I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Growing up without roots

Taken last week in the mountains
Many of my blogging friends have lived in the same part of the country for most of their lives. I had to choose a place to call my home, since my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved around the entire time I was growing up. The longest we stayed anywhere was in the early 1950s, when Daddy was stationed at Travis Air Force Base for around five years or so. When I think of my childhood, that is the place that I think of before any others.

My sister Norma Jean and I had each other as constant companions, and when I was seven my sister PJ was born into the family. However, there was enough difference between her and the two of us (two and a half years apart) that we never brought her into much of our play. There was just enough distance in years to make her a baby while we were growing older. And then when I was sixteen, my parents decided to start another family, raising another three children, two of whom were born after I left home.

Isn't that an interesting phrase? "After I left home." What happened to us, and I suspect to most migrant families, is that wherever my parents happened to be was "home," even if that wasn't a constant place. I remember when my dad finally retired and they bought a home in Fort Worth, Texas. It meant that my three youngest siblings would grow up entirely differently from the three earlier children: they went to the same schools and had the same friends as they grew up. It's almost as though we were two different families, but we had the same parents.

However, that home in Texas became "home" in a different way, one in which my siblings and parents established roots that I didn't feel were my own. Since my first husband and father of my sons was in the Air Force, my life continued on in the same way as in my childhood: moving from Georgia where we were married to Puerto Rico to Michigan, where my husband's family lived. We moved there after he left the military.

There were only short periods of time in my adult life when I wasn't working. My years as a young mother were just about the only time I wasn't actually holding down a full-time job. I sometimes think of how different my life would have been had I grown up like my mother, having babies, raising them, and working in the home rather than out in the world. That was what I expected to happen in my life; it was all I had ever known.

Growing up while moving around from place to place was completely different for Norma Jean and me. She was shy and introverted and it tore her up each time she had to leave her hard-won friends behind. It made her become more introverted and more dependent upon me as her big sister. We usually shared a room as young kids, and when I think of our childhood, there are few memories where she was absent. I am just the opposite: I am extroverted and make friends easily, so I didn't mind moving around.

The persona of the "new girl" became familiar to me, and I liked it. What happened so gradually that I didn't even realize it, is that I stopped knowing how to be a real friend to anybody except my sister. I developed an external habit of relating that put me in the middle of my drama, and everybody else was a bit player, easily replaced by someone else. Why should I invest in friends when they would be left behind in a short while?

How much of this lifestyle is responsible for the chaotic years I spent in my twenties? By the time I turned thirty, I had been married and divorced three times. Those years now blur together as a time of pain and struggle. You can just imagine how my son Chris' life was: when he turned ten, his father convinced me that it would be better for Chris to live with him and have a more stable upbringing. By that time Derald had remarried and had a much better situation, so I agreed.

Then I was totally unmoored from any responsibility to anyone except myself. I traveled around and finally settled in Boulder, Colorado. I remember the first time I visited that place. It felt different to me, and I realized that I had no home and could choose one for myself. Boulder became my "home," except the place where my parents lived was my childhood "home." After Daddy died, wherever Mama was became home.

And then Mama died in 1993. Now I really had no home except the one I had made for myself. For more than thirty years, I lived happily (and sometimes not so happily) in Boulder. I met Smart Guy when we were both fifty, and we married. Now it has been twenty MORE years, and he and I have retired to a new "home." We moved here from Boulder more than four years ago, and I call Bellingham home, where he is, where my life is.

That picture of myself that I put in this post (I always feel I need at least one picture) shows a contented older woman, living her life. I've learned over the years to value friendship and partnership, and I owe the healing I have gained during the past twenty years to a partner who showed me how to become a real friend. His wisdom and maturity brought me, a little at a time, to wholeness.


Sally Wessely said...

I loved this post. Your reflection on your life and on the process of not only growing up but of also finding roots caused me to think a lot about my own life. Are we rooted by where we live in life, by the people with whom we share our lives, or by our own maturation process? Those are the questions that I find myself asking as I reflect on what you have written. Perhaps all of those things cause us to feel rooted. Or perhaps, roots are not important at all.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you identified the importance of friendship and partnership in feeling grounded in life. These are two important factors that allow us to achieve peace and stability in life. Living in one place with people we have always known will not do that if we have no true friendship. It takes both friendship and partnership with others to fully mature. You have achieved that, and that achievement shows in the serenity that is reflected in your face and being.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this thoughtful posting helped me appreciate you even more for I'm well aware what happens when we move again and again and don't set down roots. Your description of how others became just players in your on-going life--all those except your sister--is so well done. And then came Boulder and Smart Guy and your life settled into itself and truly began to nourish you.

For me, coming home has meant coming to peace with myself--who I am and what my heart's desires are. The one constant in each move is that we take ourselves into the move. For so long I disliked that self and so no move was satisfying.

It was only when I could embrace myself with all my faults, failures, foibles and all my exuberance, spirit, and laughter that I came home to myself.

It seems to me that you've been home to yourself for many years now. What a blessing you are to the Universe.

CiCi said...

Your growing up years traveling around sound much like mine only it was in the same state. Then when I married we began moving to different states. So I can relate to what you say about not investing much into the friendships, knowing they will not be for long. I do like hearing about your relationship with Smart Guy. To have someone solid and mature in your life is not something I have had. Probably will not have. But hearing about your life is good for me. I am sure that the people who came and went in your life as you moved around benefited from knowing you, just as you learned things from them. It sounds like you have found a good home in Bellingham.

Anonymous said...

