August 15, 2010 with guest host Rita Celli
"Can you ever really return home?"
Guests and Links
Guest host Rita Celli's introduction to the August 15, 2010 program:
Our topic today: "Can you ever really return home?"
Going home is complicated business. It's not always a straight line to happiness. Author Thomas Wolfe told us we can't go home, but still many of us try. Or do.
It might be what you're doing right now. Your summer roadtrip. Show the kids your hometown. What will you do if the house is gone?
You might have moved away in your 20's and come back. Perhaps to join a family business. Your biggest job might be trying to fit in, with all your old friends, from highschool. People who never left.
Many immigrants also yearn for the place they're from. Go back hoping to feel most at home. This too can be bittersweet. They belong ...but sometimes, they also find themselves on the outside.
"Going home" also provokes us to consider, what exactly is home? Is it the place you spent your early life. The place you are now? What if you can never go back?
I grew up in Sudbury and still go back to visit my family.
There used to be a commercial on Q-92 FM. Private radio.
Try to imagine this line in the deepest male voice possible: "Where Sudbury rocks. We move more rock than Inco."
Sudbury is ALL about the rocks. Growing up, that's all you could see. Charred black rock. Burnt a long time ago by reckless open pit smelting. Nothing green. A wisp of brown grass here or there.
As kids, we loved those rocks. The vast and barren Inco property behind our homes was our playground. Endless opportunities for our imaginations. We'd pack a lunch, go exploring, and sometimes we landed our spaceship on another planet.
You've probably heard that astronauts trained in Sudbury. It was a moonscape. On one expedition, we stumbled on a very smooth worn-out ledge -- shaped like a couch. Dangling our legs off a rock face that was metres high, we "hung out" in the "Flintstone" house.
One of our favourite passtimes was lying on the rocks. Black is an excellent magnet for the sun, and we could feel the heat radiating from the stone. We would look for sharp pointy rocks to use as tools, and lying on our stomachs, we would tap away at the dry burnt crust. It was soft and chalky underneath. How many hours did we spend chatting and chipping. Carving out our names, initials, and hearts into the rock.
We LOVED a big black rock behind my house. We knew the hippies had loved it too. It was all spraypainted in crazy bright colours. An enormous peace sign. A monster sized daisy. The words: "Flower Power." You could see it from everywhere. Even from the only tree around. The tree we turned into a hotel, The Paris Royale. We served mudpies and cocktails. The drink list reveals two rocks for a rum and coke. Three for a Tom Collins and so on.
At night, the sky was set on fire. Red and pink, especially gorgeous in the snow. Orange lava ran down the hills near our home. The mining companies dumped flaming slag all year round. Night or day, for us children, Sudbury was magic.
When I was ten, our family took our first trip out of the country. We went to Europe, to see grandparents who now lived in Belgium, an aunt and uncle in France, and my parent's home: in Italy. I remember more of the feeling. Almost like being sucker punched. It was too much. Snow-crowned Alps. Lush hillsides covered in poppies, and olive trees and stunning ancient ruins.
We stayed in my parents town, a medieval village in Abbruzzo. That's the region devasted by earthquakes more than a year ago. Their home was all about rock too. Cobblestone streets. Stone walls, archways and churches. Le grotte. Caves, like the ones they hid in during the war.
When we returned to Sudbury, I could "see" I was home. All the endless, black and black, and beige. Barely out of the airport, I announced to my mother: "Sudbury is ugly."
I was right. Sudbury wasn't Switzerland, or Italy.
But here's the thing. Sudbury today, is also not the place in which I grew up. There is grass where there used to be sand, and there are millions of trees. Evergreens. Poplars. Birch. The city is an environmental success story. People around the world study how Sudbury turned it around. It has lots of reasons to brag and be proud.
But I'm a little wistful about my hometown. When I go back, I could still pretend to land my spaceship. I AM from another time.
The big spraypainted rock, with Flower Power, and Peace, has disappeared. It's probably still there somewhere...but you can't see it. Not with all those healthy, leafy trees covering it up.
So what do I do? I carry away rocks. Load them into the trunk of my car and bring them to my new home. A piece of quartz, and fool's gold. A piece of curly slag that looks like chocolate, and feels like silk.
Where Sudbury rocks: The city looks so much different -- but it remains the foundation of my inner landscape.
Today on Cross Country Check up: Can you ever go home again? What happened when you tried? Was it everything you hoped for ....or did you make a getaway?
