Five-minute memoir: Tupelo Hassman on the surprise healing power of a pocket shrine

 

I'm going to Georgia for a wedding, but when I land in Atlanta, I'll take a 12-hour detour through Tennessee for a last look at my father's home. This isn't your typical visit to the ancestral home; Pop only lived here briefly. Plus, it doesn't fall into the usual category of 'home', unless you are a Hassman, or someone like us.

It's a standard camper trailer parked on a campground bordering a lake and river near Bristol Motor Speedway and it is the last place Pop lived, which makes it the last place I called home. He died 10 years ago this year, a tidy decade, and the camper is finally empty and up for sale.

This campground was the sixth home my father had in our lifetime together, though he never put his wheels down well and spent most of that life travelling. Pop never lived anywhere long and I'm on my 30th home. The rolling stone doesn't fall far from the tree. You'd think my family knows less about what makes a home, considering how infrequently we kept one, but as I slip my rental car through the campground gate before it closes, riding close behind a pick-up truck loaded with coolers and fishing gear, I think maybe we know more than most.

There's a Motel Six in Santa Clara, California, where Pop stayed when he'd come visit. I still pass that motel with fondness, a feeling nothing short of nostalgia for home. We'd read books sprawled across the beds, the door to the room wide open, sit by the pool and swim all day. We were the kind of people that scare folks away from hotels – the ones who've come to stay, apparently desperate. But we weren't, only eternally mobile. The hotel was a place to be together in between caravanning. Home.

After Pop died, on my second move across the US, I stopped in Bristol to visit his widow. We went to see a goldsmith about some silver Pop had left her and I noticed a Saint Christopher medal in the display case. We aren't Catholic, we aren't anything religion-wise, so I explained the patron saint of travellers to the woman who'd created so many homes for my Pop before they settled where the moon always seemed fullest, on the lake in Tennessee. Saint Christopher's been fired from the Catholic Church and he is a bit suspicious, built on myth, his child-toting pack more like a hobo's rucksack since the Church decanonised him, but I still believe. On the morning I woke to leave, the widow returned from an errand just as I finished packing. "I had to wait for them to open," she said, handing me a jewellery box with the medal inside. Having no canon to fire him from, I'm happy to keep Christopher for myself.

On this last visit to Bristol, Christopher is still around my neck. The silver box hangs between two stones that shine bright as headlights in the night. A Model T etched on the front drives over the words: 'St Christopher protect us'. Inside, Christopher and his burden, the child, ride against red velvet. Pocket shrines were popular in the Second World War; the back of this one says 'GERMANY' and in scratched letters: 'O-l-i-v-e'.

I've thought a lot about Olive, whether this was her shrine or if her name was cut into it by someone else, each scratch a prayer for her, a wish that she be carried safely through life's currents. I wonder what my responsibility to Olive is now, or to the soldier who loved her. When I'm clutching my Saint during turbulence at 30,000 feet, should I make a wish for Olive still?

In the moonlight on the gravel drive of my campground pilgrimage, I hold the shrine and sit in the memory of the morning the widow brought Saint Christopher to me. I think about Pop, about Olive, and about her soldier, praying to her as much as to Christopher, doing what we all do: canonising the ones we love.

I miss my Pop almost to a point of brokenness. I miss our homes, the eternal adventure, the stories we brought back from wherever we found them, and I rub my thumb over Olive's name and know suddenly what it means. Not a name, but a wish any soldier makes from the battlefield, that any parent makes for his child and a child learns to make in return, not one word, but two: O live. O live! A new prayer. The inheritance I've come to retrieve.

I turn my headlights toward the gate, the highway leading to my next hotel room, and a boy runs past me on the campground road. Shirtless, barefoot, a fishing pole in his hand, he is quiet as a ghost but so fast in the dusk you know he was meant to be in by dark, but felt so right at the water's edge he'd forgotten where home was when night came falling.

Tupelo Hassman is the author of 'GIRLCHILD', published by Quercus and out now in paperback

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test