It's really no fun to keep living out of a suitcase, no matter how interesting the new locale is. I had a taste of it when I traveled around the world during my twenties. I prefer to be rooted in one place and take a short vacation abroad once a year. That to me is the ideal scenario. I am so happy for you, DJan. You seem so contented with your life now. Keep it up!

Linda Myers said...

I grew up in the military also, and have lived in many houses. When someone asks me what I was doing in a particular year, I think about where I was living and then the memories come up.

I learned to make friends and to leave them behind - a necessity for a military kid, not so cool for a grownup.

Home is where I live now - in the same house, with the same man, with and without children, for 17 years.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

It is wonderful to find a partner who can help one to become whole. You glow with happiness and health.

Red said...

Great tribute to smart Guy!
As a teacher I always had those families that were on the move all the time. We had many oil patch kids who passed through several times.
Some of these kids thrived on the moving and other little kids were completely devastated.
It's interesting to hear from an adult what the experience was like moving from school to school as a child.
So you payed the price when you wee in your twenties and it took a long time to put your life back together.

Sandi said...

I always enjoy your Sunday posts, DJan, because you always seem to hit me where I live. While there are a few years between us in age, we've lived through some very similar situations.

Ironically, my "roots" have always been right here in Vancouver, but by the time I was in ninth grade I had lived in nine homes and gone to nine different schools! I'd had three different moms. Kind of crazy!

Home became the last house I lived in with my new family when I started ninth grade, my dad, a new mom and three new siblings along with my sister and brother.

As an adult I kept moving, and changing husbands, lost my son Chris to his dad in the very same way you lost your Chris. I moved frequently until 1987 when I met my current husband. We married in 1988, had our two daughters and we're still in the same house.

I've discovered that my roots are here, in this home that I never would have chosen (my husband had it when I met him) and I used to always want to move to a different home of my own choosing. Except, somewhere along the way I became content, and rooted myself right here.

Thank you for the reminder that home is where you're happy, and that's pretty much it!

Jackie said...

I'm wondering if Smart Guy reads your blogs; I hope so because this would "make his day." Beautifully written, Jan. Thank you for sharing a part of you with us.

Gigi said...

My mom was an Army brat and grew up pretty much the way you did - moving from place to place. Hearing the stories as a child made me wish we were an Army family. But the reality is, I would not have done well with that lifestyle; my personality couldn't have taken it.

Danielle said...

I so understand...I was an Army brat, I am an Army veteran, and a retired Army wife...settling down in one place was so very difficult...the first three years were hard...but we have been here for twelve years now and although I want to pack up and move on every now and then...those moments are few and far between.

Linda Reeder said...

When is it that "home" changes from the place you grew up, to the one you create for yourself. It has been a long time since I thought of that little farm in Oregon as home. I have lived in Seattle since I came here for college at age 18. It's home.
I think our backgrounds are about as opposite as they can be, and yet I feel so comfortable calling you friend.

Trish said...

I swear, you have a book in these sunday posts, DJan. Beautifully written.

Friko said...

Dear DJan,

I am writing a similar post, when I get to the end of it, if ever, it will be very like this one. The good thing is that you found your haven in the end and are happy in your life now. All's well that ends well. Regrets, perhaps we have some, but, at long last, life, as you say, is good.

May it remain so for a long while yet. More power to your elbow, dear friend.

Grandmother Mary said...

By showing up to your life and finding a partner to grow with, you became the healthy and happy person we, your blog friends, know and love. Good for you. Cherish the life you've created.

Nancy said...

Wonderful post. You have learned that happiness can only come from within and home is where the heart is. Life is so full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and never ceases to amaze me.

Rita said...

From the time I left the family home...well, I lost track after 30 of how many times I had moved. When I moved up here to the FM area in 1999 I had only lived in the same place for three years (twice) in over 30 years, but then I lived in the same apartment in Moorhead for six years and have already been here in Fargo for over seven. I am thrilled! I always felt I was like a turtle--carried my home with me wherever I went. Wanted to settle in someplace, but never was able to. Life seems to have taken a shift in that way. Probably why I take such delight in "building" my home around me...filling it with art & craft supplies and books.

I always tried to keep in touch with people I liked along the way. Most kind of drift away over time, but a few of them have remained friends for decades. And why I am such a letter writer--LOL! ;)

Loved learning more about you, dear lady!! *hugs* :)

Teresa Evangeline said...

I completely missed this post somehow. I'm so glad I came back to it now. I didn't have to deal with many moves as a child, only one, so having to adjust to new schools and new friends wasn't an issue for me, but since then I have made a few moves and each has been a real adventure. There's no right way to do Life, so I suppose the real issue is finding peace and contentment no matter the outward circumstances, which you seem to have done beautifully.

CrazyCris said...

"wherever my parents happened to be was "home," even if that wasn't a constant place"

VERY true DJan! For those of us who have moved around Home really is where the heart is! Even when I was living in Belgium -which ended up being 8 years!- "home" was still Alicante because that's where my parents lived (and I kept expecting to leave Belgium at any moment).

I was relatively lucky with all my moving around... Was quite open and easy going as a child, when we did most of the moving, and then when I became really shy and introverted -Jr High and High School- I was lucky enough to spent the whole period in the same city (in Mexico City)! My youngest sister had it rougher since my parents started moving again and she ended up going to 5 different schools in 5 years...

It's wonderful that you were finally able to settle down and choose your home. I hope some day I will have that feeling too! Right now though I still have trouble imagining that where I am is where I'll stay... I've kind of got one foot out of the door in case it's time to go again. :o(

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

That is a post that really tells you story well. Your unsettled early years led to some tough and rough times but a mature person found you and loved you and helped you. Look at all you are now!!