There’s No Place Like Home
by Cindy Thomson
“There’s no place like home.”
Most people attribute that line to the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, but of course it originally came from a book published in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I believe most folks agree with the sentiment, but what exactly defines “home?” That is something I pondered as I wrote my novel Annie’s Stories. My Ellis Island series is set during the era of the Great Immigration to the United States. Nine million people came to America during the first decade of the 20th century. Most of those had to redefine what they thought of as home.
“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”—Dorothy speaking to the Scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Were the immigrants homesick? Would they ever think of America as their home? I imagine this was a struggle for them. I suppose New York City, where most of them landed after coming through Ellis Island, seemed as odd a place as Oz was to Dorothy Gale. The people dressed differently. The landscape (or rather cityscape) was foreign to them. Some could not speak the language. There were riches and perils alike in this new world. So how did they cope?
I believe our immigrant ancestors survived by rethinking home. I recently met an immigrant who told me her mother gave her this advice: “We are here now. We have to make the best of it.” And that’s what the people of the past did. They got jobs, worked hard, raised families. They brought some of home with them in the form of traditions and food. That is what has helped to make America so rich. Our country is a melting pot enabling us to experience several cultures at once.
They left the bad behind when they came over: religious persecution, poverty, abuse…So in that respect they looked forward to establishing a new home in the land of opportunity, and many embraced America wholeheartedly. They had to create a new home for themselves, however, and while better living conditions can contribute to that, it is not enough.
Like Dorothy, whose one goal was to get back to Kansas, the immigrants of the past must have had a yearning for home. While both Oz and America were colorful places full of wonder, as we know, there is no place like home. And unlike Dorothy, many of them never returned to the places of their birth. They instead had to fill that yearning in other ways. I think we can equate this to the spiritual dearth we feel until we find our own place of belonging.
Looking back to Baum’s story, I realized Dorothy’s friends were full of wisdom. What each one sought was part of what makes us human. A brain, the intellect to think and reason. A heart to feel compassion and love. Courage for when life is unfair, which is more often than we’d like. In Baum’s story, the Wizard tells the Scarecrow, “Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge.” He told the Lion, “…True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.” And to the Tin Woodman he noted that having a heart usually makes people unhappy. He meant that hearts can be broken, but that’s only because we are capable of loving others. If we have the things Dorothy’s friends sought, then we can begin our own adventure in finding our home, or in other words, our place of origin. That is not something found in Oz, as Dorothy found out, or anywhere in a material sense.
In my novel Annie’s Stories, Annie Gallagher fears she’ll never again find a place to call home, but she learns the truth in the words she remembers her deceased father saying. “Home is the place where the people who love you are.” And who is capable of loving us more than God? He is the one constant in our lives. Our circumstances may change. We may lose our possessions or be forced to relocate. We may lose loved ones and all the comforts we associated with feeling at home. But as children of our creator we continually look to Him because it is in Him we are truly at home. Home is not a building with windows and doors. Home is the place where the One who loves us most is.
Cindy Thomson is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. She combined her love of history and baseball to co-author the biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, which was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s Larry Ritter Book Award. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio.
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