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.
Thanks for the chance to stop by, Linda. I’m so glad to be here and look forward to the conversation.
Welcome, Tracy! I identify strongly with your attachment to Kansas; the Saskatchewan prairie is what draws me and what is in my own DNA.
Sharon Butala in her book The Perfection of the Morning says “What I could remember about that natural world from which our family had been separated by so little was a combination of smells, the feel of the air, a sense of the presence of Nature as a living entity all around me. All of that had been deeply imprinted in me, but more in the blood and bone and muscles – an instinctive memory – than a precise memory of events or people. I remembered it with my body, or maybe I remembered it with another sense for which we have no name but is no less real for that.”
I love that last sentence “I remembered it with another sense for which we have no name.” That has been my experience on the prairie and it sounds like yours too.
Great post! There’s something about being “home” in New Mexico that evokes a similar visceral and sensory response in me, Tracey & Linda. It’s not my home, as in a house where I grew up–I was never even very happy there. It’s the land, the landscapes, the vistas, the skies, the high peaks & dry deserts, the scorching summers, the snowy winters, the red rocks of the Jemez, the wild places in the Pecos & the Gila. All imprinted on my soul. I enjoy traveling and look forward to more of it. We have moved around and lived many places, some lovely, some not–but this is my spirit’s home forever & always.
Tracy, your book arrived in my mailbox yesterday and I’m so excited to read it. Some of my favorite authors are from, and write about, the Great Plains, my all time favorite being Willa Cather. I was born on the east coast and when I was growing up my family took many cross country trips, traveling through Kansas or Nebraska. Oddly enough, even as a child, the open spaces just drew me in. Linda, I love the quote about “another sense for which we have no name.” It describes so perfectly that feeling of being in wide open spaces. For most of my life I’ve lived in Colorado. I love seeing the mountains in the distance, but favor the open space where we live.
Tracy, I’m looking forward to seeing you on your book tour in Boulder at the end of the month! What a treat to come across this post today:)
Thank you all for these beautiful comments, and I apologize for being slow to respond. I’m on the road at the moment, with two stops yesterday in Kansas. It’s been such an amazing homecoming here to bring ‘My Ruby Slippers’ back to its roots and to share it with old and new friends. I honor all of YOUR best-loved places and these thoughtful responses to mine.
Karen, I had an experience recently that echoes yours in the mountains. My husband and I were in Yellowstone for a few days recently. Obviously, the place is gorgeous, stunning really–but I was never entirely comfortable there. It wasn’t until we came down out of the mountains and crossed the Black Hills that I finally felt I could breathe. It was seeing the wide land spread out around me, and the whole sky, that made me feel at home. Like many of you, I do feel we carry that memory of a landscape in our bodies. I look forward to seeing you in Boulder–bring your friends!
Cheers to all, and thanks again, Linda, for the chance to drop in.
A deeply remember place. That is the stuff of memoir, which is my genre too, Tracy. I would love to read your memoir. I am bookmarking this page. A great post. Linda, thank you for hosting Tracy.
Tracy, I loved your book trailer! You have kept that same knowing smile from your first communion picture :>) I’m looking forward to reading your book and am especially interested in your body reaction and how deep a response, how deep a homecoming you were gifted by that response. I am beginning to know how rich a source body memory is. Thank you for adding to that today.
And Linda, thanks for brining this work to my attention!
Thanks, all. It was great to be here for a day.
Dear Linda and Tracy,
What a great interview! I am currently fully immersed in “My Ruby Slippers”, so mesmerized by your writing,totally engaged in your story of childhood fragmentation. The idea that” we carry the memory of a landscape in our body” is so intriguing and you capture it so clearly. Thank you both for a wonderful post!
Thank you, Kathy–So glad you’re enjoying the book.