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Home so far away

The vistas are stunning. The Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east, blue sky reflected in waters of the Sound, houses dotting evergreen-filled hills. The air is crisp, hints of salt water mixed with musk of western hemlock, Douglas fir, red cedar. Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier stand regally as reminders of roiling powers deep below rich farmland. Blackberries are everywhere (invaders from England) while huckleberries seek what sunlight they can in the loamy soil under the canopies of the fir-laden foothills.

This place will be our new home. What are transplanted southerners, filled with memories of moonlight and magnolias, heat and humidity, the storied, once-defeated South, going to make of life in the Pacific Northwest with its cool summers and long, gray winters? Will clipped-vowelled, slightly nasal voices welcome diphthongal languor, folks used to saying hi to passersby?

Our kids began the migration to the PNW (its coy acronym). In the summer of 2023, my wife and I will complete it. We’ll be strung along the majestic Puget Sound—our oldest son, the first to land there, in West Seattle, our youngest son in Olympia, the middle child (our daughter) in Mt. Vernon, and my wife and I in Tacoma, where we purchased, while living in Abu Dhabi during the pandemic, a house just south of the city center. Perhaps the purchase signaled an effort at stability amidst the uncertainty of the time. The house will be our retirement home. The PNW our retirement place.

It is not a question of moving—we moved the family quite a bit during our working years, from Covington, Louisiana, to New Orleans, from there to Billings, Montana, Savannah, Georgia and then to San Antonio, Texas, where we lived six years before a four-year stint in Abu Dhabi. Now we’re back in San Antonio for a year. You might consider us among the subjects of Carole King’s “So Far Away.” Can we, to continue with King’s classic, “stay in one place anymore,” make it home?

Not long ago, we returned from a two-week visit with the kids. In West Seattle, we helped our son with his two-year-old daughter while his wife took a work trip to Alaska. From there we helped our other son and his wife settle into their home in Olympia, and then went up to Mt. Vernon where our daughter and her husband, the newest to settle west of the Cascades, had produced an Excel-spreadsheet-list of tasks for us in their new place. My hands cramped with the unaccustomed fine– and large–muscle-work.

Carole King’s question intruded on me as I drilled, sanded, and painted—“doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” And her question behind that question—what is “home?”—haunts me like the ghosts of memory in Faulkner.

While in Abu Dhabi, we rubbed shoulders with folks who’ve made careers in the US Military and the State Department, people whose lives embody deracination—two or three years here, four years there, until a new posting brings a new place to call home. More often than not, when I asked them where they were from back in the States, they told me their parents, also in the military or government, had moved around so much, they had little connection to their place of birth. They had a hard time saying where home was for them.

Furthermore, Abu Dhabi is a sort of temporary place for millions of migrant workers seeking a job that will allow them to send money to their families in places as near as Pakistan or as far away as the Philippines. For them, home loomed as a magnet, drawing wistful memories. The difficult conditions under which they toiled in Abu Dhabi offered more opportunity than they could find in their home countries. Still, they wanted more than anything to return home, with all its remembered attractions.

What is home?

In San Antonio, the neighborhood we live in is about ninety percent Hispanic, made up of immigrants and the descendents of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. When I go out for morning walks, I pass by a house on whose front porch a large sign reads “Home Sweet Home.”

My wife and I returned to San Antonio from Abu Dhabi on June 22. Less than a week later, sixty-four immigrants, forty-eight of them dead, were found in and around an abandoned trailer. The lure of a new home is strong. And the numbers of people seeking new homes continues to grow—because of wars (Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine), because of drug-trafficking, corruption, and crime (Mexico, Central America), and because of climate change.

But today, one reads stories not only of people dying in search of home, but of folks telling Asian Americans and African Americans—people born in the US—to “go home!”

It is worth repeating what most already know, that the US is a country founded by immigrants and developed on the importation of slave-labor and the violent displacement of indigenous peoples. Here, the concept of home is, at best, fraught. Whose home is this?

When we were in Olympia with our son and his wife, we attended Shakespeare in the Park—a lively, well-paced performance of Twelfth Night by Animal Fire Theatre. The flier advertising the event identified the venue as “Squaxin Park (formerly known as Priest Point).”

The two names say much about place, displacement, and home, and to emphasize the point, the leader of the troupe took time before the play to remember and acknowledge the park’s original inhabitants. In today’s fractious political climate, this gesture would be considered by some an excess of “woke-ism.”

But in the context of Carole King’s question that had been bothering me, it struck me as a gesture of humble human connection. The story we were about to witness was taking place on land that was once the home of others. We (the audience, the actors, the original inhabitants) connected to one another at this place.

The place I will call home next year, with its luring vistas and piney odor, served as home to many before me. And it will serve as home to many after me. I am a passerby, hoping to catch your eye for the briefest of human connection. And while I am privileged to be able to move freely to new places, the home I seek is no different from the home millions of displaced refugees and immigrants seek—a place that offers human connection.

Edward (Eddie) Dupuy will be moving to Tacoma next summer, as part of a family migration. Although a native of Louisiana, he hasn’t lived there since 2004.

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