On a Geography of the Heart

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On a Geography of the Heart —

In her collection of essays, Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks speaks of a “geography of the heart.” Her geography was Kentucky. And despite the difficulties that she experienced as a black child living in rural Appalachia, and her subsequent extensive travel, education, and renown (my word, not hers), she speaks of the loss and loneliness she experienced when she left, this disconnection from place. In fact, her hunger to recapture that sense of place developed in childhood led her to return to Kentucky, where she is Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College.

Her words have stayed with me, as I think of the place where my “geography of the heart” endures. It is the house where I was raised. Isolated, yet in the midst of a city, “Rock Springs” had a profound influence on how I view both the world and myself. It was the subject of the first book I wrote, A Place Called Rock Springs, a memoir, a remembrance of things past, mostly melancholy, but, I realize, shaded with a sepia-tinted longing. This is a picture of the house, complete with the #9 streetcar that ran through the grounds – Catonsville to Ellicott City. It shows the house at its finest – the picket fence that surrounded the lower gardens, the house on the hill keeping watch.

It was a lonely life for me – the house isolated from others; I didn’t see another child until I went to kindergarten. And so I lived an adult life, teaching myself to read, write – the activities of a solitary child.

The house has also been an influence on my daughter, with, I hope, memories entirely joyful. She named her paper business, Rock Springs Paper Craft (www.rockspringspaper.com), part homage, part nostalgia.

And so, I ask you to consider your “geography of the heart.” Isn’t it in all of us?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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On a Geography of the Heart

No automatic alt text available.

On a Geography of the Heart —

In her collection of essays, Belonging: A Culture of Place, bell hooks speaks of a “geography of the heart.” Her geography was Kentucky. And despite the difficulties that she experienced as a black child living in rural Appalachia, and her subsequent extensive travel, education, and renown (my word, not hers), she speaks of the loss and loneliness she experienced when she left, this disconnection from place. In fact, her hunger to recapture that sense of place developed in childhood led her to return to Kentucky, where she is Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College.

Her words have stayed with me, as I think of the place where my “geography of the heart” endures. It is the house where I was raised. Isolated, yet in the midst of a city, “Rock Springs” had a profound influence on how I view both the world and myself. It was the subject of the first book I wrote, A Place Called Rock Springs, a memoir, a remembrance of things past, mostly melancholy, but, I realize, shaded with a sepia-tinted longing. This is a picture of the house, complete with the #9 streetcar that ran through the grounds – Catonsville to Ellicott City. It shows the house at its finest – the picket fence that surrounded the lower gardens, the house on the hill keeping watch.

It was a lonely life for me – the house isolated from others; I didn’t see another child until I went to kindergarten. And so I lived an adult life, teaching myself to read, write – the activities of a solitary child.

The house has also been an influence on my daughter, with, I hope, memories entirely joyful. She named her paper business, Rock Springs Paper Craft (www.rockspringspaper.com), part homage, part nostalgia.

And so, I ask you to consider your “geography of the heart.” Isn’t it in all of us?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

.

 

On Remembering Leaf Houses

st. mark's old school

ON REMEMBERING LEAF HOUSES

 

I spent the fifth and sixth grades at St. Mark’s Old School, on Winters Lane in Catonsville. It was the original school, built in the 1880s, and had been recently replaced by a fancy, modern, up-to-date once, complete with green blackboards and yellow chalk.

Between planning and opening, it proved to be not quite large enough to accommodate those baby boomers who were surging into classrooms, and the decision was made to keep those two grades in the original building, the one that actually smelled like a school, old books, paste, construction paper that was reverting back to its original state. It had a trash room, where we deposited the remains of our brown-bag lunches. I remember this, because, after the second time that I accidentally threw my retainer away with my banana peel, my father took me there to search for it. I found it, and, needless to say, never lost it again.

But the fondest memory I have of that time is leaf houses. Every autumn, as the trees surrounding the girls’ playground (for boys and girls had separate play areas then), shed their leaves, we girls would divide ourselves into groups and devise the diagrams for our houses; the leaves marking off the dimensions of the rooms. I always made one to match the house I lived in. I never deviated, and, somehow, those others in my cheerful assembly always went along with me. We raked and swept and organized: kitchen, dining room, living room, sunporch, even a library. If we had time, we even added a front porch, that outlined by a narrower band of leaves.

We felt singularly grown up, and would invite other groups in to visit. I don’t remember a cross word; I don’t competition, though each of our groups was quite house-proud.

Of course, there was always one boy (Walter J. O’Neill III comes to mind) who would strike out from his side of the school, leading a band of ruffians to swoop in and destroy our diligent efforts. And, of course, we ran to the nuns, who, always a bit late, came to our rescue and swatted the hooligans on the top of their heads, boxed their ears, and confined them to the classroom for the next day. We then picked up our brooms, our rakes, and started again.

Gender roles, so easily assumed, never questioned.  Such quarantining of the sexes would never fly today. Yet, I miss those leaf house, and, just perhaps, some of us went on to be architects.