Lately, there have been two music tracks in heavy rotation for rump-shaking in our house. One is “Kouman Sa T’a Ye,” a driving roots rhythm by the Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans that literally bursts with joy and asks the question, “What would life be without the neighborhood yard?” The other is “Dirty Water,” the 1960s garage-rock anthem by the Standells. It’s a love song wrapped in a snarl, and it celebrates Boston — muggers, filthy river and all — as the best goddamn place on earth.
If it’s possible for two songs to capture the meeting and meshing of our family’s cultures — black and white, roots and rock, CaribbeanAfricanIrishGerman — these two might be it. But despite the wildly different genres, it turns out that Boukman and the Standells have a few things in common. For example, rebellion: With their bold riffs and growling vocals, the Standells are considered by some to be godfathers of punk. Boukman Eksperyans, a group whose politically charged songs have been banned at times in Haiti, named itself in part for the high priest of rock guitar, Jimi Hendrix (as in, Are You Experienced). And with these tracks in particular, the echoes go even deeper: these are two songs that speak the same language about a common idea: the idea of home. It’s a notion that has eluded me, a daughter of immigrants, my whole life. And it’s a notion that defines my husband, whose long family line of dairy farmers, blacksmiths, police officers and town selectmen have left a deep imprint on the neighboring town where he was raised. The town that years ago dedicated a road after the family name. The town where Brian’s mother has been the school nurse since 1975.
After 12 years traveling these roads in Brian’s work truck, I can safely say he knows every single solitary house in this town’s 15 square miles. He knows the stories of the oldest houses still standing, and he knows the stories of old houses that once stood where oversized McMansions sit now. He knows who paved which roads and who built the stone walls that seem to go on for miles. The other day, the town’s retired police chief ran into my husband. They got to talking, and the chief started telling him how he would never, ever forget the period during the Depression when Brian’s great-grandfather, Michael W. Comiskey, drove around town delivering quarts of milk to families who could not afford it. He made the rounds early in the morning, before anyone woke up, so that none of those families would be embarrassed.
That sense of belonging, six generations deep, was an instant magnet of attraction when I met Brian. The idea that I could feel a rootedness I had never known, that I could pass those roots on, was irresistible. And as conflicted as I often feel about living in this hushed, small-town neverland, as a mother I am fascinated by what this grand experiment will mean for Sky, Rose, and Satchel, our little Maple Street caramels. They are darker and curlier, and because of that, they will have painful moments of doubt about whether they can ever truly belong. But they will just as surely have moments when they feel, even among the llamma farms and lily-white panoramas, that this land belongs to them as much it does to anyone else. Maybe even more.