Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Saturday Evening blog Post presents: A Place in the World; GuestBlog by Thomas Cosgrove


Another first from The Saturday Evening blog Post: a guest blog. Our first guest blogger is my cousin, Thomas Cosgrove, who grew up down the street from me in Clinton, New York, a quaint little town tucked into the low foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Thomas and his family ran a dairy farm on the outskirts of town, The Spring Grove Farm, which is still in operation today. Whenever we ran out of milk, which, with a family of six, happened every night after dinner, my father and I would grab the silver milk pail and head down Fountain Street towards the farm. The first order of business was always to stop in at the farmhouse, where my father would always sit down and drink a Utica Club--our local beer, affectionately referred to as 'Uncle Charle'--with my Uncle Tom, while Thomas and I occupied ourselves at the kitchen table. Our favorite pastime was Stratego, possibly the best game ever invented--and still available, Christmas shoppers--although we also used to sketch, airplanes and layouts of golf courses, mainly. On the way home we stopped at the barn to draw a pail of whole milk from the huge stainless steel tank that dominated the milkhouse. And then we walked home, trudging up the hill with the pail of fresh milk swinging from my father's long arm. I always used to wonder why we just didn't take two or three pails with us and fetch enough for a few days, but now that I am a married father of four I know the answer.

So, without further ado, the inaugural guest blog on The Saturday Evening blog Post, fittingly written by Thomas Cosgrove, my cousin, lifelong friend, fellow blogger, proud Cornell alumnus, and forever a Tarheel. (Did I mention he can sing?)

 A Place in the World

Could be right before your eyes / Just beyond a door that's open wide / Could be far away or in your own backyard / There are those who say, you can look too hard / For your place in the world – Mary Chapin Carpenter – “A Place in the World”

When my cousin Peter asked me to write a guest blog, he said the topic was my choice but mentioned he has a regular feature on travel.

His suggestion reminded me of his recent post about traveling in Arizona <> and his dismay at locals who had not explored the wonderful places in their backyard, so I thought that might be a good place to start.

His post really wasn’t about travel per se, but the places it takes you.  It made me think about the concept of place, whether it's a nation, a region, a state, a town, a neighborhood or the corner of a room.  And as sometimes happens when an idea sparks, one thought sets off a chain reaction.  This one started with travel and its cousin, place, but it ultimately brought to mind the concept of home.

When the chain reaction started, I thought of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lyrics and how a place can feed the soul regardless if it is a place you’re visiting or the place you call home.

One reason the topic hit home is that I travel a fair amount for work.  I’m not well suited to being in the office five days a week so it’s probably a good thing I’m not.  Certainly my colleagues would agree, but the travel sometimes takes a toll being away from my wife and son.

In our town of Longmeadow, Mass, I'm basically known as Jen's husband, a moniker I wear proudly as she’s earned a stout reputation in the community as a go-to leader in the volunteer corps.  I sometimes joke Jen and Will live in Longmeadow, and I just visit them there, but hey, “it is what it is.”  (Just kidding, see Peter’s well written rant on that phrase, <> ) In all seriousness, I choose to have a job that requires travel -- I own it if you will -- but sometimes it’s a challenge to manage.

But that quip about visiting Longmeadow, while a decent one-liner, has begun to feel stale.  Making the rounds Halloween night with Will was the first time I’d seen some of our neighbors since the previous Halloween.  I still have strong ties to Peter’s and my hometown of Clinton, NY, but in almost 25 years since graduating from college, I’ve never grown roots in any of the four places I’ve lived.

So although I agreed with Peter about the poor souls in Arizona who haven’t explored their own backyards, I wondered if I was any different sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own town.  But I’ve begun to rethink that based on a couple recent events.

In our eight years here, Jen has typically participated in our town meetings, a New England civic tradition where citizens serve as the town legislature.  But she had just finished co-chairing a major school foundation event, and I was in town for a change, so it made sense for me to participate.

This particular town meeting had a number of routine items on the agenda (or warrant), but the main issue was debating the town’s position regarding a possible casino in the neighboring city of Springfield.

As I listened to the spirited debate about a Springfield casino, people were really asking a philosophical question about the nature of our town and how the casino might change it.  I wasn’t focused on the fact I didn't know many people. I followed the debate intensely, considered my vote carefully, and felt like I had a stake in the debate even if I didn’t know that many people there.

The following Saturday we participated as a family in a Veteran’s Day 5K run/walk to benefit the Wounded Warriors project.  It had a special meaning as Jen’s dad is a Vietnam Veteran, having spent over 30 years in the Marine Corps and I was proud that Will ran almost the entire 5K.

A ceremony preceded the 5K, and as speakers honored the service of our military, it occurred to me that members of the military don’t know everyone they’re serving, and we certainly don’t have to know them in order to honor their service.       

The takeaway here is not for me to rationalize staying under the radar in my town.  In fact, that’s something I hope to change, and there’s nothing like showing up for a few events to start the process.

But standing there at the Veteran’s Day ceremony, it reminded me of a broader sense of place that extended beyond our town, and that I didn’t need to know anyone’s name to realize we shared a common appreciation of the place we call home.

The trouble it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you're not alone / Cause I'm gonna make this place your home – Philip Phillips – “Home” <>