Friday, June 22, 2012

Janus, forward and back

Arm looped through mine, small head resting on my shoulder, David and I sat together in the van as it threaded our way back through fields, past round bales of hay and into the evening sun. We had spent the day exploring Nick's grandfather's home village, Ogliastro Cliente, perched on the side of a valley with olive, orange and fig trees that ran like a river to the sea. David had chosen to study Grandpa Tony for his "migration" project at school, winding through Grandpa's journey to the US, his loss of family and a home he loved for the promise of a new life. And now we were part of that repatriation, the need that Americans sometimes have to understand themselves in the context of their ancestry, their history, their DNA.

Through a series of strange and synergistic events that can only be described as "Italian" and typical Giardino luck, we found Grandpa's boyhood home, left to waste away in what only can be described as ruins. It was all there: the chapel, the courtyard, the fig trees out back that skinny Antonio Giardino used to shimmy up for the delicious fruit. Broken down, paint peeling off the walls, birds aloft in the open spaces where Grandpa's family once lived, we were simultaneously enlivened and saddened by what we had discovered.

Something in me wanted to touch the walls, to absorb something inherent that lived there so long ago. Although I loved Grandpa like my own grandfather, these were not my people nor was this my place, but the urge to connect, to let that history leech into my own palms felt very real.

The heartbreak of finding something so broken, so ruined mirrors my own ruminations about time and place, what stays, what you leave behind. In a few days I return home to Oklahoma to help clean out my childhood home and prepare it for sale. My feelings of dread about this are indescribable, not only for the deep feeling that it gives me of being unmoored, parentless and ungrounded, but also for the worry of being weighed down and encumbered with an emotional and physical heft that I resist leaving behind, but am at my core yearning to cast off. Being parentless means having no home to return to, it means making your own way in whatever way your life brings you. It means preparing yourself to be outward bound, stocked and ready for the journey and for whatever lies ahead, on your own without the safety net of a parent to pick you up and dust you off. But it also brings you the sweetness of being captain of your own ship, unconstrained by familial expectation and guilt. Defining who you are in this space is a tricky process, one that for the most part you must walk alone until you know who you are, what you take with you, what you leave and what life you make for yourself.

I'm reminded of reading Thomas Wolfe so many years ago, before I was old enough to parse what Wolfe was trying to say:

“The human mind is a fearful instrument of adaptation, and in nothing is this more clearly shown than in its mysterious powers of resilience, self-protection, and self-healing. Unless an event completely shatters the order of one's life, the mind, if it has youth and health and time enough, accepts the inevitable and gets itself ready for the next happening like a grimly dutiful American tourist who, on arriving at a new town, looks around him, takes his bearings, and says, "Well, where do I go from here?”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

Beginnings, endings, looking back and forward like Janus standing in the middle ground.


  1. Fran, I simply love your writings. You're style has a way to touch the heart not just the head. Thanks for sharing this!