'Finding Home' tells American stories

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By Harold Morgan

“Home to me is where your family is. Home is where you feel happy. Home is where you get along. Home is where you get help.” — Kathy Morgan, March 20, 1992, age 11.
Sometimes life gets in the way of finding home, creating home. Disruptions can run from commonplace — call them “poor choices” — to hurricanes and tornados. In “Finding Home,” former Las Vegas Optic editor and Taos resident Sally Ooms tells stories of displacement and, as her subtitle puts it, “How Americans Prevail.”
The full disclosure here is that Sally has been a close friend for more than 25 years. I couldn’t do a conventional book review. While “Finding Home” is hugely interesting and worthwhile, the decision belongs to you. Go to findinghomestories.com.
When we spoke, Sally was in Meade, Kan., population 1,500 and along Sally’s commuting route between her Kansas City birthplace and New Mexico. One county east is Greensburg, 95 percent destroyed in 2007 by the first EF5 tornado ever measured.
As Sally considered the project that became “Finding Home,” she thought of Greensburg. “I know folks there,” she thought. Motivation gets easier with a personal connection. Four people tell of Greensburg. Hurricane Katrina provided her other main inspiration. Five people tell the Gulf Coast-Katrina story.
These nine are among 54 stories in “Finding Home.” Most tales come from individuals. People running agencies working with the homeless provide perspective. As Sally developed the idea she talked to friends and colleagues who suggested subjects. Others were almost random. A conversation in a motel breakfast room in Minneola, Kan., turned into an interview that, in turn, opened the door to Navajo and Hopi stories.
In all there were 70 interviews across 10 states and Washington, D.C. Sally did all the interviews in person. A few subjects bailed after the interview. These included a group of Muslim women in Chicago and a Hopi snake dancer and his dad. Other subjects could not be found when Sally sought to double-check the final version. Homeless people are hard to locate, Sally says.
That final check became important after a decision to reformat the approach. Sally, journalist to the bone that she is, had written the book as an article. Each interview had an introduction and many quotes. Her San Francisco editor suggested—correctly I think — that “it would be much more powerful if people were speaking in their own voices.”
“Finding Home” is powerful, unlike any book on my shelf.
While the overlay is “displacement, alienation and isolation from American society,” Sally narrowed the focus. It became, “If you lose your home, how do you go about recreating it. I wanted to catch people on the upswing. There’s enough depressing stuff around.”
Sally points to Veronica, a young woman in San Diego, who said, “I have been trying to find or make a home lots of times, but I’ve found it has to happen inside me. The only thing I can do is control me. I’m a spiritual person. I rely on a higher power. But I find that home is within myself.”
Considering the four-year project, Sally says, “One of the things I learned, I think, is something I suspected. I’m seeing increasing connection between and among people. It comes to the fore in times of distress.”
Her marketing odyssey — 30 bookstores and 50 radio interviews so far — is working. “I am selling books. It’s been well received,” Sally says.