Rachel "Sparks" Blackman (seattlesparks) wrote,
Rachel "Sparks" Blackman

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Coming "Home"

So, while playing phone tag with surubee and failing to connect thus far, I've been going for some walks lately, and sorting through things -- letters from relatives of my great-grandmother in Germany, written in the 1800's, grandmother's childhood pictures, horse equipment in the stablehouse dating back to the 1800's, stoneware marmalade jars from London of 1860 -- and generally immersing myself in family history. Though I think of Seattle as 'home,' and have occasionally lamented the weather back east -- overly hot summers, giant snowstorms during winter -- there is one area on the east coast that still feels like home. Right here in Narberth.

Narberth is where my grandparents grew up -- grandmother from poor German immigrants on her mother's side and the local Bates family (same family as Katherine Lee Bates, an ancestor who wrote "America the Beautiful") on her father's, grandfather from an Irish-Gypsy family which fled to the US to avoid assassins (interesting story, there). The families were both deeply involved in the local area, to the point that I had a great-grandfather who was part of getting Narberth recognized as a borough. It's a quiet little place, with lots of little shops and interesting areas, and some old houses which used to be where the servants for the more affluent families in the area lived; Narberth was where the service-class families were concentrated.

Mom grew up in Wynnewood, just next to Narberth, in the old manor house along Manor Road, named for it, where I am right now... but since they were only a few blocks from the border of Narberth, they still always referred to where they lived as 'Narberth.' (Both are part of Lower Marion.) And the thing I've noticed is that my grandparents -- and my family as a whole -- have left a stamp on the area. Around Narberth, if I introduce myself as Olive Tatman's granddaughter, people know who I mean, and can often tell me stories about my family. The area is very strongly Quaker -- my own faith, though I'm not generally vocal about it -- and so it feels very comfortable.

The editor-in-chief of Mirriam-Webster, the dictionary company, called the other day. He was coming down for the memorial, and he had a promise to grandmother for years and years, that he would call her whenever he left the house on a trip, and when he got home. (I don't know the story behind why.) And even now, coming down for grandmother's memorial, he couldn't stop the habit of calling; mom, half-laughingly and half-tearfully, told John that it was probably best to follow tradition, or grandma would haunt us all anyway. John replied, "I live in moral certainty of that fact." (John's father Elliot was my grandmother's original suitor and when she turned him down, he ended up later matchmaking grandma and with his college roommate and best friend, my grandfather. Elliot and Louisa's family and ours sort of count as one big family.)

And the thing is, lots of people around here have stories like that about grandma or grandpa. Many of the people my parents' age were taught by them, or so on. I can find bits of Narbeth history that have my family's names on them, and so on. And even if this isn't Seattle, even if I've not spent much time in Narberth since I was a child... in some ways, this does feel like home, too. There's a sense of family history here, of roots laid down in the local history, which is unique to this area.
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