Places of the Mind


Amanda is, unfortunately, not feeling well, so her guest post has been moved, hopefully till tomorrow, when she should be more human.

I should have done a post earlier, but I was dealing with administrivia this morning.  So…

Have you ever thought about the places that are part of us?  Some of those places don’t even exist.

I mean, sure, when I was really little I used to base all my imaginary places — hovels to palaces — on grandma’s house.  Considering that by three or four I was imagining empires in other worlds (I have a defense.  I was very sickly, and since I was just starting to read, and no one would tell me enough stories, I started telling myself stories) it was pretty weird to base all those buildings in what was basically an old-style Portuguese farmhouse.  But I did.  Kings received ambassadors in grandma’s large kitchen, with the throne placed about where the table was.  The rest of it tended to stay the same in my brain, so there were the cabinets grandad made, the large dresser where we stored bread and flour, and the Franklyn stove in a corner.  I just wish I’d written those early sagas because they made for interesting reading.  (Combined with the fact that the Portuguese word for Grocer — Mercieiro — on first hearing was completely opaque to me — we called our Grocer Sr. Antonio and the general store he managed a “butcher’s” which is weird, as I think the only meat it sold was cured.  I’ll have to assume it was an earlier building in the same place.  They did, however, sell everything from almonds to tobacco, passing through clogs and school composition books — I thought Mercieiro meant “he who grants mercy” so I had a series of kings with the title.  Yeah.)

But there are other places that stayed with me, some read, some I visited once or twice and I’m not even sure where they are.  Some — who knows?

For example, there is this vivid memory I have of climbing pine stairs, in a small cottage, to a tiny room (basically a single bed under a sloping roof.)  I remember it because the woodwork was flawless, stairs and all done and sanded and glowing, as if they were the finest piece of furniture, and also because some organization freak had designed them.  The risers of the steps had drawers.  The walls surrounding the stair case had shelves.  The bed had drawers under it, and drawers were built in to the woodwork around the tiny bed, everywhere they fit, even if some had really weird shapes.  And yes, the sloping ceiling was carefully fitted, sanded, etc. boards.

I’ve always had the idea that this was the upstairs of my great grandmother’s house, and have a vague idea that I slept there the night before her funeral, but I don’t know.  It could as easily be the upstairs of some cottage we stayed in while we were driving through roadless/trackless wastes in the mountains of Northern Portugal in 68, trying to trace my Brazilian aunt’s ancestry while she was visiting.  Her ancestors came from such tiny places that some of the villages, when they saw the car approach someone would run to ring the church bell, and everyone would come running from the fields, and it would be an impromptu holiday, even if it turned out she had no ancestors/relatives from there.  They were isolated and loved the break in the monotony.  And we stayed overnight in some of those places, so it could be there.

However, the beauty of the woodwork, the cunning of the storage stayed with me.  Now I’m older, I suspect that thing was designed (and possibly built) by naval builders.

Then there is the sea.  Lots of people reading my books assume I grew up by the sea.  That’s not… precisely true.

Sure, my parents are maybe ten miles from the sea, which in the states would make it really close, and have a major influence over my life.

Other than the fact that fish was the almost-free food, only more expensive than when a hunter-friend donated his excess hunted animals, not so much.

Sure, the village had a fishmonger who came down the main street everyday with her basket of fish.  Mind, she took the bus from the seaside where she bought the fish at 4 or 5 am, and got to our village around 10 or so.  But I don’t know if she hit other villages first.  It’s probable.  She’d start either in Porto, or the villages at the outskirts, because people were wealthy there, and I suspect things were fairly picked over by the time she got to the village. Mostly we ate sardines and mackerel.  The “good fish” was usually when mom went to the fair near the city where the big fishmongers sold their buys.  This fish/seafood being really cheap created some odd features of my childhood.  First, I don’t like fish (no really) second, my second-favorite treat was clams, which would be cooked on top of the hibachi.  If I was good I’d be allowed to buy a half-dozen clams.

But other than that, going to the sea by bus (or car, because it was all twisty back roads) took about 2 hours.

Sure, we did this in summer, religiously, for at least a month (usually September, because the rental of a beach shelter was cheaper) because Portuguese believe that if you don’t spend at least a month at the beach every year as a kid, you’ll be stunted.

So I loved the beach, sure, but as a vacation thing.  Later, when we had the money to rent places by the sea, dad and I would spend days climbing cliffs, exploring ruins, and/or finding picturesque little villages.  I suspect most of my seaside locations come from those days, which I did love.

