My mom and dad were born and raised in Detroit. After their first two years of married life in Alaska, they moved to Flint, Michigan in 1969, set up housekeeping and had my brother and me. He was 13 and I was 11 when we moved to West Virginia. After 13 years away, my parents moved back to Flint in the late 90s – same neighborhood even – and stayed until around 2006 or so. They live near my fortified compound on the outskirts of Columbus now.
On Thanksgiving my dad and I were talking and the subject of Flint came up. Though he knows it’s a hole now and said that he couldn’t see the point of living there again, it seems pretty clear that he and my mom will always think of it as “home.” Or at least as close to “home” as anyone who has lead lives as itinerant as theirs can. Conversations with my brother suggest that he thinks of Flint as home too.
It’s not my answer. When people ask me where I’m from I invariably say Beckley, West Virginia. I lived there from April 1988 until I left for college in September 1991, and again for the summer of 1992. That’s it. A little over three and a half years. I lived in Parkersburg, West Virginia around the same amount of time but if asked to give a quick biographical sketch I usually leave Parkersburg out completely. I lived in Washington D.C. around the same amount of time and that’s quickly referred to as the time I was in law school with no attempt to make a connection between the place and my life as a whole. Counting college, I’ve lived in Columbus for a total of 16 years – almost my entire adult life – yet it’s always where I live now, not where I consider home. And I often make a point to say that, if given the chance, I’d love to live in any number of other places.
What makes Beckley my hometown to me when at least two other places – Flint and Columbus – have much stronger claims?
Maybe it’s the coming of age thing. I got my driver’s license after I moved to Beckley. My first job. My first real kiss (spin the bottle in junior high school doesn’t count) and first real girlfriends there. I graduated high school there. I met the woman who would become my wife there. She’s a native, and for years when we went home for the holidays, Beckley was where we went. A lot of the important stuff in my life happened in Beckley.
But most of the same could be said for my brother too, and he doesn’t call Beckley home. My parents did all of those things in Detroit, and that place seems consigned to ancient history for them, with Flint taking greater prominence. And really, it’s not like Columbus has just been a way station for me. My entire professional life is here. I bought my first home here. I’ve had and have raised two children here. Everything that’s important about me as an adult can be explained by this town. But it’s still not home.
It makes me think that home is merely a state of mind. That we can be, technically speaking, from anywhere, but we can choose what is home based on just about anything. Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s people. Maybe it’s an emotional connection. Why Beckley? Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the topography. A lot of it is probably the memories. More than anything I think it’s because I’ve always felt at peace there in ways that I’ve never felt peace here.
Where’s your home? Is it a multiple choice question for you like it is for me? Am I odd in thinking that I can just choose the place I call home? Am I a central Ohioan or a Michigander in denial?
This is the stuff you think about on a Saturday night when everyone else is asleep, the ABC affiliate is carrying the crappy football game instead of the good one and you just had a tall glass of Maker’s Mark.