(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord
I don't mean to avoid the question, so to prove it I quickly launch into the abbreviated version of the long story of all the places I've lived. Some of the places sound exotic but aren't; some of them sound dull and are; some of them sound exotic and are. What's hard for me to pin down where my home town is. I've left every place I've ever lived, sometimes purposefully. I think of home towns as being the place where you are familiar with the streets and some of the people still there know you. There aren't many places like that for me. There's certainly no one place that I think of as home other than where I live now, so I've had to redefine what home town means for me.
The place where I spent my childhood was not a place where my family had any roots but it was a place I loved. I think the closest thing to my home town is something like the birds' definition. I have wandered around a long time but like migrating birds, there's a place I go back to. It's Florida, specifically the Gulf Coast below Tampa. That's where we spent our best vacations. That's where I keep returning to.
It seems so trite to love Florida vacations but I don't go there for fantasy theme parks or for golf. I go there for wildlife photography and to dig through the beaches and side roads for evidence of "old Florida," the Florida I knew. Every once in a while, I find it in details that may escape others.
So while we were on our recent vacation, I turned down suggestions to do things like go to art museums. I was focused on my goal to capture images of birds and other wildlife like Fred the Alligator. My parents are gone. My brothers and sisters are scattered. I never knew my cousins. My urge for home and family takes a different form than it does for other people so I go where I felt at home a long time ago and take pictures of the birds who are like family. It's hard to explain to people who do have close family and some identifiable home town that I have to go to Sanibel Island to the wildlife sanctuary. Have to, like a migrating bird. It's a magnetic pull, a force of nature.
|Blue Heron, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve|
Sanibel Island, Florida
Recognizing this, years ago when I visited Sanibel I had the opportunity to buy a brick. You may have heard of other "buy a brick" fundraisers. You donate money to a museum or church or ballpark and they laser-cut your name in a brick and place it in the walkway. My brick is at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel.
When I was a little kid, my mother loved Perry Mason. So we all watched Raymond Burr play Perry Mason. When Perry Mason was no longer a regular TV series, we watched Raymond Burr in Ironsides. If Raymond Burr was in it, we watched it, even in his role as the bad guy in Rear Window. As it turns out, I found out a few more things about Raymond Burr.
A friend of a friend drove him around for a USO show when he was in the Army. He said he was a really nice guy. Raymond Burr's mother played keyboards for the churches on Sundays in the city where I live now and apparently played keyboards during the week for less reputable establishments there too. Even better, Raymond Burr loved Sanibel Island and seashells. It is due largely to his efforts, although certainly not solely to his efforts, that the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum exists at all. In the entryway there is a monument there to Raymond Burr. And just to the left of it, there is my brick.
I took a picture of it this time. It made me think about monuments and permanence in general. What do we leave behind? That's been a recurring theme in my vacation. I look for vestiges of old Florida. I ask "old timers" if they remember what I remember. They are older than I am and yet my memories pre-date theirs.
"I've only been here 32 years," they shake their heads, disappointed that it was not longer. My memories are from 50 years ago. I remember people who are gone, a greatly changed landscape, businesses long out of business, a way of life that no longer exists. But when I go to the shell museum, I know Raymond Burr knew what I knew. That little brick seems like a lasting monument but I'm not fooled. It rides each day upon the sand of a sandbar island, created by a chance connection of currents and river. It could so easily wash away. It means something only to me.
When I pick up seashells, I bring a little of myself home with me. That's where I'm from, originally.