Every writer should have experience of some weird places too, though I was lucky to be born in one.  This is because reality is not only weirder than you think it could be, but weirder than you could imagine if you tried.

Take my childhood. First favorite treat was olives, which came once a week, brought by the oil-and-olives-and-lupini-beans man.  The olive-oil man worked from a donkey pulled cart.  The donkey wore a hat and was very patient.  IF I’d been very very good?  I could give the donkey a carrot.

Third favorite treat?  Peanuts and orange soda, the treat of Sunday afternoons when I was really small.  The man who sold the soda came down the street on Sunday selling his wares.  Also the seller of waffle…. rolls.  Think waffle cones without the cone.  They were called lingua da sogra (Mother in law’s tongue.)  Other vendors did the same route and sold potato chips.  They carried their wares in these metal cylinders with lids which looked like small water heaters, with two straps they put over their shoulders.

Imagine a village where everyone sits on their stoop (Mediterranean, so no porches.  The house door is RIGHT on the street, but it has a stoop made of stone.  The cleaning and bleaching of those stoops was a MAJOR source of neurotic obsession to the women of the village.) except the elders might be in chairs, the back against the wall of the house (the look/cleanliness of those chairs was another form of obsession and social signaling.) The women crochet.  They might visit a door or two away, to gossip or exchange patterns.  Ditto the men, who mostly have the radio nearby and are listening to the soccer game.  Anyone who walks up or down that street (my family when mom dragged us to the trolley to go visit her family two villages away, or courting couples, or people who got bored and went for a walk) is dissected with the fervor that political wonks dissected soviet podiums at may day parade.  So you’d best be wearing your best, and if courting, you’d best be following the rules for the stage you’re at.  (I think holding hands was when you’d been dating for a year.  Arm over shoulder only if you were engaged.)

And then down that street come sellers of soda (mostly orange.  Might have been homemade) potato chips and waffle cookies.  And the kids swarmed them.

Then there was the Earl’s manor house across the street.  My mom was friends with the housekeeper, so I spent a lot of time there when the owner wasn’t.
I loved the kitchen, with its massive, spotless work table, the shelves of polished copper pots and pans, and the shelf upon shelf of jams and jellies (I was always given some jelly or jam on a cracker, too.)  It was sunny and looked out over endless fields.

The other room I loved was the “Chinese room.”  Yeah, it was decorated exactly as you expect.  Eighteenth century chinoiserie.  And it had the TV, which we were very often invited to come watch.

Then there were those amazing gardens, ornamented with statues and filled with fountains and carefully hemmed-in ponds and mini-rivers.  I loved those gardens.  Not for me, unless I become an incredibly wealthy person (like win big in lottery wealthy) because I’m sure it took an army of gardeners, but heavens, they were beautiful.  Maybe that’s why I love the Denver botanic gardens so much.  The conservatory is very like.

The place is now a b&b, btw, and very reasonable in price.  About what embassy suites costs in Denver, in the US.  Mind you those endless fields were sold and are full of skyscrapers, but part of me still wants to spend a night or two there when next I visit, and see what remains.  I know part of the garden does.

There are other places that are part of me, that I’ve never even lived in.  Don’t ask me how since they weren’t heavy on description, but not only did I get a second hand love for rural Wisconsin (which I’ve never even visited) from Simak’s books, but years later, when I got to see pictures of the English countryside, it looked exactly as I imagined.  There are places, like Miss Marple’s village (St. Mary’s Mead.)  I’m sure I’d not only recognize it on sight, but also the name of the various inhabitants would come back to me as though I were a long-lost-prodigal daughter.

It’s weird the effect places have on you, and how you often are not even aware of what history they had, but as a kid whatever you experienced becomes “the way things should be.”

My kids both love small mountain towns, because when they were very little we lived in Manitou Springs, in a funny house perched on the slope of a hill.

Those places become part of our souls, and — if you write or create — they live again in your work and may go on to be favorite places of people who never saw them.

What are some of yours?




61 thoughts on “Places of the Mind

  1. Aside from the obvious, that we all have visited Narnia, Mordor and Free Luna in our minds, I find that pretty much every place I’ve ever been to is a mental construct, consisting of the actual place, my impressions of it at the time I was there, and the haze imposed by memories.

    The house I grew up in, upon return visit, did not have the enormous yard of my childhood, neither in front’s enormous sweep of lawn down to the street and across to the creek, nor the back, site of many a childhood game of whiffle ball with all the neighborhood playing (we had a wall across the back, meaning you could hit a home run!)

