Wednesday, July 11, 2012

still uncomfortable after all these years

"Where are you from?"

Last night I was at the ballpark.  I ran into an acquaintance from high school, who now coincidentally lives in Happyland.  During the course of our conversation he casually me, "Where did you live before moving to X?"  He was genuinely surprised to learn that I hadn't moved once, but several times before landing in X--and my parents have moved twice since leaving X.

"So, is that where you're from?"

That question of home has always been complicated for me to answer.  You see, we moved, almost like clockwork, every 4 years (or less!) while I was growing up.  When you only park in a place for 4 years, it's not really home.  So which place does one list when asked where they're from?  Nobody wants to sit through the list of all of the places of lived--the when, how long, where of my life. 

"Where's your hometown?"

You see, there is no "hometown."  My family was always "new in town" and anyway, none of us remain in the places where we once lived.  Our roots are shallow, easily transplanted, more like strawberry runners, attached to one another with a thin fiber that can easily snap when stretched too far.

"Where were you born?"

Birthplace cannot possibly define me--we moved away from that state by the time I was 2.  It seems disingenuous to lay claim to that place as home.  Try explaining that to people who have never left their hometown.  Try explaining the idea of rootlessness to folks who live down the road from their parents, a mile away from their grandparents, still talk to their elementary school classmates every day of their life.  It's inconceivable to them and revealing this rootlessness about myself makes me feel somehow flawed.  Inevitably most people look at me with pity and remark, "That must have been hard."

"Where does your family live?"

Well, I could count on leaving, learned not to count on staying put.  Knowing everything is truly temporary whether you like it or not gives a person remarkable capacity for acceptance.  Even the worst situation changes given enough time.  So each time we moved, I learned to adapt, accept, and patiently wait for the changes that would inevitably occur.  Some things were always present--public libraries, swimming lessons, ice cream cones, that feeling of awkward isolation when classmates laughed at a joke from years ago--years before I'd moved there--the same joke they'd laugh about years after I moved away. 

I could, I suppose, get all morose and poetic about the situation and write about how shadows are metaphoric for my childhood, the ghost of a girl who briefly lingered between the stacks at a library before the car pulled out of the driveway one day never to return blahblahblah.

"Was your dad in the military?"

(Short answer--"No."  Longer answer--"He had different  jobs, first in banking, then in trucking."  Mysterious poetic answer--"My father has gypsy blood.")

There's no short answer to that routine question of home, and after all of these years I still have trouble answering it.  Even my annotated version takes a few minutes to recite.  "I was born in Iowa, but then we moved to ..." 

You'd think a person would outgrow these questions over time.  You'd think I'd have come up with a reasonably concise and comfortably answer by now. 

"Where's home?"

Even now, in the place I now call home with Mr. D, 3 sons, a dog, a garden and roots that have burrowed reasonably deep, I can imagine digging free.  It's staggering to think I've lived in this house longer than anyplace I've lived my entire life, but if we had to pack up next week and move, I think I could handle it.  Almost 10 years in one spot--remarkable.

"I'm from Happyland, but I grew up all over."


  1. In the South, where you are from is the place where you were born, even if you move away a week later. By that definition, I am from Roanoke, VA.

    However, I have lived here in C'ville longer than anywhere else, so I consider this where I am from. I can't imagine moving away and I love it here, but I can imagine spending summers somewhere where the heat won't kill me dead.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. We moved every five years or so, due to my dad's work. He liked to change careers, too. The longest I have ever lived anywhere is Amsterdam, but I can't in all honesty say it's my hometown since I wasn't born there. However, now that I live in a different country, I can simply say I am from Holland. No-one has heard of my birthplace anyway.

  3. My childhood was very sedentary in comparison. I grew up, when to school, went to college, and went to grad school, all in Ann Arbor, MI. There was a brief hiatus, where I followed a guy to S. Carolina and lived there for about three years, between high school and college. But when I left him, I went back home.

    I'm writing from Ann Arbor now, after visiting my parents. Just driving into this town feels familiar, even with the many changes it has experienced in the 17 years since I left. I was just saying to Rob that I could move back here in a heartbeat, and be happy. And it's not that family are here --it's just something about the familiar feeling of the place.

  4. My husband's answer is "I was an Air Force Brat". He's lived in Atlanta, Orlando, Delaware, Utah, Tennessee,Goose Bay Labrador, Virginia,Massachusetts and back to Orlando.
    I spent the first 49 years of my life living within 60 miles of the city in MA where i was born, went to college, got married and had kids. I've been away for 6 years and I still don't miss it.

    Ever Sunday we drove to one grandparent house for lunch, then to the other grandparent house, down the road, for dinner.

