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Return to the Land of Your Soul

“Return again, return again, return to the Land of Your Soul.” 

 

This morning I woke to geese singing their honking song as they flew over me returning North.  What is it that compels them to make this migratory journey of returning, North to South, South to North?  My mother says that when she married my father he also had a compelling need to migrate from French Gulch (the small, Northern California mountain town where they both grew up), to the city of San Francisco which lay to the South.  It was very out of character.  My father was born in the woods, high in the Trinity Mountains, raised in the mountains, and spent most of his life living and working in those Northern California mountains.  But for a brief time, after he married my young mother, they flew South, to San Francisco where they nested in an apartment on Geary Street near Van Ness.  They only lived there long enough for her to get pregnant and have me at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.  By the time I was six months old we had migrated North, back up into the mountains, returning to the land of his soul.

 

“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”

 

Going to college was not part of my family culture.  But from a fairly young age I felt this drive, this need, this compulsion to fly myself South to San Francisco to go to college.  I didn’t even know what colleges were there, I just knew I needed to get there.  So at the very same age my mother had been when she gave me birth seventeen years before, I migrated South to San Francisco State University.  It was the late 1970s and part of my college experience was playing designated herded (we didn’t drive) for my eclectic group of friends. With our fake IDs we danced to driving disco at a Queer bar called The Stud, which at the time was on Folsom Street, South of Market. 

 

“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”

 

My father still lived in that small Northern California mountain town called French Gulch in October of 2012 when he died, two weeks before my October birthday.  I was with him as he breathed his last breath.  After his death I began to feel a compelling need to find out more about the early years of his mother, my grandma Winnie who had lived most of her long life up North in the Trinity Mountains, but was not from there.  She had migrated there as a young bride, her husband, my grandpa Russell, brought her North to those Trinity Mountains where he had been born and raised.  But I knew she had originally come from San Francisco, born just a couple of years before the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.  What I later learned was that her family lived in the part of the city known at “South of the Slot,” only a couple blocks from where I, as a young college student, danced to driving disco in the late 1970s.  As I continued my search for her story I found that the orphanage where my grandma Winnie lived after her mother died in October of 1907, was less than a block from the apartment on Geary Street where my young father felt compelled to live at the time I was born, in October of 1959.

 

“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”

 

A few days ago I sat at my computer continuing my work to discover and tell the story of my Grandma Winnie’s family, the family whose story had been lost in the trauma of Earthquake and Fire, death and orphanages.  My grandma’s mother, Josie Romero Lindsey Smith, died on October 22, 1907 in Hahnemann Hospital, which had been located on California street in San Francisco.  I suddenly felt a strong compulsion to look at my birth certificate and tore through my files to find that Children's Hospital, where I was born on October 23, 1959, was also on California Street in San Francisco. The two hospitals had merged somewhere between my great-grandma Josie’s death in 1907 and my birth in 1959, fifty two years later almost to the day.

 

“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”

 

This morning I woke to geese singing their honking song as they flew over me returning North. What is it that compels them to make this migratory journey of returning, North to South, South to North?  What was it that compelled my father to migrate South to San Francisco just long enough for me to be born where my great-grandma, whose name he didn’t even know, had died?  All I know is that I am grateful to him for flying South, so that San Francisco would be the land of my soul, the place for me to return again, and this story could be told.  What’s remembered, lives.

 

And you?  Where are you compelled to fly?  Where do you return again?  Where is The Land of Your Soul? 

 

***************

The line, “Return again, return again, return to the Land of Your Soul” is from a chant I learned as a college student at women’s retreats in San Francisco in the late 1970s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk6SblXESI8 

Music and Lyrics by Schlomo Carlebach - sung by Shaina Noll - and I just noticed that this particular video was posted on YouTube on August 22, 2015 which would have been my father’s 79th birthday….

 

Photo credit:  Flying Geese by Paul Hodan 

 

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Lizann Bassham was both an active Reclaiming Witch and an Ordained Christian Minister in the United Church of Christ. She served as Campus Pastor at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley working with a multi-faith student community. She was a columnist for SageWoman magazine, a novelist, playwright, and musician. Once, quite by accident, she won a salsa dance contest in East L.A. Lizann died on May 27, 2018.

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