Imaginary hometowns

In Italo Calvino’s novel “Invisible Cities,” Marco Polo describes imaginary places to the Emperor of China. They are wonderful, and impossible.



This is at least partly because they do not exist.



Okay, Italo Calvino. How about this?



The town my mother was born in no longer exists. The town my father was born in never existed. And the town I grew up in doesn’t quite exist.



I will elaborate.



Bayne, Washington, where my mother was born, was a “railroad town,” with “houses” built for the railroad workers. When we took our yearly trip up to visit Grandma, Mom would point over into a field of yellowed grass and say: “I was born over there!” And all I could see were some burnt-out shacks lost in the trees and weeds. It still shows up on a few maps, but there’s really nothing there.



Glade, Washington, where my father was born, was a fiction: just a name that my grandparents chose to call their farm in rural Klickitat County, Washington in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. Dad was born in the Glade in January 1914. The weather was very cold. Grandma felt her water break (it was at least her third birth) and told Grandpa to hitch up the buckboard to take her into town to have her child. He took a long time about doing it, so Grandma (I’m quoting her, by the way) “mixed herself up a hot toddy to keep the cold away.”



By the time Grandpa got back in the house, Grandma was drunk on the kitchen floor, giving birth to Dad. She didn’t quite know what to do with the umbilical cord; she knew it was supposed to be tied off, so she tried to loop Dad around and through it, as if tying a shoe.



They never quite made it into town. But Dad got born anyway, right there in the house, in “Glade, Washington,” which you will never find on any map. There’s a Glade Cemetery, with a few markers. I dare you to find it.



As for me, I grew up in Venersborg, Washington. It’s on the side of Spotted Deer Mountain, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It’s not a real city or town; Wikipedia calls it a “census-designated place,” which sounds about right. Mom and Dad are buried in Venersborg Cemetery over by Finn Hill, and it’s always the first place Partner and I go when we visit the Northwest. Sometimes, when I’m very nostalgic, we drive all the way up the hill to look (from a distance) at the house I grew up in. It’s been remodeled, and it’s different now.



But it’s still there.



Children: be proud of your imaginary heritage!



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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