Every person has a place. A place for which his or her heart yearns, particularly in lonely times. This place need not be a physical location. It could be, for example, a set of circumstances or, perhaps, a person. The common thread is a feeling of peace that arises from being present in one’s place.
I have felt placeless for nearly 30 years. But, soon, I will be returning to my place.
My place is a town in eastern Kentucky. Kentuckians, and the people of southern Appalachia generally, are known for putting a high value on place. Upon learning of my move, a number of friends have reminded me of Happy Chandler’s quote, “I never met a Kentuckian who wasn’t either thinking about going home or actually going home.” I also recently ran across a bluegrass song, The Hills That I Call Home, by Bob Amos that gave broader expression to the notion of place:
For there’re two things you can count on
In this troubled world we face
Every season has an ending
Every person has a place
In Appalachia, the connection to a specific hillside or hollow may originate in the geographical isolation that can keep some rural communities separated from the rest of the world. Strong family or community ties also may have roots in the need to band together in the face of pejorative stereotypes often associated with Appalachia. Of course, the persistent poverty experienced by so many Appalachians links them to each other and their surroundings. Regardless of the source, however, a sense of place seems to arise frequently in discussions of the region.
I have contemplated a move to Kentucky for many years, but the timing never seemed right. I had a job and couldn’t relocate. I had a spouse who had no interest in living in Kentucky. Then, I found myself without a geographically-specific job, a spouse or any other impediment that would stand in the way of returning to my place.
During a visit to my hometown, a friend told me about a house that sounded like the perfect home for my daughter and me. I was invited to see the house and, while I was there, the universe reminded me of my place.
It spoke softly when I took in the view from an upstairs bedroom window. Through the window, I saw the vision of Kentucky that I carried with me to Connecticut, North Carolina, New York and California: hills, their ridges too low to be mountains, but steep and matted with timber and brambles. At the foot of these hills, a dilapidated barn that embodied something forgotten.
The universe spoke again, and with more urgency, when we walked through the garden and I saw a bleeding heart plant. As indicated by the name, a bleeding heart’s bloom is shaped like a pink heart with tiny white petals, which resemble a droplet, attached at the bottom of the heart.
A bleeding heart bloomed alongside the house where I grew up. My great-grandmother, Lou Ann, planted it. She made raisin pies and always apologized for the crusts, even though I dream about their flakiness to this day. Like her, that bleeding heart plant forgave imperfections in its environment. Regardless of the harshness of the prior winter, you could count on seeing its blossoms every spring. It even found a way to survive Daddy’s experiment in using a goat for lawn maintenance, which ended with the bleeding heart being gnawed to the ground.
Several years ago, my then husband surprised me by planting a bleeding heart in our California garden. Although it was a thoughtful gesture, sadly, the plant died. While the bleeding heart plant from my childhood could flourish in less than ideal conditions, the plant in our well-tended California garden struggled. The contrast made me wonder whether some plants, and people, thrive only in difficult soil. Maybe the plant’s death was a sign that California, despite all of its beauty and promise, could never be my home, my place.
Once I saw the bleeding heart in the garden of what soon will be my new home, I think it was inevitable that I would live in my place again.
With my brother later that evening, I described the house and explained why I thought it was a good fit for my daughter and me. I went through all the details: the floor plan, the bedrooms, the beautiful landscaping.
Then, I paused, “This is going to sound insane, but I’m sure I am supposed to live there. Can you guess how I know?”
He smiled, “Is there a bleeding heart in the garden?”
My brother understands my crazy, well-meaning, battered heart and its similarity to the bleeding heart plant from our childhood. He also understands that I have been placeless for so long – and it is time to come home.
Sure, there are more specific reasons why I am moving to Kentucky. My mother suffers from advanced frontotemporal dementia and I want to participate in the last portion of her life. I want my daughter to experience living in a small town. I want to watch my brother’s children grow up. Most of all, however, I simply need to be in my place.