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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
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.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century