Notes From My Knapsack 7-23-15
Which House Do You Live In?
"Oh, so you live in the Btfsplk house?"
Never mind that the Btfsplk family hasn't resided in Granville for decades. That's just how it is.
You may have just built your own house, and been the only occupant. The funny thing is, that probably won't become the "Yourfamily house" until after you move out, or, um . . . anyhow, it won't become that until then.
This is how communities tend to be; we identify locations as much by who or what was once there ("you turn at the place where that red barn used to be") than by what's present now, which oddly is less visible to us than our memories are.
Those memories can be transmitted, even to those of us who came here too late to have many of them. Osmosis or collective unconscious or "it's in the water," however it happens you start to take in where Blackstone's Market was, how Robbie played his pipe organ at 3:00 in the morning, why Oese was proud of her house and Minnie had a thing about kids making noise on the sidewalk.
We all have some sense that there was once a sage atop Mount Parnassus, and that "the Drag" isn't about drag racing, quite. We never knew the livery stables on College or the Chevy dealership on Elm or the bowling alley up above Prospect, but in bits and pieces the knowledge comes to us. Bryants and Sinnets and Spelmans haunt our history, and our buildings, and sometimes our imaginations.
Even the landscape we occupy was once someone else's, and their mounds and worked flint flakes and a few names remind us of their tenancy: Pataskala, Shawnee, Hocking, Mingo.
The demographics of the community are changing, making parts of the future hard to see, harder to predict. That's how the Native peoples felt when the French-Canadian trappers and traders started showing up in this watershed, then the Scots-Irish immigrants and the early pioneers from a place called America, that turned out to be here, too. A New England batch of folks showed up to the mild discomfiture of those from Wales, then the streets of Granville saw Irish-Irish, Italians, Jews and Greeks no longer just a phrase from the Bible but people who lived in the village. Abolition sentiment had to deal with the realities of integration after the Civil War, a seemingly natural shift that historians like James Loewen argue didn't go well at all.
And now we have Donald Trump sounding the alarm over yet another demographic wave surging up towards places like Granville, that has always been the way it is now. Except of course it has not. We are the current occupants of our homes, of these streets, of this place, but we will not be here forever, nor will the next generation necessarily be our own descendants. Ask the Indians, the Welsh, even those first families of 1805.
Those of us with a religious bent would say it's all a reminder this world is not our home, just a place we're passing through on pilgrimage; a more secular and materialist perspective might seek the lyricism of the idea that we're made of star-stuff, carbon born in the heart of stars, and fated to return to the combustion of a Sun gone nova in the fullness of billions of years hence.
For now, our job is to welcome our new neighbors, tell them who lived there before as best we know, and work on the story one chapter, one page at a time. The ending will take care of itself.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him who used to live where you do now at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.