We have poetry, and live music. A professor will explain this contradiction in literature: why, generally, adults can't go home but children always must.
As old as Homer's Odyssey, we try to go home. With mixed results.
I'm Rita Celli ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
Interviewed by guest host Rita Celli on the August 15, 2010 program
"Can you ever really return home?"
August 15, 2010
"We want to hear your stories about what home means to you."
I grew up in Sackville N.B, a pretty famous little town thanks to Mt Allison, Alex Coleville, Lawren Harris Jr and even Ian Honomansing lived there (Ian and I both took piano lessons from Mrs Fawcett). I've been on the west coast for 30 yrs and still call Sackville my home. My husband and I bought and renovated a cottage on the Northumberland Strait near the Confederation Bridge (there is a family cottage there as well),and we go back every year. People here think we're crazy...flying the dog for the first 5 years and last year we drove, a fabulous trip. This year we're going the end of Sept. I love the wind and the marshes the water and the vastness. Also the clouds are really puffy. I think part of the mindset to want to return is the happiness and success you measure your life by, you've met some goals... the memories, importance of family and for me and the simplicity I'm wanting as I age and retire.
Victoria, British Columbia
"Can you ever really return home?" The question could be posed as "can you turn back time?"
I left my roots, such as they were, on the north shore of Lake Erie in 1985, and after a pause at the University of Toronto, departed from Canada for other shores -- the most northern, southern, eastern, and western ones I could find. In the intervening years, I have crossed 56 countries, which in itself is nothing, since there is always a traveler with more notches in her belt, more stamps in her passport, rarer insect bites in her hide. It is how you travel that determines whether your story is a novel, a film, or a flimsy travel brochure. The jury is out on mine.
Another aspect to consider is the motivation behind one's return. Every traveller has intentions -- grand, but stupid, Hollywood dreams of being feted and fed on arrival in our hometown -- but nothing truly motivates people -- actually physical, mentally, and emotionally moves them -- more than deaths and births.
In my case, death was the motivator that brought me back to the home I was raised in. A midnight phone call from thirteen time zones away informed me -- in whispered, measured tones -- that I had inherited a property and a house. So, for the first time in 22 years, I came back to see it.
I found the home in shambles, stinking of excrement and occupied by snakes and vermin -- not unlike the state of my Canadian accent. Relatives, distant, suggested kindly that I tear down the house, sell the property, and return to my life over there. Struck by the discord between my idealized, decades-old memories of home and reality, I nearly agreed with them.
But then I changed my mind.
You can't really return home because the concept of home is complicated by a time component. What was home then is not home now, and what you were then is not what you are now.
What you can do, if you are fortunate enough, is choose to rediscover it. Rebuild and redefine it for another generation to live in, to enjoy, and, eventually, to mythologize when they leave. That is what I have chosen to do.
Port Rowan, Ontario
I am from Goa (a former Portuguese colony) and am going to a Goa Day picnic (Quebec Goan Association) at Parc Angrion all day...a day we celebrate where we come from. Not sure we can call but a nice co-incidence. There is so much in-migration into Goa (within India) and steady out-migration of Goans that Goan are in a minority and the culture ....may disappear in the near future.
After years and years of wanting to show my sons my birthplace of Port Colborne,
Ontario, where I lived a truly Tom Sawyer-type of summer life for my first eleven
years I stumbled upon a pretty cool substitute: Google Maps. I merely entered
my current address and my old one at West-Side Road and Killaly St. in Port
Colborne and by clicking on camera icons and using my mouse I could take them
digitally all over town. The only thing missing were shots of the abandonded
Canada Cement Plant quarries and Sand Hill.
Thomas (Tommie) Brawn
My fahter passed away only two weeks ago at the age of 83. Home was with him. Home is with those we love and with the memory of those we loved. But we seem to remember home and our loved ones through places and spaces; my father swimming at the lake or walking the dog around the block.
10 Orange St., Saint John was where my family lived; Ten of us;my parents, my six siblings (6 sisters and 1 brother) and my maternal grandmother. The home orginally of my great grandfather. It is here that I picture my grandmother making donuts and her walk-in pantry, or as children sneeking a peek through the brass letter slot in the vestibule and smelling Mom's latest baking of the day or the iron pedstal tub in large bathroom filled with my six sisters as we washed our hair, brushed out teeth and talked of school for the day.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
I grew up in a small midwestern U.S. town during the era of the TV series called Peyton Place. I look back on my hometown as a similar place where everyone knew everyone else's business, where money was a measure of the importance of one's family and where racism was rampant. Even as a child, I couldn't wait to leave. I ended up in England, where I remarried and moved to Canada, which has been my home for over 30 years. Although I've visited family and friends in Illinois and Michigan, my heart is definitely here as a Canadian citizen.
