Every week, here in Mexico, I meet with a group of writers to discuss and share what we’ve been working on. I love it. These gatherings apply some pressure to my rather lackadaisical approach to this late-life commitment to writing. But more than that, these people—five of us when everyone is here—have become the emotional core of my winters. Last week, I mentioned that I was soon to be going home, and a brief conversation ensued about what that word means. “You should write about it,” they said. If only they knew how many files I have in my “fits and starts” folder that try to figure out what I really mean by “home” and why it occupies such a central place in my emotional landscape. But okay. Here goes again.
At the moment, I am entering that now-predictable pre-transition period of angst that occurs on both ends of my winters-away-from-home. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you will no doubt be rolling your eyes and wondering what more there is to say. Perhaps you’ll be feeling impatient with yet another rambling discourse on the embarrassingly first-world dilemma of two homes. Please, feel free to stop now. I won’t be offended (and I’ll never know).
As usual—no matter that throughout the winter I’ve often wished to be home in Canada, occasionally thought I’d like to end this two-home existence—as the final weeks approach I’m more enchanted with my Mexican home than at any other time. I feel nostalgic about leaving it behind. I will miss my friends here—my writing friends and many others. Although we’ve been spending winters here for more than a decade, each year I feel more connected to the place and the people. And, oddly, I’m quite sure my Spanish becomes more fluent just in time to leave. Really, I think it does.
But—well—it’s not home. A couple of years ago, when we were planning to move away from the farm (but didn’t), I shared these paragraphs from my memoir, Shifting Currents. Here they are again:
I’ve been waking up in the same place for more than forty years, and what meets my eyes is home. Familiar fields with familiar names—the trefoil field, the far field, the barn field—farmed by someone else, now, but still mine and comfortingly familiar. A yard and garden that have evolved as yards and gardens do: old trees gone, new trees planted and grown tall; a vegetable garden beside the house, expanding some years, shrinking others; flower gardens ebbing and flowing as the mood strikes.
The hill, from a distance, seems immune to the passage of time, but I know it has undergone its own evolution over four decades: clearings grown in, poplar stands logged, the sugar bush matured. The river—even the river has changed, lower now, with tag alders grown up along the edge where doomed elms once thrust their branches up and arched over the slow-moving, brown water.
And of course the house—now nearly a century old—has seen old walls removed, new walls built, windows changed, decks added, bedrooms assigned, reassigned, and then converted to other uses as children vacated them.
It’s all been so gradual that when I look at photographs from those early months and years, I am taken aback by the absence of the trees that now dwarf the house, by the dilapidated fence that for years separated the yard from the barnyard, and by the shabby wooden steps and laundry-stoop that pre-dated the spacious deck. These are the changes of a life lived in one place for a long time, and they only deepen the sense of belonging, of home.
Of course, that’s not quite true. I’ve awakened in lots of different places, and now in this Mexican home for a third of every year. But you get the idea.
In my short story, “The Red Kite” (http://agnesandtrue.com/the-red-kite/), the protagonist is less verbose in her musings. But the message—not surprisingly—is the same.
[Rachel]…wonders, as she has been wondering often, what makes a home? Bricks and mortar? Overflowing bookshelves and too many sets of dishes? Tea and the sympathy of friends? A soft place to land?
…Every day, Rachel walks along the river for a mile and a half before turning back. On one side, she watches the river make its brown, sluggish way to the bay and notices how, over many years, tag alders have grown up along the shore; on the other, she looks at the fields and remembers sweltering days on hay wagons, dreamy days ploughing and harrowing, children carrying pitchers of water and eggnog to the tired crew. This is what home is, she thinks. Memories.
Back to my Guanajuato writing friends. Of the five of us, two live in Mexico fulltime. One is a Mexican-born woman who spent her childhood in Mexico City, most of her adult life in the U.S., and returned to her Mexican roots after retirement. Her connection and commitment to this country are deep and permanent. The other full-time Mexican has lived in this country for at least a couple of decades and it’s clearly home now. She returns to her U.S. roots for occasional visits, but she’s made her choice and is happy with it.
Then, there are the snowbirds—one of whom is committed to moving here full time as soon as possible to escape the ongoing social and political degradation of his home country (as well as the winters), the other of whom has spent several winters here, spending more time each year. She hasn’t ruled out moving here permanently.
That leaves me—and there’s one big difference. If my earliest roots were American, I’ve been a Canadian for a very long time now. And despite its many flaws and occasional decade-long lapses of political judgement, I’m fond of my country. I think it’s got a lot of things very right, and I don’t want to leave it. I’m actually proud to call myself Canadian. Especially in this year of madness south (or north, depending on your perspective) of the border.
Many of the ex-pats (a few Canadians, mostly Americans) who live here full-time began as snowbirds. Eventually, they say, the time came when juggling two lives was no longer emotionally and practically tenable, and they made the final leap. They’re the ones we know, because they’re here, but there must also be some who, when that time came, leapt in the other direction. Maybe more Canadians? I don’t know.
But I do know that’s what I will do, when the time comes. Not soon, I hope, because I do love this place and these new friends. But it will never be home. For me, home is where the memories are, and the people who share those memories that now stretch back nearly half a century.
The people I’ll be seeing in a few weeks, now.