A few weeks ago I met a man who said he could identify 18 generations to the village in the Middle Eastern country where he grew up. He now lives in the bucolic northeast, where I have recently moved. He has a masters degree, but works as a day laborer. I don’t know his story, but he moved our boxes, got all my jokes, and talked me through a recipe for stuffed grape leaves.
I don’t know for sure, but he is probably a Muslim, and I am something of a Jew. I am the kind of Jew who walked into my favorite bakery today and saw that they were selling challah loaves for Rosh Hashonah, and said to my friend, “Oh, I guess it’s Rosh Hashonah,” and then fell over laughing at my own ignorance. What else am I to do?
But let’s get back to place. I spent about 19 years in a southern state that felt very much like home, but I was constantly reminded that I was not “from here.” I was born and raised there, but my family was from the West and Midwest.
Not good enough.
When I lived in Northern City, I felt at home because I lived and worked and went to school there, and there were many transients. It was a good place to live. Lots of bookstores and writers. When I met DP (my spouse), I moved North of City, and I loved the landscape and some of the culture.
In one of my classes, I said something about cussing, and one of my students said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” No. I am not from North of City. I am from Charlottesville. And I use the word “cussing,” which I guess is Southern. And I am moving North of City to Bucolic State. I am not from Bucolic State, but its mountains remind me of the mountains from the place I was raised. The place I am from. If you look at “from” widely enough.
I am the child of academics. Academics move where the jobs are, and when I meet academics in my father’s field, I know the places they have lived. Jews are a transient people. I had a high school teacher say that she could tell where we were from by our last name. I have a very Jewish last name. I raised my hand and said, “What about [Clause]?” I knew what the answer would be.
“You are Jewish, you could be from anywhere.” And yet, I am trying to make a home in a new place. Again. I think there is worth in this. I am privileged to be able to move in a non-refugee status. I am lucky and I am mobile. I have no conclusion to this post. However, I’ve been reading and rereading nature writing, which talks about knowing the land, and a sense of place. One has to build that sense of place whether one is born to it or not.
Are you from where you live?