I recently spent the week with my grandmother, engaging in family traditions such as DeCourcey-rules Scrabble, Jeopardy! viewership, and politely refusing to put Grandma to the trouble of baking powder biscuits at breakfast, then politely eating upwards of three.
We also discussed, in passing, the possibility that she will move soon. While we were discussing it, my mind was very much on the implications for her, and perhaps for the rest of my Scrabble-ating tribe. But some days afterward, I realized that once my grandmother leaves Grants Pass, none of my family will live there. I won’t have any cause to visit, and the sort of half-citizenship of that little burg in Southern Oregon that I have long enjoyed will quite dissolve.
My family—the other side, as it happens—moved to Southern Oregon in the early 20th century. My Oklahoman great-great-grandfather came for a promotion with the railroad, and brought his family. My Canadian great-grandfather came for a lumber industry job, married the daughter of the aforementioned railroad man. They lived in the little town of Glendale, 28 miles away from Grants Pass through thick conifer forests. My maternal grandparents moved to Medford, then Grants Pass, after World War II, and Grandpa started a business. Most non-Native Westerners’ family stories are stories of migration, and our stories brought us to Grants Pass, the nexus of my recent genealogy.
Is that the only reason I love Grants Pass? That my parents met in the halls of the old Grants Pass High School (now demolished), drawn together by their identical paperback copies of The Two Towers? That my Grandpa is buried in a woodland cemetery outside of town, bright with dry grass and the sound of insects? That my family orbited around that valley for generations, and even now I feel it’s our home planet?
I don’t know. I think we have a powerful drive to connect to places. For me, the Willamette Valley feels like home, with its waterfalls, rain, its particular shades of green. But most of us—I know I speak for myself and Taran of Caer Dallben, at least—have a desire to know where we came from. It manifests in genealogical research, in recording family reminiscences, in sequencing our DNA, and in attaching ourselves to places.
My parents moved to the Portland area about 9 months before I was born, and before that lived for a few years in Eugene. I have never lived in Grants Pass for more than 3 weeks or so, but I’ve become accustomed to ‘owning’ it, to thinking it’s part of me. When people mention it (or name anthologies after it), I perk up my ears. My car still has its Grants Pass license plate surround. I know the GPHS colors, remember feeding the ducks at Riverside Park, have walked the main street, passed under the “It’s the Climate” sign, had many milkshakes at the old soda parlor in the Grants Pass Pharmacy. I feel at home in that bowl of blue-green hills. Even though I’m a proud Portlander, I know my roots are in small towns like Grants Pass and Glendale, Llanfyrnach and Marvejols and Taupinet. Perhaps that’s silly, or meaningless, or maudlin, but I’ll be sorry when there are no more DeCourceys in Grants Pass, when I am only a traveler passing through, and not a native grandchild returning.