In the Museum of Memory

Frogs skim the surface of the green pool in our São Paulo backyard. A different beggar knocks every morning on the heavy wooden door. Brown beans and rice simmer in a cast iron pot. A low dance of voices wind up the staircase. Socks slip and itch. A shoot of sun reaches through the sway of curtain. I sit on the floor and watch dust motes travel the bloom of light. An orange cat sits under the shade of a small white car.

Wool socks and boots and jackets with zippered pockets. Walks to the bus stop while snow falls like cherry blossom petals after a rain. The crunch and slick of a Pennsylvania winter underfoot. The cold finds its way between the fingers of my glove. Children sled past our house. Backyard runs into backyard, white hill becomes whiter sky. In the distance a black dog lifts its wet nose into the cold air. The neighborhood trees are trimmed in lace sharp ice.

Canyons give way to winding roads, houses perch like birds and then there is a sudden plunge of white cap and riptide. Miles of California sand. Wildfires in October, tumbleweeds and stucco on the ceilings. Suntan lotion and black plastic sunglasses. Sandy peanut butter sandwiches. Cut grass, fresh paint, sourdough toasting in an oven. Silverfish dart into unreachable corners. I fall asleep to coyotes singing a cold embrace of night.

On the corner there is a store filled with buttons of every color, shape and size. A mile away, dried fish sold from bins on the street. Pickles in barrels. A man plays drums made out of five gallon plastic buckets in front of my New York apartment. A percussion of heat comes up the pipes. Books and more books from floor to ceiling. Body sways with other bodies as the subway carries us through the dark underground tunnels. In the park a woman reaches up to meet a kiss. I look out the window of a high-rise and see the city return as though through the eye-hole of a kaleidoscope.

One hundred shades of green. Spindly trees, lush trees, white flowering and pink flowering trees. Grinding coffee beans. An insistence of rain. Dark puddles on asphalt pattered, mud softened, wet dog, yellow slicker rain. Children pour warm bubbly bath water over each other’s heads. A cat drinks from a glass filled with water on the kitchen table. I cut the figures of memory from the finest sheet of paper and pin them on the wall as the neighbor starts up his old blue truck.

Traveling always challenges my idea of home. Where is home? Am I in the right place?  Please share what home means to you.

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26 thoughts on “In the Museum of Memory

  1. Beautiful post. I know these feelings. Often, it’s not until I return home that I understand how travel has irrevocably changed me, and helped to reveal just how big and diverse this little planet has become.

    • Lucy, So true! Travel can either make me really appreciate going back home or it can make me yearn to move. The diversity of our planet is overwhelming, beautiful, amazing!

  2. Pure poetry! Home to me…we moved a lot as a kid, so I don’t recall a “home” as a place, it has always been where family is. And, yes, gag, it is now wherever my husband is — i’m sappy like that. But the place I lived longest in my life was St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. My dream house was there. I don’t want to move back, but it will always tug at my heart.

    • Pamela, I’m having a hard time living across the country from my extended family these days, though there is a lot to love about Portland (and I love my friends here). St. Croix must’ve been paradise! I’d love to see a picture of your house there. xo

  3. I’m so glad you;re back!

    I’m with Pamela. I have never been a very static person. Home has always been more community than locality. I’ve felt at home in various places, actual and virtual. I’ve felt homeless in physical address of mine which were separate from the people with whom I connect.

    • Ben, Exactly that. Exactly that feeling of being homeless in a physical address. Yes. The thought of staying in one place for many, many years makes me feel really uncomfortable, but I don’t want to uproot my family because of my itchy feet!

    • Sometimes I think there are advantages to living in one place your whole life. (Especially beautiful California!) I never really feel rooted, and that can be problematic. Would you ever consider relocating?

  4. p.s. I forgot to respond to the “where is home” question.

    This 30-mile radius of southern California (stretching from Newbury Park to Westwood) is my only home. Fof 43 years.

    The Conejo Valley, most specifically. Rabbit, in Spanish. Thousand Oaks (although there are more than an thousand).

    I dreamed of living elsewhere; expected it would happen to me in my grown-up life. Then I met a man who had lived other places. He likes here.

    So. Here we are.

    • I know your home so well, Julie! I miss so much about the Rabbit (love the translation) & Thousand Oaks. The fact that you feel home in your home is a great thing. You can travel & experience so many other places. I fear that I will never really feel home anywhere (I do feel homey with my family, of course).

  5. I loved the opening of your home in Sao Paulo. I have not been to Brazil, but I’ve lived in other places in Mexico and the Caribbean. I’m tempted to re-create this post of home on my blog, examining the different homes of my life… thank you!

  6. “Traveling always challenges my idea of home.” Yes! This.
    Gorgeous imagery and the longing it evokes…just lovely, Jennifer. It makes me want to pack up.

  7. First, I gotta tell you what I hope you already know: beautiful, lyrical descriptive writing. I read it aloud to my husband. “Hey, hun, wanna hear a beautiful blog?” I asked. So I got to hear your words as well as read them.

    Home. I have lived only in Maryland and Virginia. You nailed springtime here when you used the phrase “100 shades of green.” But this does not feel like home to me. When I visited Northern California and Colorado and the PNW, that felt like home. Mountains. Fog. Cold winters. Vistas that extend far past my imagination. The Pacific Ocean in all shades of green and blue, swirling with whitecaps. Fir trees. Oh, I can go on and on . . . thank you for giving me a mental picture.

  8. Going home to where I grew up is always bittersweet for me. Memories of events that were not so good, but oh how the geographic features welcome me and hold me. The foothills of the Appalachians hug and the ever-flowing Ohio racing toward the south as a reminder that there is hope, a way out. In my adult life, I have never found that same feeling provided by the hills and the river but in moving away from them I have been able to provide for my family memories filled with hugs and hope…

    Lovely, lovely writing. I really wished to be in the city you described. Love that sort of energy.

    • Kimberly, It is interesting to think about how geography and memory can be at such odds. I love that what you said about the hills and river reminding you that there is a way out. I know that you have worked hard to give your family a completely different experience than what you had as a child & that is a beautiful thing. XO

  9. Beautiful, beautiful writing. It is very rare that I discuss blogs that I read with my family, but tonight was an exception. I asked the question ‘What does home mean to you?’ they are still talking about it as I write this comment! Thank you.

  10. Oh this makes me itch to travel and write and maybe just share some wine and chocolate with you?

    Beautiful writing – as always -my sweet friend.

    (Welcome home. I missed you.)


    • Hi, Anna! Thank you so much for your kind comment. Each place makes up a little bit of me, I believe. And a little bit of me is still in the places I’ve left behind. I guess that’s what I was trying to explore. Anyhow, thank you for being here with me. xo

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