    When I think of New York my impressions are of Times Square where Beloved Spouse & I stayed on our honeymoon in 1975. And of a certain brownstone on West 34th Street. I am quite sure neither exists today except as memory and even then a peculiarly distorted one.

    1. I’ll admit to not visiting Narnia, but Ganymede and the interior of a torch ship fit along with Luna and The Shire.
      Places outside Detroit fill my memory; our street would flood (we were about a mile from Lake Saint Clair) and a boatload of kids would play in the pond. The area was a bedroom community for the auto industry, and had a bunch of young families with growing families.

      My uncle had a cabin in the UP, on Whitefish Bay. Spent a couple weeks there one summer after my uncle inherited it from his uncle. A few years later, we spent an early Easter week in the cabin, and I’d tool around on snowshoes. Once the ice thawed just enough, we took my uncle’s boat up the river to near Taquamenon Falls. The winter/spring population of Paradise was in the single digits, possibly even after the 5 of us showed up. I remember getting depressed when we hit the big town of Newberry. Bright lights and big cities were an acquired taste that I could shed quickly. Still true.

      In college, I’d ride my motorcycle around south of Urbana, IL. One tiny town called Deers had a single lane paved road. (Verrry wide shoulder; never went there in winter). Somewhere I have a picture of my cycle parked athwart the road, all 8′ of pavement. (note to self, catalog some more of those images.)

      1. Besides visiting Narnia in my mind every time I read the books, there was one day at college when I was out and about in the early morning, before the sun had quite risen. It was autumn, the morning mist was sitting on the ground wrapping everything in fog, and the world felt magical. I remember thinking, as I passed one of the lampposts on the quad, that I would not have been at ALL surprised to see Mr. Tumnus walk out from behind that lamppost and drop his parcels in surprise at seeing me.

    2. It is not just in the memories of my mind that I have traveled in time, by the courtesy of books (and musicals) I have been in not just the foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia of my youth, but also in the earlier foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia of 1776.

  2. I absolutely love these posts. If you go back, I’d love it if you post pictures.

    I’m a suburban city girl, so, while there are some places I hold in my heart (mostly odd little shops and old book stores, and just about all of them are long gone now), it’s mostly asphalt streets and a lot of traffic. Most of my enchanted places are from books, though that’s not so bad.

  3. All four of my grandparents were from Northern England or Scotland but I was born and raised in toronto and moved to london to work in a pub after university. The first time I visited the north of england, I had peculiar feelings that were similar to deja vu but not quite. I felt very peaceful, like I was home, my molecules recognized where they from or something.

    Also, I believe in ghosts and I well remember being in a few rooms over the years that I believe were haunted.

    1. My MIL was like that when she visited Wales. Her family came from an English town just across the border.

    2. My father and his sister both claim that his high school bedroom was haunted. I figured they were talking of their childhood house in Arkansas and didn’t think much of it until a chance comment made me realize that he was talking about the house he’d lived in in Tennessee. Where I’d gotten dumped for a nap in that same bedroom at the age of four and woken up too terrified to move or talk an hour later. THAT got my attention.

  4. There are some books that have a certain…I guess ‘nostalgic-veil’ to them, that holds that sense of place/wonder/alternate reality for me. Mostly, they’re beloved childhood books–such as The Dark is Rising series, or Middle Earth, or Narnia. The Prydain books. But there are a few oddballs in there too–there’s a romance/contemporary fiction (well, contemporary for the late 1980s/early 1990s when the book was published, but it has a sort of timeless quality to it) that is set amongst high society in New York (and the main character is the butler). I don’t know why that book always appealed to me so much, but there is just something about the way it’s written–and I usually *hate* that kind of fiction. (It’s Glass Mountain by Cynthia Voigt, and I picked it up in high school because mostly the other stuff she wrote was teen-oriented, and so the school library had just, I think, bought it as a matter of course. It wasn’t “adult” adult, so it’s mostly fine for even the relatively young.) Some fantasy novels I no longer recall the names of, and which might have that ‘nostalgia feeling’ simply because I read them at a time I devoured so many books from the middle and high school libraries. And–again rather oddly–the adventurous Cold War landscapes of Alistair Maclean’s adventure/spy novels, which I plan to attempt rereading for the first time since my teens to see if they really ARE that much fun, or if it was just because I wasn’t a particularly fussy reader back then, heh.

    In the real world…well, there’s a few spots from my childhood/teens in Oklahoma that hold the memory magic for me, though I know they are almost certain gone/changed beyond recognition. And there are large chunks of the Wyoming landscape–which I’ve been visiting since infancy and now live among (for good or ill) that hold a certain desolate magic.

