17 June 2003

Homeland and rootedness

I have recently finished writing an encyclopaedia article on the late Russell Kirk (1918-1994), one of the intellectual progenitors of the post-war American conservative movement.

Although he was born in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth, he would come to make his home in the little village of Mecosta in the northern part of Michigan, where he spent the remainder of his life. Here had lived several of his ancestors, and he sought to reclaim a sense of rootedness in a particular homeland. This sense of rootedness is difficult to maintain in highly mobile North America, where people move from one place to another at the behest of the market.

My own hometown is Wheaton, Illinois. To be sure, I was not born there, since there was (and is) no hospital in that community. But that's where I spent my first eighteen years.

Wheaton, Illinois, during my childhood
(well, maybe a bit before that)

The year I was born, Wheaton had a population of 16,001. (That's what my 1955 atlas says. Perhaps I was the one to put it over the 16,000 mark!) As of 2000 there were 55,416 people living there. I enjoy visiting the town, although it has largely lost the small town flavour it still had while I was growing up.

Yet my own roots there do not extend much before my own birth, as my parents were both born elsewhere. Like Kirk, I probably have more generations of ancestors who lived in Michigan. My grandfather was born in Oskar, in the beautiful "Copper Country" of the upper peninsula. His mother was not born there, but she was brought there by her parents as an infant in 1882. My grandmother was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, another beautiful part of the world. Her parents brought her and her siblings to Adrian, Michigan, in 1914. Finally, my mother was born in Jackson and grew up south of Ann Arbor.

I still have relatives living in southeast Michigan, as well as a brother-in-law living in Hillsdale with his family. So despite my birth in Illinois (of which I've not seen much outside the Chicago area) and my current home in Ontario, I have a special place in my heart for Michigan, where I spent so much of my childhood visiting relatives.

At some point I will write more on patriotism and rootedness. I tend to the view that a genuine patriotism is more likely to be local than national in its focus.

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