My 50th high school reunion will be on October 2-3. My husband and I will attend. I look forward to the experience with trepedation. This year I've received many emails from the women who are making reunion plans. I tremble at the conservative tone of responses to my return emails. I'm picking my brains for non-controversial conversation topics. Religion is out. Politics is taboo -- they are staunch Republicans. My husband and I admire President Obama. Sex? I don't think so, at any age. We're all pushing 70! Why am I going? Pure curiosity. I'm just thankful no one's condemned me for leaving the USA--at least to my face during past visits. I'm sure I'll return from the reunion with a good story.
Judith Hill Benson
Salmon Arm, British Columbia
I was twelve years of age and one of nine children my parents brought from Yorkshire England to Ontario in 1968. I have lived in Ontario for twenty years, Nova Scotia for 12, Alberta for 4 and most recently in Newfoundland for the past 6. I remain a fervent, albeit disappointed supporter of England during the World Cup of Soccer but I knew when I visited there after only three years absence that it was no longer my home. My home is now in Arnold's Cove alongside my wife and children and those most welcoming of people with whom we share daily, each little success and failure, joy and sorrow and yes of course the weather.
Arnold's Cove, Newfoundland
I was born on September 6, 1949 in post war Berlin. We left for New York on Dec 17 the same year. By the time I was 5 I had lived in 4 different cities and by the time I graduated from high school I had moved 8 times including the immigration. After a number of years in New Jersey, New York and Kentucky I landed in Montreal. I've been here now for 28 years and I guess it's as much home as it can be. I have no sense of attachment to NJ where my mother and brother still live. I'll be going back to Berlin for the first time, appropriately on September 6th, and am intensely curious if I'll have any sense of belonging to the place I was born.
I'm listening to the show from Copenhagen - now I can't stop thinking about home, rather "downhome", the Gaspe!
I've been living away from "downhome" for about 12 years now - it's irreplaceable. I can find comfort and community in other cities - Copenhagen is great and I was in Vancouver for a few years - but nowhere will ever be 'home' - home. I am constantly tempted to take the 18hr trip for a breath of air from the coast and a cozy chat with mom & dad.
Jody Lee Potvin-Jones
When I finished school I took two years and toured the U.K. It was an exciting time and I didn't really miss home until one day I was in the break room at the pub I was working at and on the telly was a hockey game. If memory serves it was Nottingham vs. London. Truthfully it was the only time I could think of that I was homesick, and I don't even follow hockey when I am home.
I enjoyed every minute of my time over there but when it was time to go home I couldn't help but think of a quote from Terry Prachett's Book "Witches Abroad": "Well, I suppose there's no place like home," Nanny said. "No," said Granny Weatherwax. "There's a billions places like home. But only one of 'em's where you live."
Given the "conventional" meaning of home, no, I can't go home again.
Given our "personal" meaning of home, we are currently there!
I was born during the war (WW II), in Halifax, NS. Dad flew anti submarine patrolls during the war with the RCAF. Following the war, he went to England and Germany with the occupation forces.
Upon his return, my life as an "Air Force Brat" began. During the next dozen years or so, we resided at various bases across Canada while I attended (I think) about 12 schools. From Rockliffe, ON to Clinton, ON, to Belleville/Trenton, ON to Edgar ON, to St. Hubert PQ, to Gander, NFLD, to Sydney, CB, to Ottawa, ON. It was in Ottawa that I joined the reserve Navy and spent a summer on board a destroyer escort. Following that, I joined the Air Force and served on stations in NS, QUE and Ontario before going as a "civilian" to the Mid Canada Radar line in Knob Lake (Que/Labrador).
It was in Que/Labrador that I met Linda (who had grown up in one small town in Quebec). From there, (with the closing of the Mid Canada Radar line) we travelled with the mining industry from Schefferville, PQ to Sept Iles PQ to Timmins ON to Montreal PQ and on to Lynn Lake, MB. After the great length of time (7 years) in Lynn Lake, (Including a 2 month stint in between in Elliott Lake, ON) we moved to Calgary with an Oil Sands project. The project shut down in early 80s, and the next phase began. I incorporated as a small business and eventually had two offices in Toronto and Vancouver. During all of this, Linda maintained (for 19 years), our home base in Turner Valley, AB. North American travel was extensive.
