May 4, 1999
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: At least, there was never a "For Sale" sign out front. Somehow that would have made it worse. But the lack of a sign did not change the fact the Santa Monica house my father had lived in and loved with two wives and the children from both was finally being sold.
He'd been there for half a century, in a big old mock tudor house blocks from the ocean till his death just after Christmas. My sister and I were babies there, later brides, finally mourners. It was our family homestead, our tribal headquarters, my father's kingdom. In turn, when I married, I settled but half a mile away and I, too, have stayed put now for 28 years, carrying my husband and his children and now his children's children back to my father's house for many an important occasion.
In short, I come from a family of heavy nesters, an anomalous thing in America, where studies show that one quarter of Americans are in constant motion. We're a restless lot, our imaginations tickled by the allure of the frontier and new beginnings, a desire to shed a past be it persecution or poverty abroad or family or divorce at home.
Ever since we got here, we've been a kaleidoscope of movement, a blur of covered wagons and trains and mobile homes and moving vans heading out, loaded down for somewhere new. That's been our time-honored habit, our pride-filled self-image, a nation of intrepid pioneers striking out for somewhere else.
So am I just an old world throwback, the deeply rooted daughter of a deeply rooted man? In some ways, yes.
But in some ways we represent a decisive, if subtle, shift away from the pioneer myth. More and more people it turns out are going home. Of all the people out there on the road now, one fifth are actually return migrants, people going back to some previous, if not original, dwelling place.
True, mostly they are older people who, having spent part of their lives elsewhere, want to return home for the final act, to renest among old friends and old memories.
I know people who have moved back to small towns in Oregon or Kansas where they were young and couples who have left deepest suburbia now that the kids are grown and moved back to the heart of New York City, their original meeting place.
Even among younger people who are still on the move, you sense a hunger for a home base and the family that goes with it. The TV sets of America are full of sitcoms full of hybrid families, friends cobbled together week after week in the same place, on the same set, a comforting virtual reality homestead, the upper hippie commune of your. They're now our national shared domestic touchstones.
Even here, in the disjointed sprawl of Southern California, people are moving back to their old neighborhoods, Westwood, Mt. Washington, South Central, raising kids where they were kids. Or they're building these retro megascaled Cape Cod houses that reek of new money and nostalgia, full roots.
But contrary to popular opinion that no one is actually from here, the truth is that one out of three southern Californians is now, like me, a native. There is nothing foe about my roots. They go deep into the slice of western Los Angeles at the continent's end.
Living where you've always lived makes you both timid and tough, timid because you live in comfortingly family surroundings, tough because you do daily battle with the ghosts who live there too.
My father's house has just been sold. We're packing up. It is unbearable and necessary, this ceding of turf to the next settlers. We will not go lightly down this driveway the final time -- not a one of us.
I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.