"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.
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."