I am happy to welcome Tracy Seeley, author of her memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas. By the time Tracy was nine, she had lived in seven towns and thirteen different houses. Thirty years later she was living in San Francisco when a diagnosis of cancer and a betrayl of a lover shook her and propelled her to search for the place that meant “home”. In honor of Tracy’s visit we will be giving away a copy of her book. To be entered in the drawing, please leave a comment on this post and become a follower of this blog if you’re not already one. The winning name will be chosen on Friday.
Please join me in welcoming Tracy!
Why Do We Go Back to the Old Homestead?
Since taking My Ruby Slippers out into the world, I’ve had many people tell me their stories about the places they come from or the places they’ve lived. Some, like me, have moved a lot. Some did all their growing up in the same house or town where they were born. But no matter what their circumstances—mobility or deep roots—they all have stories of going back to revisit a place from their past, or wanting to go back some day. It seems a deep desire.
I don’t know what calls us, and I don’t even have a homestead. I think of a homestead as a home place tied through generations to the land—and that, I never had. Mine’s a typical American story in many ways. As a country, we’re defined by mobility about as often as we are by staying put. And because my family had moved so often and my parents had both come from other places, Kansas—where we lived in several houses and towns—never felt quite like home. Still, it called me back.
While I worked on My Ruby Slippers, I made five trips back to Kansas from my home in California. And on the first trip, I revisited a place that might explain why so many of us want to go back to a deeply remembered place. That place wasn’t a house for me, but the Flint Hills, where I’d spent weeks in summer camp as a child.
The Flint Hills occupy a narrow band of Kansas that runs north and south, a bank of flint-strewn rolling hills that belong to the tall grass prairie. Some of the original tall grass still stands, and most of the Flint Hills are rural, agricultural, and beautifully alive. The first time I went back there, I pulled over to a field of tall grass and walked a trail up a small hill. The fall day, the damp grass, the smell of rich soil, the feel of the air, the angle of light, the sound of my feet on the trail, and the fence posts of stone—that whole, rich, sensory world awakened something in me that felt like coming home. It wasn’t an intellectual recognition, but a fully-embodied recall that said, “Yes, I’ve been here before.” That sensory memory—sight, sound, smell, touch—awakened all the senses and emotions I associated with summer camp. In an instant, an entire world came flooding in, from meadowlarks at dusk to the feel of tall grass on my summer-tanned shins and the rocky trails beneath my tennis shoes. That whole experience had lain in my body like a long-dormant dream.
Such a fully embodied response, I think, is something we long for, and each of us has a place that stirs it to life. A childhood house, a room, a village. When we return to them or come upon them by surprise, it’s like a tuning fork setting up a sympathetic vibration, or two strings tuned into harmony. The place we have carried inside us meets its counterpart in the world, and everything hums in tune.
I’d love to hear your stories of going home.
With a Ph.D. in British Literature, Tracy Seeley teaches literature and creative nonfiction at the University of San Francisco. She can claim 26 addresses as her own including towns all across the midwest, Dallas, Austin, New Haven, Los Angeles, Caracas, Budapest, and Barcelona. When not tracking down Kansas addresses that no longer exist, Tracy Seeley lives in Oakland with her filmmaker husband, Frederick Marx. In an attempt to put down roots she has started a vegetable garden and is considering buying chickens.
Connect with Tracy on Twitter @tracy_seeley.