On Writing Where You Come From

Posted by on Oct 13, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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A few weeks ago, my parents and I drove back to the Oberlin campus, a process which entails filling our Subaru to the brim with the necessities I have packed (mostly books), and heading out on many tree-lined highways for the 2-day trek. And, as always, we stop in Memphis, Tennessee to stay with my Great Aunts Jean and Jo. The two story house these sisters share has been an integral part of my conceptions of home and family since my first stay there when I was 10 or 11.

I was being driven to my first extended stay at a remote summer camp tucked into the Cumberland Plateau, and Aunt Jean and Aunt Jo were seeing me for the first time in many years. This initial visit was filled with names and stories about family members who I had seldom heard mentioned, and whose relation to me seemed too complex to grasp. I listened intently as my mother conversed with her relatives, stretching years of history across the living room carpet like the sinuous strings of an unknown language. Dizzy with the hours of talk, and full-up on the large Tennessee barbeque meal that had been made for us, I sunk into one of two twin beds much past my usual bedtime in an upstairs room that belonged to my cousin Chuck, or was it cousin once removed?

Now, as I listen to stories about Grandmama Henley, who is my great grandmother, Papa Grills, who was my great great grandfather, and a host of other characters, I am overwhelmed not by the connections, which I mostly know by heart, but by the emotions I have for these distant men and women, many of whom I never met, and have only seen in single photographs taken unsmiling in their best black clothes. 

That house in Memphis, with its navy blue carpet in the upstairs bathroom, its galley kitchen and formal dining room done up with framed paintings and porcelain figures, many from the Jane Austen’s novels, its boxy TV with less-than-perfect color, its screen doors and their exacting noises, its sweeter-than-bottled water is a porous encasement of memories that do not belong to me, that I borrow.

What I am told of my relatives I keep differently than my mother, or my great aunts do, because they are so much closer to these memories than I am. But my proximity does not render my borrowed memories obsolete— this house, as it has been shaped by years of inhabitation by these two sisters, holds onto triggers that allow for exact copies of phrases and events to imprint in my head, even if the figures themselves had passed before I was a dream in my parent’s minds. The house holds keys to keeping everyone alive, as it is a vessel for objects which themselves contain life and as it is a place, a point on the map with association.

When I am writing, I think about where I come from, from what and into what I was born, and I remember that the place of my birth is no less important than the circumstance surrounding it. I am Southern, and I have definitions for my existence (home, family, love, lineage, tradition) that are personal and inextricable from the house on Freland. I’ll admit that I am privileged  to have this, but I will also say, I don’t think I could continue writing if I didn’t.

When you are writing, what do you think about place?  For me, place is an Ark of capsuled memories, preserved in their context, only intelligible with time.


plane photoFaith Padgett was born and raised in the suburbs of Texas and is currently a Creative Writing/Spanish double major at Oberlin College in northern Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose and several anthologies including the Poetry Society of Texas’ student anthologies and the YoungArts anthology for 2014. She has won several Scholastic regional silver and gold keys, and was a semi-finalist in the Presidential Scholars program in 2014. When not working for Spry or writing, Faith can be found sipping tea with a book of poetry or walking through the prairie with one of her four adopted mutts. 

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