  5. Vienna. Vienna at Christmas, with snow falling, the air bitter cold, carrying a cone of hot chestnuts just off the roaster, with a bag of cookies from one of the market stalls in my coat pocket, and looking at the lights hung over the streets (all white except for the Rathaus and Rotenturn Strasse, which was the edge of the Roman city.) A river-side forest along the Missouri River where Sib and I used to roam (with our parents) when I was small, all seasons of the year from snow, through mud and hot summer to those perfect autumn days when all the world is perfect. Frijoles Canyon in the snow one winter, poking in and out of the ruins as a heavy snow sifts out of the sky and we are some of the only people there. Scrambling over rocks in the same canyon years later, only the second hiker since a major flood and the rangers asked me to report on trail conditions and trace-ability. (Decent and marginal, in that order). A small city on the Main River just at dawn as mist comes off the river. Looking out from Hlubolka Castle, Czech Republic, as the sun rises and the mist on the ponds and river turn white, and the grandmother’s webs – all dew-pearled – catch the light.

    1. Evening in Wurzburg Christmarkt, carols ringing out, hot chestnuts, steaming glüwein, with my family, and it starts to snow lightly.
      Same market square, but summer, at the little bratwurst stand, 8yo, getting a brat (Nurnberger style – the long ones, folded in half on a brotchen) and an orange Fanta (Yes, Sarah, what is it with the Europeans and orange soda, from back in that day?). Then, 30 years later, standing in the same spot as an adult, at the same stand, getting another brat and orange soda.

      Forests where I played (in TX, eastern WA, and western NY) or camped. Houses – mine and others. Churches where I studied and worshipped, or went to Boy Scouts.

      Places have a way of anchoring some memories. People anchor others. Or smells or sounds. But places you can visit again so easily in your mind.

  6. I see I might have to take a few photos next time I have a chance in Wisconsin. I suppose every place the locals like say the same thing, and as I grew up there I’m biased, but when they call it “God’s country” well… there are times it seems reasonable.

    In sleep-dreams often the place is a house I’ve been or occasionally a mashup of houses. Several times the dream-time house was a strange mixture of houses of both sets of grandparents.

    A place I’ve not really been, but sort of have been is a peaceful setting for relaxation & visualization. I rest partway up a hill (not a mountain) and look over gently rolling hills and fields. There is a small stream near enough to be heard, perhaps horses grazing in the distance, and far off below there might be a train going by.

    Cities? Towns? Eh, they’re kinda just there. A “lonely” rural road on a cloudless, and nearly moonless night? Ah.. that’s an elixir, that is.

  7. My uncle’s farm. Not that much car traffic in that village back then – west Finland village, the houses were far from each other with fields and small patches of forest between them – so what I remember best is the warm quiet summer afternoons, and going to the farthest hay field on a haywagon drawn by his horse (a grumpy gelding named Timo – I was always warned to stay away from him because he had a tendency to bite, did nip me a couple of times), the horse slogging on at a rather slow pace on the sand road, us sitting on the flat bed of the wagon. That wagon was pretty much just a large board made of sawed planks and fitted with one axle for two wheels and the poles, and removable high sides for when it was used to transport the hay. Old fashioned, that, even back when I was a child in the 60’s and early 70’s, uncle never modernized his farm and everything was done the way it had been done since about the 40’s, the only change was that he paid his neighbor to cut the hay with a tractor. The rest was done by members of the family, most who lived hours away but always went to the farm during the hayseason to help (I presume he paid them at least something – they used several of their summer vacation days for that), and his horse.

    The photos are just something I found online, but pretty much exactly what I remember.

  8. I have one place not unlike your little room on the upper floor of a cottage. There’s a park that I think of as “the cave park”; it’s big feature is a bunch of rocks stacked together making kid-sized caves. Now, it’s real, and I know where it is, and I know I played in this park as a child, but for the life of me, I cannot remember when or why. It’s not near where I lived, where any of my friends lived, where I went to school, or where my parents worked. But whatever the reason I was there, it created an incredibly vivid impression in my mind.

  9. And of winter, cross country skiing near my childhood home on the bright days of February, making my own tracks in the untouched glittering snow. 🙂

  10. I spent a large part of my childhood and teenager-hood in a depressed upstate New York county. There wasn’t much going on there: mostly farming, and…farming. And virtually no one was making enough money to meet the interest on his farm loans.

