POCATELLO, ID – In 1907, British-born three-year-old Dorothy Louise Eady fell down a flight of stairs. When she recovered from the fall, she said she wanted to “go home,” but her family’s home didn’t satisfy her. Later on, her family visited the Egyptian New Kingdom Temple exhibits at the British Museum. Dorothy declared that ancient Egypt was home. To the chagrin of her family, as she grew older, she declared that she had had a past life during the reign of Seti I 3,000 years earlier.
When she reached adulthood, she married an Egyptian and moved to Egypt where she spent her life studying Egyptology. She named her son Seti, and became known as Om Seti, mother of Seti.
This story has fascinated me ever since my son, Edward, and I discovered a documentary about Om Seti in a library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while home schooling him during his 4th grade year. Not only is her life seen as one of the most convincing accounts suggesting reincarnation, but it gives rise to questions of belonging; where is “home”?
Is “home” merely the location where we were born and raised, the house or town where we graduated from high school or encountered our fist love? or is it something more organically mysterious rather than merely tactile?
Ungenerous European Americans often insist that immigrants “go home where they came from,” which, of course is ludicrous because if you’re not an American Indian, your family is from some other continent, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia. There are accounts of southern blacks, former slaves, returning to Africa and not finding it as welcoming as they had hoped. Is there even room in Europe for all the white Americans should they be required to return? Even if they would or could, it’s dubious whether they/we would be able to adjust to a plethora of languages we‘ve probably never used, alien lifestyles, competing community values? Once a disconnect with a place is made through time, is it really possible to return, as authors such as Thomas Wolfe explored in his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”?
Some people never experience “home” as such. Author Joan Didion in a Proust Interview says she changes her mind about where she’d most like to live depending upon the season, and yet California, her birthplace, seems to fulfill her, in my opinion, best literary heritage despite sojourns in New York City, Hawaii and elsewhere.
What is my own personal heritage? Great-grandparents on both sides of my family came to Washington and Idaho from eastern U.S. locations via Illinois, Virginia and Wisconsin more than 120 years ago. None of us is absolutely sure which European ancestry is ours, probably British Isles/France/Northern Europe, and we really don’t give it much thought.
We know we are several generations American. Whenever we travel eastward, we are not comfortable and savor the return westward. As our beloved Rockies climb into view, we relax in the car, the bus, the U-Haul knowing we are entering territory we understand. Home.
I am not Shoshoni, Bannock, Paiute, Nez Perce, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, etc., and yet I feel a kinship with these western landscapes, these Idaho and Washington spaces, a kinship derived from time on the land, generations born and buried on this land, a feeling that has become the Liberal non-native westerner’s dilemma. We want to support the welfare of the American Indians, but in doing so, who are we?
Even if we desired to return to the “old country” they wouldn’t have us. The Scots find our inclusion of “Scottish” in the list of our family origins many of us maintain absurd. We are Americans, they say, and yet we strive to hang on to some kind of ancestral identity even though our ancestors willingly abandoned those spaces. Our schools and universities teach us large quantities of European history and literature, giving us, in a way, a false identity, at the very least, a confusing one.
During my lifetime Western American literary endeavors have been scorned as just so many “provincial” ravings. It’s only quite recently that Western American novelists’ and poets’ works (white, American Indian, Hispanic, etc.), are acknowledged as true literary texts, much in the same way that early Eastern American writers Washington Irving, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne were scorned by British literary snobs.
Native white Idaho writer, Vardis Fisher, (born in 1895 near Rexburg, Idaho, author of Mountain Man) matured during the critical, scornful early 20th century literary years and lived his life with a chip on his shoulder regarding his reception by the eastern literary establishment. So have many of us.
Local writer Leslie Leek is the author of short story collections: “The Heart of a Western Woman” and “Unsettled Territory,” (Blue Scarab Press) texts that explore contemporary women’s lives in southeastern Idaho. Leek explores “home” in her stories as a space taken for granted, but shunned by the uninitiated, the outsider, as a character in “Going Away” illustrates — “She acts like Idaho is a disease you could catch if you get too close.”
So, where are we now? Where is home? Is Pocatello my home because this is where I found work? Or is there another place in the west that’s calling to me, ancestral lands, perhaps, those wild spaces attached to my family’s stories and my own personal adventures, in my own private Idaho?