When I travel I am often asked, as part of the customary small talk of strangers, “where are you from?” I am happily realizing I can reply, “The Philly area”, when asked this question. Usually the question is asked, in part, to inquire where a person has traveled from, so in my case I have traveled from Philly. This can be the end of that line of questioning or things can get sticky when someone proceeds to ask me an actual question about Philadelphia. You know, the sort of question you would ask someone FROM here. This leads to the ridiculous sounding explanation of, “oh, I am not really from Philadelphia. We just live near there now.”
Which begs the ultimate next question: where are you from?
My mom has the perfect answer for this question and it is one I have stolen and used as my own for well over a decade. When asked where she is from she smiles and returns with, “which year?”
For most of my life I always told people I was from Alabama, specifically the small town where my Grandparents lived and I traveled to every Christmas and nearly every summer. Having a name of a town to proclaim as “home” gave me a feeling of security. It didn’t matter that my mother and I moved so often because there was a compass inside of us that always pointed towards family.
One of the hardest things about Millie’s death was the break in the glacier that was keeping us somewhat attached to “home.” Alabama had stopped feeling like home the moment I moved there in 2003 to take care of Millie. By becoming a 365 resident in the town I had once viewed as charming and quaint over holidays and summer breaks I lifted the veil. Things that used to make me shrug with, “well, that’s just the way things are” suddenly made me want to scream, “WHY ARE THINGS LIKE THIS?!!”
Two years after Millie passed away a horrific tornado dropped down and ravaged the core of her hometown. It still shocks me to think about all of the damage, all of the life lost.
I don’t really know where I am from. I am from here, and there, and there. I have traveled. I have made places my home and then picked up and moved and started over. This morning I was watching W struggle into a sweater and as his strawberry hair popped out of the top and his eyes found mine all I could think of was my home is wherever he is.