I first heard the Kenny Loggins lyric “Celebrate Me Home” at a Lifespring retreat my husband and I attended many years ago. Part of the human potential movement, Lifespring was, as I remember, a kinder and gentler version of Werner Erhart’s California-based program known as EST.
After that first Lifespring weekend we went back to take what was called “the advanced course”. Although our adolescent son told his friends we had joined a cult, those weekends didn’t change our lives as promised. Yet they did make me think about the meaning of home.
I was born in South Carolina where my father was stationed during the Second World War. He was an Army doctor and shipped out from the Charleston port of embarkation, escorting soldiers to the European and African theaters of war. Then he would return with the wounded and the dead.
Like many WW II vets, my dad didn’t talk much about his war-time experiences, and my parents seemed to lose touch with most of their Army friends. And although they often spoke about going back to Charleston to visit, they never did.
But anxious to show my husband and son my birthplace, one spring we went to Charleston. We couldn’t find the house my folks had lived in, but we looked up an old friend of theirs. We called my folks and put them on the phone together, and it felt like a homecoming.
After the war when my parents returned to New York they bought a house on the GI Bill on McGraw Avenue in the Bronx. My dad’s medical office was on the ground floor, and our family’s living quarters were on the two floors above. Our shady street bordered Parkchester, the apartment complex that had recently been built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
Parkchester was an oasis in the midst of the city, and on it’s 120 landscaped acres were the artfully designed buildings with apartments for 1200 families, and the shops, restaurants, offices, movie theater, library, schools and playgrounds that encompassed my childhood world. Divided into four quadrants – north, east, south and west – Parkchester was planned around Metropolitan Oval, a large, oval-shaped pond with spouting fountains and giant goldfish, and surrounded by benches and well-tended flowerbeds.
It was within Parkchester’s safe environs I went to school, learned to ride a bike, and took piano lessons. And it was there I first saw a movie, tasted pizza, and kissed a boy. Historian Lloyd Ultan, writing about that time and place called it “the Bronx in the innocent years”.
In May 2010 I went back with hundreds of others for a Parkchester reunion. It was a wonderful day of nostalgia, renewed friendships and homecoming.
The workshop leader at that Lifespring retreat years ago had said, “Home is not a place you go back to, it’s a place you operate from.”
Parkchester, celebrate me home.
Dana Susan Lehrman