A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.”
“Think about whence you came, where you are going and to whom you must account.” – Benjamin Franklin
I’m thinking about the meaning of “home” this Thanksgiving season. I’ve lived in Marblehead for 25 years, and, without question, consider this beautiful place home. Yet, like many of our 20,000 residents, I made this my home after a move or two from other states, other cities, other towns. I bought my first house here but took my first steps in a house a few hundred miles away.
So what makes Marblehead more resonant as “home” than the place I was born and raised?
This question was top of mind last week when I “went home” to the town I grew up in, in rural Connecticut, for a ceremony at the public high school. My dad graduated from the same school, albeit in a different location, in 1945. Several of my eight siblings did, too.
I was there to be honored with a plaque outside the school library, claimed as one of the town’s own who had “brought distinction to Watertown High School and the community.”
The deep familiarity of the journey as I got closer, each highway exit, each landmark, resonated like only home can, even as buildings have gone up or been torn down, roads rerouted, trees felled. There is where I learned to ride a bike, drive a car. I kissed my first boy, got my first stitches, nursed a best friend’s wounded heart. All cherished memories of home.
The high school event was lovely – seeing former favorite teachers, balloons in the school colors, kind words of embrace. I was deeply grateful, yet I knew I could no longer call the place of my birth and upbringing home, despite it always holding a piece of my heart.
My parents have both passed, and my childhood home has been remodeled and sold. Does the fact that my parents and my first home are gone render my once-hometown less “home”? If I climbed the steep hill to their front door and found them playing cribbage or watching “Jeopardy,” daily routines as long as I can remember, would I feel “home”? Yes, for sure, that’s part of it. Certainly, “home” means “family.” Yet mine, the one I created with my husband and children, is based here in Marblehead.
So perhaps “home” means “familiarity”?
I had dinner after the event in a fairly new restaurant, in a strip of storefronts, also new. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I needed directions to the bathroom and the highway.
Here, I know menu items, the quietest tables, the kindest servers and yes, which wines I like by the glass. The plethora of coffee options in town always make for a perfect afternoon diversion from work – where shall I get my small black hot coffee and resist the cookie today?
There’s no ocean where I grew up despite the incongruously named Beach Avenue I lived on. Certainly, its place on the sea makes Marblehead an extra special place to live, but I don’t think the ocean makes it home for me.
Is it, then, ritual? Is it Halloween being celebrated here like a national holiday? The Harbor Illumination? Santa arriving on a lobster boat? My family walking to Preston Beach for Tashlich? Dozens more?
And friends and neighbors. Growing up, I could name every family who lived in every house in my neighborhood. I mostly can do that here, too. I can and have borrowed olive oil, onions, Worcestershire sauce, even sugar. I’ve passed the time on a walk with my dog. Remarked on the weather. Updated on my kids, their grandkids. Certainly, good neighbors make home.
As I drove back into town past the “Welcome to Marblehead” sign on Lafayette Street, my shoulders relaxed imperceptibly. Home as familiar and effortless as breathing.
A friend recently remarked that, to her, home “was a place you feel safe.” Another said, “it’s a feeling of being able to go anywhere in town and being taken care of if you need it.” The word that arose in my mind as they spoke was “sanctuary.”
So perhaps home is sanctuary. Yes, I think that is it. And the feeling of sanctuary is the sum of all the parts – familiarity, ritual, memories, family, neighbors, friends, good coffee.
Enjoy your sanctuary this holiday. I, for one, am deeply grateful for Marblehead, my home.
Virginia Buckingham serves on the Marblehead Current’s Board of Director. Buckingham is formerly the chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch A Memoir.” “Everything Will Be Okay” will be a weekly column.