The Writing on the Wall: There's No Place Like Home

Maps fascinate me. I look at a map and feel like a bird flying well above the landscape so that the world really does look like a pastel patchwork quilt riddled and crazed with lines of rivers and streams, rail lines and lanes.

Two maps stand out in my memory as adornments in the homes of families who cared deeply about where they were because they felt so much a part of it.

One is a map of Danbury, Connecticut, that spanned the width of my lifelong friend's four-seater couch in her parents' home. Her family had come to Danbury from Ireland during the Great Hunger. Off the boat and in the Hat City, her family helped build St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on the city's Main Street. Since that time, they became a part of just about every aspect of that city that was my hometown when I was a kid.

Though she was raised in a Catholic family , she converted to Judaism when she married, and today her family is part of a Jewish congregation. Nonetheless, they are all at home in a Catholic church on Christmas Eve. There is neither conflict nor contradiction in this. To understand this is to know Danbury. It is to read the map of a city that has absorbed just about every kind of immigrant that has ever come to the US and maintained peace and order and then some. There's nothing provincial about that city with broad shoulders and open arms.

The other map is a much smaller one in a homemade pine frame that once hung on on my uncle's living room wall. It depicted Woodbury, where Jared Stoddard Isbell and his wife Polly raised their three children and farmed tobacco. My uncle loved this map, and he had made the frame for it to hang in his home. The map bears the names of Stone, Curtiss, Thomas, Burr, Leavenworth, Stoddard, Isbell, Shove. It indicates where in Hotchkissville Jared and Polly made their lives.

My uncle made a photocopy for me when I was a teen-ager. On the back of it, I noted he gave it to me on November 6, 1982. It bears pencil marks highlighting the sites of family homes, family burials in the cemetery between Church (Wesley) Street and Washington Avenue, and family businesses in town.

These maps bring me back to the words of the very uncle who gave me the Woodbury map. One bright autumn day about 10 years ago, he stood at the window in the dining room of the home he and his family had built in Danbury after the War. He was not long back from the barber's when I arrived. He said: "Tony the barber was telling me he's going to Vermont to get a look at the fall foliage. 'Why go to Vermont, Tony,' I said, 'when it's all right here?"

It's all right here. And it's so very beautiful. It's more than enough, to be sure.

Comments

  1. Neat history. I appreciate stories from all over, and I think your book looks wonderful. How often I've pondered graffiti as it flew past on the sides of train cars. Who put it there? Now maybe I can find out.

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  2. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I do appreciate it!

    You know, some of those veteran train car graffiti writers are making big bucks now as professional artists. Go figure!

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