    I was there to maintain a house and grounds for my grandmother and aunts, who had a spread there that they used as a summer getaway from their regular Upper Bronx residence. There was a lot of work and no companionship to speak of. I learned a few interesting skills: how to fix various broken-down lawn mowers, how to unclog and adjust the burning head of an oil heater, and how to clean out a septic tank. Sadly, none of them came in handy later in life.

    And I became acquainted with the New York no one knows: the worn out houses and weary town streets, the clattering cars whose owners kept them running by sheer force of will, the huge cow pastures enclosed by rotting-away split-rail fences, and the stolid, hang-on-by-your-fingernails, “it was good enough for my grandfather” types whom Manhattan folks would never acknowledge.

    In all candor, it was an honor. During those years, I met some the finest people I’ll ever know. And I resolved, if I should ever “come into my own,” that I would do what I could to honor them.

    And when I “came into my own,” I did.

  11. My brother lives in Vallejo CA and there is salt(ish) water two blocks from his house. But to get to the ocean it’s well over an hour’s drive.

  12. Anywhere there’s stonework. From rock foundations from colonial times, to the CCC bridges. (Bunch of those in Arcadia National Park.) The stone buildings in various parts of New England. Stone churches in Dover and Durham, a really small stone chapel on Otter Pond Rd in New London. Stone building in Newmarket that’s a bar and Renaissance theater restaurant-type place. Beautiful stone arch railroad bridge just east of Keene. Another, more ramshackle stone arch bridge up in the hills where the old Route 9 ran from Henniker to Keene. The remains of an old stone hut up about 7000 feet on the side of Mount Rainier in Washington State makes a cool backdrop for imaginary stories (I’ll have to see if I still have a photo of it and post it.) Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York on Lake Champlain is a bit more modern, with a sort of Minas Tirith flavor. Fort McHenry in Baltimore Maryland is another.

    None of these places in the U.S. have the feeling of immense age that you get in places in Europe though. Every other weekend while I was stationed in the U.K. or Belgium, you could find me touring castles and poking my nose in hole in the wall villages. It really takes you back to sit at an old wooden slab table, rickety wood and cane chairs, outside a white washed, thatched, one-story tavern in some far out speck of a hamlet situated in the fenlands north of London, on one of their rare, sunny semi-warm days, eating various cheeses, pickles, meats, and breads, and washing it down with pints of stout, for a long relaxed lunch, trading jokes with a bunch of your friends.

    1. The famed Acadia stone bridges are actually steel-reinforced concrete with a stone facing, and they’re the legacy of John D. Rockefeller Jr., not the CCC. All but one of the bridges were apparently constructed in the 1917-1932 period, before FDR took office and the CCC was created. .

  13. I love the mountains; I spent four summers working at a summer camp and the times I’ve gone to visit since are so relaxing to me. But if you’re talking magic, very little can beat the drive down the Columbia River Gorge along the interstate, especially east to west in the fall. You go from towering and fantastic rock structures to the green of the western side so quickly. (Of course, my last drive was 2015, with the horrible smoke, so I have to reach back further.)

    I also attach to houses; my childhood home acquires interesting characteristics in my dreams but the reality wasn’t bad, especially the malleable fruitless mulberry in the back that my dad had shaped into a natural cave and fort. (After I went to college, he stopped pollarding, so the cave was eventually removed due to it dying back from lack of sun. This tree shades most of a quarter-acre lot.) I spent a lot of time up that tree.

    In college, my campus owned a mansion that they’d use for retreats, and it had servants’ stairs, a giant basement and attic, and all manner of nooks. (And a dorm, because even a mansion doesn’t have the beds to host 80-100 students.)

  14. There’s a really cool little hamlet halfway between Middlebury Vermont, and the top of the pass by the Middlebury College Snow Bowl ski area.

    Surprise, surprise. It’s a place that teaches English teachers.

  15. #1 is Sanibel Island, Fl. The family has vacationed in pretty much the same place for the past 40 years, since I was a small child. It’s just far away enough, but not too far- about a 4 hour drive. Even arriving gave a little kick to the experience- driving over the long causeway, looking for dolphins in the bay, and looking forward to finishing the unpacking so we could hit the pool.
    The afternoon thunderstorms are one of the best parts- standing on the seawall, watching the rain crossing the bay from Ft. Myers, and waiting until the last second to go inside before the deluge. Which often meant we would have a spectacular sunset.

    We still go, and my nephews are getting the chance to build their own memories.

