… and now for something completely different – A while back we encouraged Village14 readers to send us guest posts. Kathleen Maguire took us up on the offer and here’s her contribution. Thanks Kathleen
At a recent Nomad Theater Story Slam, a storyteller shared an intimate account of how Newton became “home” for her. For decades, she had lived in Newton but still considered her birthplace, “home”. Then one day, the feeling came to her in a rush, at a crowded open house in the newly constructed family room of the home she had shared with her husband and children for years. She looked around and saw the life she had assembled and built in Newton; the memories she had created and shared with her friends and fellow residents. She saw her things “about her” as the saying goes and she felt “home.”
This story made me think about my own experience as a transplant in Massachusetts’s venerable Garden City. People have been coming to settle in Newton by choice, rather than just by heritage, for centuries. However, the feeling of “home” can be elusive here. It is easy to miss it in the hurried stream of daily high-powered personal and professional commitments, home renovations, repairs and monthly mortgage obligations. The storyteller’s experience is not unique; one could live here, or anywhere, for decades, and not feel “home”.
When I moved to Newton more than two decades ago, I was blessed with letters from my late Aunt Ann. She was a 1960’s suburban homemaker extraordinaire. She recognized I was a city mouse and therefore a babe in the suburban woods; so, she started sending me letters filled with homemaking tips so I could learn to make Newton my home. Keep a basket or a nice shopping bag at the bottom of the stairs to collect all the items that need to go upstairs; bring the collection upstairs at the end of the day. She was just so clever; I can only imagine what I would have learned from her if we had email back in those days.
I treasure my favorite letter from her and the warmth that her perfect Palmer penmanship still evokes today. If this letter were a Good Housekeeping article, the title would have been “Finding a Sense of Home, on Newlywed’s Budget, through Antiques.” She explained that she and my Uncle Michael furnished their entire home with flea market antiques because that was all they could afford. She encouraged me to look for things like fireplace andirons through antique and flea market channels because of the short-term cash flow benefits gained through thrift and the long-term sentimental value accrued in the object. Antiques bring stories with them and enrich the owner’s life with a sense of connection to the past.
My Aunt Ann’s interest in antiques evolved into a passion for local history and the stories of the people who preceded her in her town. She was a founding member of her local historical society and used it as her hub for community engagement in the days of rotary telephones and mid morning committee meetings. Oh what she could have done with a smartphone and Facebook and Twitter!
In her letters, Aunt Ann encouraged me to pack up my child, get myself out and learn about my surroundings and my local history. She was sharing wisdom that I couldn’t fully comprehend at the time: Local history has the power to ground us and nurture a sense of home. She encouraged me to make memories for my family that connected me with my new hometown. Aunt Ann’s roadmap has served me well. Along the way, I have discovered some hidden Newton local history gems that I hope to share with Village14 in future columns. The adventure awaits!