In the home. Memories and tales told by candlelight. Butter is churned. Soap is poured into molds. Quilts are sewn. Kids get bathed. Coffee brews. Gumbo simmers. The home, the backbone. Walls that hold up a roof.
The other day I went to see the shelter that my grandpa lived in when he was a child. It’s an old cypress home that stands inside the remaining woodlands of Kaplan. There was a time when most of this land was covered with woods. With time comes change and over the years, thousands of acreage has been clearcut to make way for ranching and farming. Eventually, land seems to get used in ways that offer short-term benefits, more efficiency and money-supply. This is why I feel extremely lucky that the gentleman who now owns this property was willing and able to see the value in keeping this little piece of home and history standing. Nestled between dozens of live oak trees, this was the house where my great grandparents raised my grandpa. It was a time when people were largely self-sufficient and lived in close relationship to the land.
My uncle, who was also raised in this house, came with us that day as we made our way through thick plants and grasses. He remembered the old trees. He remembered the entire family getting on one horse to ride into town for flour and sugar. This little four-walled building lined with newspapers for insulation was what they called home. It still stands.
Sometimes I wonder about my generation and where we are headed. This trip I have largely been talking with folks one or two generations older than me. I appreciate the honest way some see and depict youth, yet hope negative assumptions won’t shut doors. It’s true…there are a lot of youth that don’t relate to a past beyond their memory, or see value in ancestral connection. But many do. And I like to think that my generation is trying hard to recapture some of the pieces that have faded away through modernization and fast-paced living. I can see this cultivation happening in pockets of San Francisco, in fact. Here, there is a melding pot of hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world. I see people making efforts by cooking the cuisine of their ancestors, creating music infused with heritage and upholding versions of home rituals. I think young people do value these things…the question is will they care enough to let it influence their life? Maybe in some cases, distance does make the heart grow fonder. Having the space to find an individuality outside of tradition can be a gift. Being able to place the self in a different context gives us a choice on how or where to return to our roots. And this coming back to our heritage after it has gone missing, takes effort. People who make the effort, want to honor something that they see in it. And this is how depth, meaning, and connection live on.
As I looked at this old house that day, my imagination went wild with images of my grandpa being a young kid. This home has withheld a myriad of floods and hurricanes. The trees protected it. When I began this project, I stuffed my face into books. I saw our history boldly smothered over pages…pages that give some knowledge, but leave out a lot. These missing pieces aren’t easily found once generations pass and homes collapse to the ground. Just as a unique language and dialect is kept inside its people, so is the heart behind traditions, ways of approach and intricacies of lifestyles. Certain patterns cannot be sustained. Other patterns may need to be remembered.
Change might be just what we need. We can honor lives, we can try to know them. And just behind every moment of speedy dissonance, there are other moments. These moments clean up. They work together. They catch on fire. Many times, they are the memories and the heart beneath. To sustain anything, the home has to be remembered, re-created, re-envisioned. It’s happening all the time. Choices are being made every split second. I’m learning that choice happens when I fully and compassionately understand where I’m moving from and what I’m moving towards.