News came last week that a group of archaeologists figured out people had lived in a certain ancient pit house in southern Brazil for well over 200 years running.
You might have missed it in all the bigger news of the day. But as someone who hasn’t seen his boyhood home in two years, I don’t think I’ve gone more than a handful of waking hours since reading about the discovery without at least a quick thought about those people who patched and remodeled that old home for generations.
Can you imagine your family keeping the same address since Lewis and Clark passed by?
From what the archaeologists found, the family — there’s no evidence it was one family, but it’s more fun to imagine it that way — laid down a dozen new floors over all that time and put up new thatch roofs after at least five fires.
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And I thought it was a big deal this summer when I helped a buddy move his family into the split-level he’d grown up in. He’s shopping for new flooring, but I still don’t think his clan will ever catch up to those ancient remodelers.
I keep wondering about the things they must have taken for granted that you and I will never know, and what it means that it’s no big deal for us to hop from time zone to time zone leaving one home for another all through our lives.
I’m one of those hoppers, carrying on a family tradition that started when Mom left Mexico and Dad headed out of Arizona, both to chase their fortune in glorious California.
They didn’t know what those ancients did about the benefits of staying put, but Mom clearly had an inkling. This woman who had left home so completely that she had to learn a new language couldn’t bring herself out of the house to wave goodbye when her oldest son set out for the Midwest after college.
I told her I’d be back when my series of internships was up in a year, but she was sure I’d never call California home again.
I found out that moms know best.
And sure, it is sad sometimes to think of what I left behind when I set down roots out here — mountains jutting from the horizon, the beach temptingly close, a giant family always nearby and ready for fun. But I got a lot out of the move, too. I’m not constantly stuck in traffic for one thing, and then there’s my amazing wife.
More than that, though, I like to think I added something to the spirit of America. We depend on a regular flow of people who pick up and resettle far from where they start.
A German friend was shocked to hear that I’d moved 1,500 miles from my family. When she got married, she found a house just 40 miles up the Rhine from her parents. But she doesn’t have to contend with trying to keep a culture intact across more than 3 million square miles like we do here in the States.
Doing that, I think, means a whole lot of us have to get up and move around, sprinkle a little of the rugged Arizona cowboy life in California, and some laid-back L.A. attitude onto the Heartland. It means I shouldn’t complain if my kids set out to carry our Midwestern forthrightness far down the interstate one day. (But I will complain, and maybe I’ll know more than I care to about why my mom couldn’t step out to wave goodbye many years ago.).
That mingling is probably what lets most of us feel American more than Kansan, Missourian or, say, Californian, even people whose families might have lived in the same city for 200 years. The connection depends on stretching strong relationships from sea to shining sea. And in my own family I see how it’s enlivened by the ones who migrated farther, coming in from Mexico, Vietnam and Finland to connect us to the wider world.
So it’s fun to think about how deeply those ancients must have known the sliver of South American highland where they kept up the same house for more than two centuries. But I don’t imagine they felt kinship to the folks on the beach 150 miles away.
Me, I’ll keep my California links strong with calls, visits and stories, but I’m probably staying put now. I’ll never have the deep foundation to my neighborhood that the people in that pit house did, but then, I’d have to give up this wide web of American culture to get it.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.