Landmarks Shaping Me

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.” -Winston Churchill

How many places have played a part with defining moments that shape your life thereafter? It is possibly one that is significant to you, but not necessarily on the National Register of Historic Places (sounds like the National Trust’s This Place Matters campaign). A few weeks ago, fellow preservation blogger, Sabra Smith at My Own Time Machine, followed suit of another blogger and asked and answered the following question:

Can you think of any time or landmarks in your life that can teach you something about yourself that you’ve forgotten? We hold so many stories within the gaps… Find something heart warming and worth honoring about your life today.


(Read Sabra’s post; you’ll enjoy it!) What does this question mean to me? Well, first of all, trying to remember something that I’ve forgotten about myself sounds like a trick question, something along the lines of trying to look up a word in the dictionary that I don’t know how to spell (yea, thanks, Mom for that answer all of these years). I’ve been pondering this question for a while, and I cannot pinpoint just one. Maybe it is because when I think of landmarks in my life, I don’t think of buildings. I think of places, places in which I have spent much time in over the years because I know this was where the best conversations have been with the great people in my life.  To me, landmarks are landscapes, streets, and buildings with the human component. There are a few places that I know have shaped the person I am.

First, I think of Point Lookout, which I’ve written about many times (see this list and here). When I stayed with my grandmother in the summertime I would get up early and walk, run, or ride my bike to the beach, early enough that I had time to sit on the jetty before the lifeguards chased me away (KEEP OFF JETTY, the signs read). The sun would be shining brightly, halfway up the sky, the wind blowing my hair, and the ocean spray just reaching my toes. I loved to walk on the jetty or just sit there, imagining, thinking, dreaming. I might be imagining the lives of historic characters I was reading about (i.e. Laura Ingalls or the American Girl Dolls). Or I might be trying to recall days at the beach when I was much younger, when my dad would stand with me under huge, crashing waves. I know that this beach is deep in my soul and it is the reason I love the ocean as much as I do, and why I have to visit the ocean every time I visit Grandma Jeanne.

Another place that comes to mind is the basement of my parents’ house, before we finished it to the den, computer room, and another bedroom. My three sisters and I would play for hours, making up the best games from animal school, house, Global Guts obstacle courses, anything we could imagine and recreate amongst the workbench, Fisher Price kitchen sets, laundry room, hot water heater and furnace, on roller skates, on furniture dollies, and with our many, many toys. We would play the radio, sing, dance, skate, and to keep warm we turned on the small box electric heater and wear extra socks.  Between the four of us, we had the best imagination. The basement holds so many memories for all four of us, and it is a strong bond between us. The basement serves as a reminder of the importance of sisters and family and just how much fun we had without video games or really expensive toys. I think it kept us grounded and we understand the importance of an imagination and free playing. It shaped our personalities (I may have been the bossy, oldest one, ahem) and I would bet that part of my love for ordinary houses and the need to know the stories of buildings comes from the memories I have in an “insignificant” house.

I must have a thing for basements, because I also think of the basement in Combs Hall at Mary Washington, where I spent many hours studying, drafting, talking, developing into a preservationist and deciding to embark on whatever preservation task came my way. And I think of the basement of Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg, VA, where I worked as a restoration intern. And now I think of the basement of Wheeler House at UVM. Actually, why are preservationists always in the basement?

But let’s take a step back in time, before I was studying preservation in basements. Aside from basements, I think of Room 216 in my high school, Mrs. Morahan’s room. She came to be the in-school-mom for my best friends and me. We stored our track bags under a table in her room, gathered there in the mornings before the bell, during free periods, and always after school. My best friend and I had lockers right across the hall, so there was always a reason to go there. My friends and I spent our time with the loving Mrs. Morahan, and we loved her back. We talked about school stress, college choices, boyfriends, siblings, worries, happiness, track, student government, and just about everything that was on our minds. She taught us in the classroom and out of the classroom. It was always, always warm in her room and full of decorations (school related and holiday related), munchkin donuts every Friday, and the best teacher’s chair in the world. Whoever had the worst day got to sit in the chair. Mrs. Morahan remains my favorite teacher, she means so much to us, and I don’t think any of us would have done so well in school without her. Room 216 in the 1971 high school is truly the type of unassuming place that matters. Much of who I am developed in that room and many important decisions were made.

I don’t know that I have answered the question that Sabra asked, as my answers are more shaping who I am, rather than one defining spot. Maybe with more time, I can think of one place and one moment, but for now, I think in terms of connectivity. So instead, I ask the question:

How would you define landmarks of your life? What does that mean to you and what types (and specific) places have made you the person you are today? What do these places teach you about other places?

And, so, we continue the celebration of places and they shape who we are.