    1. In the ’50s and early to mid ’60s, we’d go to Higgins Lake, in the middle of Michigan’s lower peninsula. You could go a long ways out in the water at the beach, which was great for me as a little kid. (I’m a rotten swimmer but liked to wade).

      Every few years we’d go on a long road trip, but the intervening years featured local parks, and Higgins was a favorite.

      I sort of remember seeing “fireworks” north of the lake one summer. I think it had been night exercises for the national guard, and they set off star shells.

    2. #2 is my Grandparent’s place on the eastern shore of Lake Harris. It was close enough that spending the weekend there was fairly common. As a kid, I spent many an hour playing with legos while watching Godzilla tapes, or swimming in the pool, or playing in the enormous yard.
      And at the center of it all was my Grandpop, cooking Hungarian dishes, taping interesting movies off of the primitive cable tv from his complicated multiple cable boxes and Betamax recorders, overpaying me for yard work, all that. He’s what I miss the most.

  16. In the northern panhandle of West Virginia and in western Pennsylvania, sonetimes in the mornings the fog would fill all of the hollows between the steep hills. I hope I always remember that beautiful sight.

  17. Cooke City, Montana. It’s a little town just outside the northeastern entrance to Yellowstone. My great-grandfather owned land up there and we would visit every summer and stay in the old barn or the big cabin. When I was very little, you could drink directly out of the local stream. We often had family reunions up there and I would spend time with my cousins when I wasn’t reading. I got to run wild up there despite the bears and I have lots of fond memories of the place.

    1. I spent all of twenty minutes in Cooke City, once, but remember it well. Amazing scenery up that way, so much so that it stuck in my memory. That sounds look a wonderful place to have been able to run free.

  18. when she should be more human.

    The DNA merge stars right before dinner and should be completed overnight.

  19. yeah, the lack of porches is apparently what looks ‘not right’ to me about most European houses… GIANT PALATIAL ESTATE, and like three steps to the door…

  20. The Redwood coast of northern California is a place burned into my mind. My father came from the rugged, forested hills there, where people worked in the woods or the mills for a living. Some of my most intense memories from the first half of childhood are from visiting relatives down in the wet foggy forests, with the immense, other-worldly trees rising out of them. There were huge half burned-out redwood stumps (20 feet in diameter, 30 feet high) in grandpa’s yard. The smell of salt breezes and smoke from woodstoves is strong in my life.
    This is what I intensely missed living later on the high and dry side of south-central Oregon. The sharp, dusty smell of juniper trees and sagebrush are intense and unforgettable, but the wet Cascade and coastal forests were what felt like home to me. This dry, sere, yellow and brown part of the world is where I first read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
    I think it grabbed me so hard because it had the green, wet forests I loved so much from my childhood, and the mountains that were always on my horizons, even though they were part of the “old world” and I lived in the New World.

    1. Right now, it’s really green. Not sure when it will get hot and dry; last summer was cool in comparison to normal.

      We have several buttes visible from our kitchen window. They’re our weather indicators. When they disappear, it’s rain/snow or fog (and occasionally smoke). When the sun starts shining on the face of [mumble] Butte, life is good. Appearances by eagles or red tailed hawks not essential, but wonderful.

  21. Manhattan. Grew up (mostly) in northern NJ. Spent a lot of time on Staten Island with my grandmother when very young. At least once a week we’d ride the Staten Island Rapid Transit to the ferry terminal and travel to Battery Park. And I would happily spend hours on the playgrounds climbing the monkey bars and running around. I’m sure there was some reason we went there rather than much closer spots on SI, but I haven’t a clue why. Saw The Nutcracker Suite at least 5 times in Manhattan over the Christmas seasons. Saw a few Broadway and off Broadway plays.Visited the major museums that everyone knows, and a bunch of others. Like the Chase Manhattan Money Bank Museum and the NYC Firehouse Museum.When my uncle took me there I’d have root beer- on tap- from the bars he stopped at. And shopped at all kinds of off the beaten path places he knew of. And every trip with him saw some building or another with interesting architecture. And a different of public artwork he had noticed on a solo trip and wanted to share.

    Back when the WTC was being constructed- when it was still possible to do such things- a friend and I got on an elevator and went to the top occupied floor, then got on the stairs and walked up to where construction was still going up. The workers and foremen just glanced at us, and since we didn’t seem to be doing anything dangerous, just kept an eye on us. Didn’t chase us off or yell since we didn’t get in their way. Ah, the good ol’ days.

    I loved and still love visiting Manhattan. My wife dislikes it intensely.

