other Lessons in the Obvious have I to learn?

So I’d love to hear what else folks might have experienced. What makes an author reading stand out for you–other than, of course, the written work itself?

Can You Really Not Go Home Again?

Road Trip IV, Days 29-31: Hangin’ Out in Durham, NC

I’m home. And I’m one of the very few 52 year-old Americans who can say that.

Both my parents still live on the funky little farm where I was born in 1961. My mom is in town right now tutoring her adult literacy student. My dad, semi-retired from Duke but still actively pursuing research in animal behavior, is at his lab checking on his lemurs. (He rides his part-electric tricycle the six miles each way.)

image

The dogs in the yard are just as noisy as the ones we had when I was growing up: Norwegian Elkhounds (plus a poodle). The horses are a little less motley and scruffy than the ones I grew up riding, as my mom developed a taste for dressage, but the barnyard critters are just as colorful: chickens, a goat, and Stevie, the World’s Cutest Ass Donkey. (Their llama died a couple years ago, as did Bess, the Wandering Sheep.)

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The house is even more crammed with my grandmother’s artwork (she was a sculptor), my mom’s weavings, and items picked up from a lifetime of travel to places like Madagascar, Israel and Guatemala, plus art and furniture made by various local artisan friends. Oh, and then there’s my dad’s proclivity for new gadgets, clashing horribly with the aforementioned art and requiring fancy wandering patterns to walk anywhere in the house. And the wall of family photos, stuck up higgledy-piggledy with pushpins, edges curling, hopelessly overlapping each other because new ones keep getting added without the old ones ever being organized.

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None of the doors close properly. (Drives my carpenter husband nuts.) The ancient radiators still clank at night. The fridge is full of yogurt and peanut butter, local beer and imported cheese.

 

image

 

Carolina Friends School, which I attended K-12 (and walked to, since my parents donated some of their adjacent land for it) is still going strong. I can hear the kids right now, across the pond, out for recess. Their stray soccer balls still float by our dam.

Like I said: home.

How rare is it, at my age, to have parents still married to each other, still living in the same house where they’ve lived for the past 54 years?  

I try to make myself focus on what’s different. There’s a sporty new Subaru BRZ in the driveway, which my dad bought for my mom but she’s too embarrassed to drive. There’s a new road into the woods where Carolina Friends School is expanding; one day they will inherit the entire property from my folks. And if course there’s that poodle.

But that’s really it. Home is breathtakingly, chaotically, wonderfully the same: full of dog hair, musical instruments, books, and muddy boots.

 

image

So, Thomas Wolfe, fellow North Carolinian, I’m afraid I must beg to differ. It may not happen often, but…it happens. I’m home.

What do you guys think? Is my case not as rare as it feels? I would love to hear if you or anyone you know can relate to this question: Can you really not go home again?