Today we are retired in Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island. We are a small family with one son in upstate NY. Linda has an Aunt and Uncle in Niagara Falls NY. Other than them, we have no parents and no other aunts or uncles. Linda's home town is pretty desolate, where we met in Quebec/Labrador is devoid of mining, several Air Force bases (which we have re-visited) are now ghost towns. Lynn Lake in northern Manitoba has been shut down to mining for some years.
In short, to us, home is where we together hang our hats. Right now it's Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island. In a few years, who knows?
Scott and Linda Henley
Qualicum Bay, British Columbia
Nationlessness is an emotional experience for Canadians.
I grew up in a bedroom community north of Saskatoon, the product of a traditional Ukrainian upbringing thanks to loving parents.
Our colourful milieu of song, dance, arts and crafts stood in contrast with the contrived and often stagnant prairie mode-de-vie of rodeos, BBQs, and dirt farming.
It was not uncommon in the time to sing Ukraine's national anthem, evoking emotional responses for Canadians during the Soviet regime.
The birth of a modern nation came with the fall of the soviet union, and an adversarial relationship with Moscow deteriorated. The struggle was over and the enemy was defeated.
I love the music and the latin influence of my new home, in Montreal. Everyone has an interesting story of how they escaped the homeland and can never return. We have problems in our country. I think about the hundreds of first nations swept under the rug for a hundred and fifty years. Do I pledge to defend an entity that has perpetrated such atrocities?
Alas, I don't know where my national allegiances lie. I feel like I am nationless.
Your topic is timely because we are soon 'celebrating' on a year without a home! After living in London, Ontario for many years we retired thinking that we wanted to find an interesting new place to experience - a place with distinctive geographical features. We looked for a water or mountain view and desired a cottage or chalet - in effect a vacation feeling every day. Having lived in New York and Europe we longed for a unique environment in Canada.
Well . . . after trying Vancouver, Victoria, Osoyoos B.C., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Mont Tremblant and finally Hudson, Quebec, we realized three things.
Firstly, that the constant intensity of traffic and people in big cities is oppressive. Secondly, remote areas require too much time in the car for amenities and culture. Thirdly, no one place is perfect.
In conclusion, we miss some of the things we liked in London, such as great friends and tree-lined streets, and yet we still have longings to experience new places.
Roger and Rozanne Stein
From the Fifties to the Eighties, my family had 24 different addresses in several different countries, over the course of my father's career as an Officer in the Canadian army.
My sister and I did as most army brats do and adjusted pretty well to the repeated packing, departing, arriving, aclimatizing, packing and departing,
the leaving-behind of friends and relatives, the making and re-making friendships. Now in our fifties, we agree that we may actually be better people for all our
exposure to different cultures, sights, and ideas.
During those years, going home again was not really an option for us. We had no home base really, except, that is, for my grandparents' house in a small town in southern Saskatchewan.
They had retired to the ramshackle century-old farmhouse in the early Sixties. We spent all the time we could there over the years, my dad and mom helping them
restore the old place to its former glory. It was a beautiful place to visit and we had wonderful summers and cozy Christmases there. It wasn't our house, but it did feel like
our home base, a place we could count on, filled with our family stories. Eventually, my grandparents went on ahead and my parents retired and, in turn, moved into the old place, continuing
to improve and care for it for another fifteen years. By now my sister and I were grown, but we came back happily any time we could to this house which seems to have
been the only constant in our nomadic lives.
As my parents aged, they found the property harder to care for, so they sold it to a nice local man who had loved the house since he was a boy. He and
his wife raised their family there and took good care of "our" house. But, my sister and I agreed that we felt cheated. We had lost our home base, our touchstone.
Then, swiftly and with no warning, personal tragedy befell the new owners, altering their lives instantly. They put the house on the market and moved on.
By this time, my father had died and my mother's world was getting smaller as dementia took its hold on her. My sister phoned me one day to tell me the old
house was still unsold. We both knew what the other was thinking: could we manage to buy it back? I could live there with Mom and my dogs and continue telecommuting.
My sister, who lives abroad, could, of course, visit whenever she pleased. Did this mean we could go home again?
I took the plunge, engaging a realtor and making plans to merge and move households yet again--would this be for the last time? Excitement and nostalgia
ran high, until...