    My better half loves the beach. Any beach. That’s where her happiest childhood memories come from. My childhood beach memories consist of- sunburn. We’ve spent a few summer vacations at the beach.

    I live on 8 acres in the middle of nowhere now. All is good.

    1. “My better half loves the beach. Any beach. That’s where her happiest childhood memories come from.”

      Bring her to an Oregon Beach. Anytime of the year. That will cure her. Windy & cold.

      However it has some advantages. Spring & Fall you can catch Gray Whale migrating. Most the year Stellar Sea Lions are in residence; Don’t miss the Sea Lion caves. With the Sea Lions in residence & during the Gray Whale migration, you could catch a glimpse of Great White Sharks, or more likely, pods of Orcas. All year, our portion of Hwy 101 with varied views are not to be missed.

  22. For example, there is this vivid memory I have of climbing pine stairs, in a small cottage, to a tiny room …

    For a minute you had me expecting you t find your namesake and great-great-grandmother spinning a wheel there.

    ‘I’m your great-great-grandmother,’ said the lady.

    ‘What’s that?’ asked the princess.

    ‘I’m your father’s mother’s father’s mother.’

    ‘Oh, dear! I can’t understand that,’ said the princess.

    ‘I dare say not. I didn’t expect you would. But that’s no reason why I shouldn’t say it.’

    And that is from where all your stories flow.

    I s’pose it is evidence of G-d’s grace that the folks at Disney haven’t gotten their hands on this tale of a singing princess and a miner boy.

  23. Three places are burned into my mind. Two good, one bad.

    First good place is the house I grew up in. 368 Woodcrest Road. Lived there from age 3 to age 27. When I dream that I’m at home, that’s where I dream of.

    Second good place is The Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County, PA. My mom, grandmother, and I had a tradition where we’d go out there and ride the steam train every August before school started. I carried on that tradition by myself (multiple times a year if and when I could swing it) after I graduated and Mom-Mom withered away from Alzheimer’s. Finally stopped when I moved across the state. Haven’t made it back since. It’s burned into my memory, but burned in the way it was when I was a child, back before they built it up and put in all the landscaping, kiddie attractions, and sidings full of rolling stock. Back when it was just the station, the outbuildings, the main track and passing loop, and the locomotive barn, all bordering a huge, empty asphalt slab. Hell, when they redid the place and moved everything around, I still get lost looking for the on-side hobby shop. It was in the upstairs of the main “souvenir” shop for probably 15-20 years until they changed it.

    The bad place… Mauthausen-Gusen, Austria. One of the camps. Visited when I was in Europe during my semester abroad. I’m not sure why: I think I had good reasons at the time, but now all I can say is it was morbid curiosity. Maybe. It’ll be nine years ago this fall that I was there, and I still have nightmares about the place. Still don’t much like talking about it either, to be honest. Or even thinking about it.

  24. I was lucky for the first half of my childhood to have a vast empty field with hills and holes to explore. And then, inevitably, it got built over with houses. The spot where I unsuccessfully tried to burrow to the center of the Earth is now covered by someone’s driveway.

      1. I didn’t. But I did try to dig pit-traps for my cousins. Most people with my cousins would’ve done the same.

  25. We moved every few years as the USAF moved my Dad from place to place. I never fixated on an particular place as “home.”

  26. Reading all this is making me realize how much of my childhood is gone. The house where I grew up has been torn down, along with all its associated outbuildings where my brothers and I often played. The whole farmstead has been put to the plow, and the last time I went by there, I had to look for the culvert where the driveway crossed the ditch. That was the only sign there had ever been a farmstead there.

    My grandmother’s house, where I spent many hours visiting, has been torn down. I’ve heard that the grain bin is still standing and sees a reasonable amount of use, but otherwise that farmstead is gone as well.

    My dad’s old homeplace is gone too, other than the wellhouse, which proved too big to bulldoze when the last of the buildings deteriorated to unusability and had to be demolished.

    Of the four schools I went to, the first was torn down when I was a senior in high school. The second still stands, but is no longer used as a school. The other two are still used, but have had the oldest parts torn down and replaced by more modern structures, so I have no idea how much of them I’d even recognize if I were to go back to either of them.

    Sometimes I dream of those places, but in the dreams I’ll find whole groups of rooms that never existed. A huge basement in a house that had only a crawlspace, with all kinds of weird antique appliances like something out of a steampunk or dieselpunk story. An extra wing or second floor that a school never had.

