Migration — You Can’t Go Home Again, No Matter How Much They Try to Drag You Back

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Tomorrow I make yet another trip to my hometown. I always go to Old Saybrook with mixed feelings. There are so few people that I know there any more. One high school classmate who has had major health problems and is dealing with a troubled child who can’t take care of her own child. A very few of my parents’ friends – most of them are in their eighties and older.
Since it’s by the beach, Saybrook in the summer is tourist city with three times the population – a Main Street with cars pulling out into oncoming traffic, no parking, and stores full of vacationers. I stopped visiting my parents on weekends in the summer because I used to arrive in such a bad mood that it was impossible to have a pleasant visit.
These days, even more things fill me with woe. The house where I grew up looks nothing like it did when I was a kid. It was white with dark green shutters, surrounded by trees and shrubs. Now it is bright yellow with no shutters and no landscaping. The photo of the property no longer exists, so all you can get is a blurry google maps image. It sits within a few feet of the road so it’s a rather startling sight as one drives past. The house across the street where my mother’s good friend lived is also yellow, though of a lighter shade and has a huge addition on the back that’s bigger than the rest of the house. The only house that still looks the same is the elegant Victorian next door to my parents’ former residence. The man who lives there is a genius with landscaping, so that everything always looks perfectly manicured.
The reason for these trips is that people keep unearthing pieces of my family’s life and leaving them at the Old Saybrook Historical Society.
About a year ago, a woman who volunteers there and who knew my grandparents and my great-aunts called to say that someone had dropped off a photo album that had been down at James’ Pharmacy. The man who had owned it was an antiques dealer and had helped my parents clean out the store when Auntie died in 1977. The album was filled with photographs and postcards. It had obviously belonged to Miss James. Her customers who traveled all over the world had sent her cards and letters, but she didn’t id any of the photos. The cover, velvet with a metal clasp, was in poor shape. But after I looked through it,. I brought it home. Don’t know as I’ll ever be able to figure out who the people are.
Then in the spring the same woman wrote to say that a man who had bought the house that belonged to my other great-aunt and her husband had unearthed a huge trunk. It had been wedged in under the eaves in the attic and was only discovered when they removed part of the roof. It had “F.P. Chisholm” on it. That would be my great-uncle Frank Pierce Chisholm.  He worked as a fundraiser for Tuskegee from about 1909 until he retired. The trunk had some photos and some dress patterns that looked like they dated from the 1940s and 1950s.
Then last week the same woman called again to say that someone had brought in a beautiful white garment. She wasn’t sure whether it had come from the store or from my parents’ house, and the staff couldn’t decide whether it was a nightgown or a wedding dress. They were also trying to decipher a monogram embroidered on it. The historical society wants to keep this piece for its collection, but I’m going down tomorrow to take photos of the dress and the trunk. And I’m wondering why these pieces of my family’s past that I didn’t know existed keep trying to find their way back?         Stay tuned …

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