Well, it turns out this town we had loved so much over the decades, one my dad had been Mayor of for years, one we had always known to be a safe and wholesome town,
had put a pit bull ban in place. I had four pit bulls, all rescues, all badly abused and neglected in their past, now content and amiable couch potatoes. I advocate for pit bulls
and have been fighting breed bans for years. So, I petitioned the town for a change to their ban, and told them how safe and well-cared for these old dogs
were; how I needed a soft, familiar place for my mother to land for her remaining years; how I would be bringing my small business to the region; how dear the place was to my sister and me;
and how my father and grandparents might have approved. In short, I begged for permission to come home again. But town council would not budge. I could only have the property if I jettisoned the dogs.
Well, that wasn't going to happen, so we abandoned the only plan we have ever had to "go home again". It made us sad for a while, but then the longing for the family seat was replaced
by the feeling that we are almost certainly better off calling the place we are now "home". My mom is home, my dogs are home, my sister is home, my friends and neighbours are home.
Maybe that old chestnut about growing where you're planted means that you just never have to worry about going home again. You don't have to fret about looking back or longing for a geographical
home base, or fitting in somewhere you might not belong. Or giving up your dogs...
Kilby P. Cottingham
Lake Cowichan, British Columbia
I 'ran away' from home at the age of 24 when I got married. My life in Ottawa was making me physically and mentally ill. I moved to Montreal and began to live a normal life...but the thought of returning to live in the Ottawa area has created a pit in my stomach for the past 22 years.
Your home can be wonderful, as I hope it is for my three teenage children. But your home can also be a place where you are not meant to be. And that is when you need to move far, far away and start over, and build yourself a new 'home'.
I have some experience, as do most people, with "going home" in many different ways. It's a state of mind, as far as I'm concerned. It seems to me that it's more important to consider how soon you want to leave "home" than where "home" might be.
Sioux Lookout, Ontario
There was a time I thought I'd never go back home. While my parents were
wonderful, my entire childhood was defined by bullying, physical abuse,
and humiliation, at school and with so-called friends. I couldn't get my
parents to understand what I was going through. I didn't have the words
to explain it.
As soon as I finished high school, I moved to Winnipeg. But that wasn't
far enough. I moved to Toronto. And wouldn't you know it, I ended up
marrying someone there who exemplified everything that my home town
meant to me. I escaped. I came 'home'. Home was... better. Maybe it was
something as simple as cable TV coming in, broadening perspective. I'm
I moved back to Winnipeg. My mother passed away, my father remarried.
The house I grew up in doesn't look like it did when I was a kid. The
town has expanded, become a city. I have my own house, and family. Home
is where you feel safe, and I feel safe here.
My husband and I have very different perspectives on home. Both of his
parents came from homesteading families in the Wilberforce area of
Haliburton County. When we visit his parents, we drive through a great
deal of land that was originally owned by one or the other of his
parents' families. The local cemeteries are full of familiar names, and
my elder son can find his own name more than once in the small cemetery
across the road from the old Essonville Church. My husband has a very
strong sense of where he is from, and many generations of his family
have shared the same geographic concept of home, which is a rarity in
our modern world.
I am a different story.....my father was born in a part of Germany,
which is now Poland, during the German withdrawal from the Eastern
Front, and came to Canada when he was 11. My maternal grandmother's
family came to Ontario from Germany more than a century ago, but my
maternal grandfather didn't arrive in Canada from Holland, until he was
17. I grew up in London, Ontario, but while I consider it my hometown (I
lived there from the age of 2-18), my parents left there in 1999, and it
stopped being home once I left to go to university.
My dad died 6 years ago and my mom has since remarried, and built a new
home with her new husband in rural southern Ontario...that's definitely
All of this occasionally makes me feel somewhat rootless. I, of course,
have home with my own husband and kids, here in Peterborough, Ontario,
and home is always wherever they are. But in terms of me going
home...it wasn't until 2 years ago, when, for the first time, I did
not make it to the family cottage (now owned by my brother) at Sauble
Beach, Ontario, that I realized that the only place left that truly made
me feel like I was in touch with my "home" memories, was a small stretch
of beach known as French Bay. So much of who I was came from my
experiences in this place - first real love, first real heartbreak,
many, many wonderful memories with my grandfather and my parents, really
beginning to assert my independence, and who I was.
That's home to me, and that's why I have to find time to make the trek
at least once a year. Last year, when I watched my children play with my
nephew on the beach, as the sun went down, I wept - for joy at being home.