    And sometimes I’ve used those places — both the actual ones and the dream versions — in my writing. (I’ll be so glad when I get through with the current business project and can have some serious writing time again, instead of just bits and crumbs scattered through the day).

  27. I think the placed most burned into my mind is the Jersey Shore. I spent the first two decades of my life living in New Jersey, and nearly every year my parents took me to someplace on the shore. Sometimes several day trips, once a week in a tiny rented house, once several days at a campground in Cape May, but nearly every year we went to the Shore at least once.

    After I had my own car, if I was stressed, or depressed, or out of sorts, I drove to one of the boardwalk-endowed shore towns and went walking. It didn’t matter if it was summer or winter, or if anything was even open along the boardwalk. A nice hour or two walking the boardwalk was a tonic for the troubles of life. Seaside, Spring Lake, Asbury Park were the most common destinations, then – Asbury Park before its semi-renaissance was particularly good for a solitary walk, for there was little there to attract anybody. But if I thought a meal was in order, Seaside was a better choice, for even in the off-season I could find a delicious slice of pizza or a Philly steak with boardwalk fries. But I ranged south now and then, to Point Pleasant, Ocean City, and Cape May, and north to Sandy Hook.

    The strangest sight I ever saw at the Jersey Shore was one dark December evening in Atlantic City. It was a bit below freezing as I was walking along the deserted beach. The foamy portion of the waves washing ashore were freezing, turning into semi-frozen bubble clusters, and being blown hither and yon across the sand, like ethereal tributes of tumbleweed, glinting in the artificial light.

    Even now, having 650 miles from the Jersey Shore, it calls to me at times. Not as strongly as the call of the Wild and Wonderful West, but loudly enough for all that. I had a few family things in Jersey last spring and summer, and I think I made three short visits to the Jersey Shore. I didn’t even go down to the actual beach, just strolled the boardwalk, played a few arcade games, walked some more, had a little food, walked some more, and just soaked it all in.

    There’s something about the ocean that’s just soothing. But I can’t take too much for too long. A few days at the beach and I long for home, or for the mountains. The call of the Jersey Shore recedes. But it never disappears entirely, and soon enough I’ll hear it again.

  28. My sister and I both grew up in Virginia. But we spent many weeks visiting my grandma’s house in South Carolina when we were young. Even though we never really loved there, it’s there among the swamps, alligators, Spanish moss, and rivers that we consider home.

  29. My parents purchased a truck camper, a “Little Caboose” brand in 1968. We traveled all over the Midwest U.S. The trips I remember most fondly were to Florida at Christmas for 12 straight years. We went to the Keys, Sanibel and Isabel Islands, even Disney World once it opened. But we spent most of our time at a campground outside Fort Lauderdale. It was a little county park, with Duck Poop Pond in the center with hundreds of Muscovy ducks infesting the park. We went to Las Olas Beach every day the sun was shining along A1A and the waves weren’t too big. All five of us boys swam like fishes, bodysurfing when the wave were right. We frequently would pump up our inflatable raft and swim out to the reef about 25 yards offshore. We saw our first sharks, barracuda and lobsters on that reef. Even though there are only three of us left now, we all still swim on that beach in my memories.

  30. If you go to Winchester, Virginia, then go about five miles north of town, you’ll find Fort Sheanadoah, home range of the North-South Skirmish Association.

    The range itself is nothing to write home about, except for the sheer size – the rifle range can handle 500 competitors shoulder-to-shoulder. But it’s unpaved and uncovered, pretty pathetic by even club standards – to say nothing of the standards of a top-flight range in Europe (I’ve shot on the German national range at Pforzheim, the Spanish national range at Las Gabias…and yes, the new Portugese facility in Fervenca. Spectacular.)

    But the setting…we’re talking the Blue Ridge Mountains, some of the loveliest territory in the world. And our land has a creek that runs conveniently through it, complete with trees on both sides. Range on one side, campgrounds on the other. When I was young, my parents would take us there for a week as a vacation. Plus competitions, of course…at one point, I swear we were up there ten times a year. Including Nationals twice a year…a five-day extravaganza of Civil War shooting goodness. Individual competition, then the team events. You really have no idea how smoky a Civil War (or Napoleonic) battlefield was until you have 500 men rapid-firing, trying to break 4-inch tiles at 50 yards. Then there was artillery.

    It may not be much, but it’s a spiritual home for me.

  31. I remember the old libraries and bookstores, where the shelves were crammed so close together you could hardly move between them, and everything smelled of paper dust.

  32. Sarah, Is the Earl’s place now Quinta da Picoila? We are planning a visit this summer.

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