Food For Thought

A Sense of Place 

by Audrey Hingley, Contributing Columnist

Audrey Hingley

After my mother passed away in 1991, Mama’s sister, my Aunt Rose, became a sort of surrogate parent for me until her own death in 1999. With the death of my mom and another sister, Aunt Rose “adopted” her orphaned adult nieces and nephews, dispensing not only family history, but the wisdom that comes only from a shared sense of place, time and family.

I think a lot these days about a sense of place in today’s fast-paced, frantic world. Aunt Rose’s growing-up world paralleled my parents’ world, for all were reared on rural Virginia farms. From rising in pre-dawn darkness to milk cows to juggling farm chores with schoolwork, their childhoods were challenging. My grandfathers, both maternal and paternal, rose in the wee hours of the morning to hitch a mule to a cart loaded with produce. It took several hours to make the 12-to-15-mile jaunt to the city market to sell the farm’s bounty. But family and friends worked together and helped each other.

Aunt Rose’s and my parents’ growing-up years were spent without electricity. Electricity had not yet arrived in rural areas. Light came from dim oil lamps and meals were prepared on wood cook stoves. Water was drawn from a well and clothes were washed by hand on a washboard. Aunt Rose once recalled with a laugh, “They call that ‘the good old days’ ... to me, the good old days are now!”

I never lived on a farm, but I visited my maternal grandparents’ farm regularly. The old mule in the barn and the heady, sweet aroma of honeysuckle in the apple orchard were only a short walk away. By the time I was a teenager, my grandparents had died and farmland was disappearing into suburbs; yet my parents always had a vegetable garden. Mama remained a farm girl at heart, and summer was a time for shelling green beans, making pickles from fresh cucumbers and canning nature’s bounty.

That sense of place, from my grandparents’ farm to my childhood home to chatting over coffee at Aunt Rose’s kitchen table in the last years of her life, linked generations, even those who have now passed from sight. Work was shared but so was fun. A sense of place is something embedded in your psyche, anchoring your heart no matter where you live, but it seems particularly heightened in rural environments.

People climbing career ladders often move frequently for job promotions. Military families have always endured the challenge of frequent moves and indeed, some people thrive on constant change. But most people seem to want a sense of place, which hinges on relationships and not just geography.

Last November my husband and I opened a furniture/antiques store in the Colonial port town of Urbanna. Once after a long day of building renovation work, we decided to have dinner at a local restaurant before making the hour’s drive home. My husband had only work clothes so he visited a town fixture, Bristow’s Store, to buy suitable clothes. When I told the sales clerk we were going out to dinner, she snatched the clothes and soon returned with freshly pressed shirt and pants. I recall thinking how such service was once likely commonplace; today its rarity is one reason why towns like Urbanna are so appealing.

We are fast losing a sense of place, but it’s not too late. God, church, family, friends, community — all provide a sense of place. We have to want it; it doesn’t just happen naturally as it may have in earlier times. We have to make time for relationships. Modern life has too many distractions.

There are some signs that society may be turning. Magazines and books tout a return to simplicity. Some major cities are losing residents, while rural populations have jumped in the post 9-11 world.  Can it be that people are actually longing for a sense of place and the values it represents? Can it be that perhaps some of the “good old days” are, indeed, still good?

Aunt Rose knew the importance of having a sense of place. It was one of the things, I believe, that sustained her through the death of her only son, a husband, sisters and many other life losses.

She never stopped reaching out, doing for others, sharing with others. To me, that’s the real meaning of a sense of place.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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