I did not want to leave my beloved Maine coast where fragrant firs march down the jagged ledges toward the ocean. Yet here I sat on a train in 1954, speeding West via railroad through the boring Texas landscape.
My restless parents with their immigrant outlook couldn’t decide where to live. Pre-World War II, we led an expatriate life as my stepfather’s Standard Oil career took him to Shanghai, Manila, Honolulu, Burma, and Bombay. During the war years, we lived in New York City.
When Mao Tse-Tung ended Western commerce in China, Dad retired to Maine, the home of his childhood, before he had made the decision to move all over the world. Although Mother originally hailed from Canada, once she and Dad got settled, they decided Maine was too cold.
So, since I’d been awarded a grant to spend my junior year at Scripps College in Southern California, my parents decided I should lead the family to the West Coast. I’d gone to three high schools. I liked Smith College. Of course I’d take the scholarship. But—I didn’t want to go to a second college across the continent.
As the train rocked West, my tooth ached. My jaw began to swell. I felt another impacted wisdom tooth making an appearance like the one I’d had pulled two months earlier. But I still had another two nights to go sitting up in my seat on this train before I could see a dentist.
With nowhere else to go, I turned to my rangy seat companion. Lean and sun-baked, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, he looked the epitome of a real Texan. Exasperated, I said, “There’s nothing to see here in Texas. There isn’t even a single tree.”
He placed his cowboy boot on the foot rail and looked out the window. He brushed an imaginary speck off his perfectly tailored jeans. Then he turned to me. “Waall,” I went back east to Arkansas once,” he drawled pleasantly. “But I couldn’t see nuthin fur all the durn trees around.”
What spells home to you?