    My Mom, her siblings, my siblings and cousins still live there.I can go for a visit and see everyone the same day!

  5. We live in an area where people just don't move away. When you say that you're moving, they'll ask things like "Oh, to such and such subdivision?" Then they give you a blank stare and try to give you some koolaid...just kidding ;) (kind of)

  6. I am one of those people whose parents have lived in the same house for the past 40 years. I always lived in that house growing up. Of course I did move around a bit in my early twenties, even out of state, but eventually settled a couple of miles from my parents' house. BUT, I have a few friends who lived the gypsy life with their families. My friend Carl had been in 11 schools in 12 years. I think my friend Erica topped out at 8 schools in her school career. Both of them are super well adjusted, make friends easily, and can hang their hat anywhere.
    If anyone asks again and you don't want to go into detail just tell them, "The world is my oyster." or "We never stayed in one place too long because there is just so much world to see." or "Home is where my family is." Hopefully people can take a hint and don't keep asking. ;)

  7. We moved twice in one year, when I was five, which meant I went to three different kindergartens. I used to be so jealous of kids who'd lived in the same house their entire lives. Now I feel restless staying in one place for too long. I've lived in my current house for almost 13 years, which is longer than I've lived anywhere. I would jump at a chance to move to a different place.

  8. In her almost-49 years, my BFF has lived in 5 homes in 2 cities. Her husband, a year younger, has lived in 3 - yes, THREE - homes in his whole life. The first two were less than a mile apart and now he lives a whopping 5 miles or so from there.

    I, on the other hand, have lived in 19 homes in 13 cities/towns in 4 states and two countries.

    I strongly identify with everything you said, Melissa. Home really is where my heart is...and where I live my life. My immediate family members have all moved away from the town where we spent most of my youth so I don't have a hometown, either.

    "Gypsy blood" is way more romantic than my grandpa's "itchy foot." He moved his family 22 times before my mom was 18!

  9. Damn I am one of those people who has lived in the same area her whole life as a child we moved a few times like from my grandparents house into our first home then we moved again when I was like 4 and then again when I was about 9 then not again till I was 18 and after that I moved when I got married and hubby and I have only lived in 2 homes and we have no interest in moving from here family all pretty much live within 10 minutes of each other.

  10. Almost twenty years ago, I moved "back home" (to the medium sized town where I was born and raised) following fifteen years of college/marriage/many homes/divorce). It seemed like the best choice for a poor single parent! Now that I think about it though, the house I bought myself twelve years ago is the longest I've lived in one house! I like that, and I LOVE my little house. It would take a pretty strong crowbar (George Clooney, if you should ever change your mind) to pry me loose. I'm near Sacramento right now (new grand-baby!) and I have lived here--I would consider living here again, I think.

  11. We moved back & forth between my parent's hometown of Baltimore and the town I mostly grew up in, just over the state line in PA most of my childhood. York was the sort of town where if you weren't born there and didn't live in the same neighborhood your parents grew up in, then you were an outcast. I don't consider myself from there at all, although I did spend a good part of my childhood there. In fact, I tend to answer the question "I was born in Baltimore, but spent some time growing up in PA."

    I have lived in Charlottesville for almost 15 years, in this house for 13 and this is where I consider home. It suits me. After spending the first twenty-some years of my life feeling rootless, I realized a few years ago, I really like having roots here.

    I like the gypsy blood answer to the question of what your father did for a living. I'd go with that one every time, but then, I like to keep people on their toes.

  12. I spent the first 14 years of my life in the same farm house my dad grew up in and his dad grew up in. We moved only because a 'crow bar' threw my dad into a situation where he had to rehabilitate. I DID NOT want to move and was a complete pin head about it. So where I'm from is an easy answer, I'm from Wisconsin (my parents have since moved back to the same place.) Here in Texas I still have enough of an accent the conversation starts with, "You're not from here are you."

    Since getting married, we have moved quite a bit. Moving is exciting but we that move need hometown folks so we can have hometowns to come back to.

  13. I feel the same. I don't have one place That I consider my hometown. By the way, I am in the middle of reading your book and am really enjoying it. :) It is so fun to read a book where I 'know' the author.

  14. We moved 5 times before I was 12 and since then I have been in one place. I prefer being in one place--the rootless life was not for me-or you either it would seem.

  15. I like the gypsy comment. I have a piece on A Mother's Garden of Verses in the style of "Where I'm From" - I'll email you the link. It was partly inspired by talking to Nicholas Sparks and hearing him describe some of the settings for his novels. The setting, he said, becomes a character in itself. But anyway, gypsy blood is awesome. You can say that's why you're so intelligent and beautiful, right?


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