Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Home is where your heart is

My grandfather, his sister and their parents

In another week or so we head north for our yearly vacation in the mountains of western Pennsylvania - Oil City, namely - my father's hometown. Its not exactly a place that tons of people flock to for family vacation time, and frankly, I consider that a perk. I'm not much for crowds - they make me surly.

When I was a child and we lived outside of Buffalo, our trips down to Oil City were frequent. My great grandfather was still alive then, living with my great aunt and her family in the house they had lived in since 1905. My grandfather was born in that house, and my father grew up there as well. It was the quintessential Grandma's House kind of place to go visit, even though none of my grandparents actually lived there. Or maybe that was why.

The house in question (pay no attention to the dapper fellow in the foreground)

We moved to Raleigh in 1969 and the following year my great grandfather died.

I think we went to Oil City once more after that, on a trip up to Buffalo to visit family. My great aunt had also passed away by then and the family had sold the old house to consolidate funds and provide my great uncle with medical care for his emphysema. That was around 1972 and we never went back again. I do recall us going to see the old house, and the new owners allowed us to come in for a last look around. I never see love beads that I don't think of my great aunt's living room during that visit. It was a punch to the emotional gut to see the changes the new owners had wrought, and from then on, my memories were all I had.

In 2000 the hub-man and I took a trip up north to visit family and on the way back we stopped off in Oil City to do a little family research. We located a cemetery that first trip where my Great-great-great grandparents were buried and decided it was worth the extra time to go check it out.

I stood in that cemetery, on a hilltop outside of a little town called Rouseville, watching a thunderstorm roll in over the surrounding hills, and for the first time since we had moved away from Buffalo, I felt like I had come home. Not to be all New Age freaky, but cemeteries all have different vibes to me. Most of the time they feel like you've just walked into someone else's house, but there on that hill, I could almost smell the old house that only lived in my dreams, and felt my family all around me. There on that hill I cried, for the joy of having found them, and for the frustration that they were still so far away.

I went back the following year, and the year after that, staying a night or two in the local hotel, always feeling a bit out of synch with the area. In 2004 I found a house to rent and my parents came with us that year. We all fell in love with that old house, partly, I believe, because it was similar to my great grandparents' house. It was also on the grounds of a park where my dad had played as a kid, so the proximity to his old stomping grounds was another factor. The other added bonus of having a big house to stay in was being able to host my aunt and some of her family, who drove down from Buffalo. It had been over 30 years for me since I had been back there, but it had been even longer since my aunt and my father had been there together. The stories that poured out of them as we went around town were invaluable to the research I was conducting, and highly illuminating, since I wasn't around when a lot of them happened.

Home away from home

Creek at Miller Farm in Oil Creek State Park

Single file at Petroleum Centre

The stories we tell on a trip like this are the best reason to go. The tales of ancestors scraping a life out of this place, of their devotion to and reliance on each other. These stories, told by my father to his grandchildren are priceless jewels in the crown of their identity. They are moments that can only occur for a limited time, but their potential to be remembered and passed down grants immortality to so many.


FairiesNest said...

I love this post, it brought back so many memories...we've GOT to go next year!

VelveetaWingnut said...

Hey! I can identify with you on that cemetery thing you have. I'm right there with you on the vibes and all of it. I felt that sense of homecoming at Antietam Battlefield. What a great post. Nice to see that vibes are felt by other people too.

Lara said...

Those family times are so amazing... we do a huge campout every other year with my aunts, uncles, & cousins. It's such a wonderful way to reconnect. It starts out sharing memories, but ends up sharing hopes & dreams. :)

I adore your new header photo.

liv said...

enjoy, enjoy this time.

Your American Idol! said...

Nice post.

With a name like Oil City, it's hard to believe it never caught on as a tourist destination. I mean, a name which evokes images of bubbling crude and towering derricks should fire the imagination with restful images of family vacation splendor.

Some things, I just don't get.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

This reminded me a lot of summers with my grandparents in New England. Makes me homesick for a different time.

Enjoy the vacation, think of me here, sweltering in sticky southern heat as you soak up the lush green beauty that is "the north". Im jealous.

Maggie, Dammit said...

Lovely, dear. Steep yourself and your ducklings in those memories, and enjoy the making of new ones, too.

flutter said...

this is beautiful

tysdaddy said...

I envy the sense of family and placement in this story. We moved so much, and have a fairly small family, so aside from a small town in southern Indiana where many are from, still live, yet stores no real memories for me, I really don't have a place like Oil City.

My kind of writing . . .

Gypsy said...

It sounds like you'll get recharged there. Enjoy! And that was beautifully written.

Jennifer H said...

I love this. And I love that you have, in a way, picked up that suitcase full of stories and are adding more information to them. When you pass it on to your children, it will be that much heavier. What's inside is gold.