The question never fails to catch me without a ready answer. Not at all sure if the request is based in genuine interest or simply a polite conversation gambit, I usually pick the latter. “I live in Shepherdstown. And you?”
Conversations continue as they normally do, and that’s the end of it. But in my mind, the query has once again stirred up a flurry of thoughts like a field of dandelions releasing seeds in a warm breeze. Where am I from?
I was born in Providence, R.I., but can that really count? After all, I don’t remember it.
Is the journey that brought me here relevant? Or only the current address?
Am I from Argentina, where we moved after my brother was born?
Both my parents were born and raised in Buenos Aires. One maternal grandparent had emigrated from France sometime in the 1920’s, and the other had roots in Italy. Both paternal grandparents were of German descent. I learned to speak French fluently when we stayed with our maternal great-grandparents. But none of this makes a difference. Or does it?
When someone asks to know where you are from, aren’t they curious because you don’t speak, dress, or act the way they do? Those are the things we learn from our families, their cultures and traditions. The nuances which shape each of us into who we are now. I was raised with a strong European influence, but it is not really where I’m from.
We lived with each set of grandparents while in Buenos Aires before moving to a house in Mar del Plata. A couple of years later another house, just two blocks over.
Then back to the States: Cleveland, Ohio, for a time.
There were two addresses in Boston. I only remember the red brick building of the second apartment we were in. I was seven, my brother: four.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, I turned nine. We lived on Watson Avenue. My sister was born while we lived on 15th Street, and then we moved to Shelby Drive. It was 1968 when we moved to Winnetka, Illinois. The three years there was to be the longest time we spent together in any one place.
Maybe I’m from Chicago, where I renounced my dual citizenship to be American.
In California, we spent a year each in South San Francisco and Tiburon, where I started high school.
I was sent alone to Mar del Plata, Argentina, in a sort of student exchange for six months, returning afterwards to a new address in Long Beach, California. I had trouble fitting in at the first Long Beach high school, so I was transferred to a private school for the last of my freshman year. All in all, my freshman year lasted eleven months in two countries among four schools.
Off to San Marino, where we lived for two years: one complete school year as a sophomore, and half as a junior. The junior year was finished in West Covina.
Dad was a cardiologist. He had studied in Argentina, finished his internship in Boston, and from then on, he’d been offered better opportunities that kept us moving until he opened his private practice in Covina.
Am I from Southern California, where I learned to drive?
My senior year in high school lasted all of three months. By then my school records were such a mess it was easier to grant me early graduation. Six high schools in three and a half years.
I left home when I turned twenty, after two more family moves in Southern California.
On my own there were three apartments.
I married at twenty-three and we had two addresses before we bought our first home in Glendora, California. At twenty-seven we moved north and bought a place in Half Moon Bay. It became the second longest time I’d spent in one place: two years and ten months.
Perhaps I’m from Northern California.
In 1987, my husband and I moved back east, just north of Winchester, Virginia. That became a record breaking ten years at one address. I actually hung pictures on the walls. Of course, that wasn’t until after the fifth or sixth year, since I had grown to believe that if you hung pictures and decorated, you would soon leave and never return.
Ten years in one place. Maybe I’m from Virginia.
We came to Shepherdstown in 1997. Wanting to squash my notion, I hung pictures right away. Over the years, I’ve painted the walls and rearranged furniture several times. My Mom moved in with us and I was the happiest I have ever been. She passed away suddenly, and her ashes are in the front yard, under the maple we planted for her. Pets have passed as well, and they had their burials under the mulberry tree in the back yard. With each death, a corresponding bit of my heart went into the ground.
We’ll be breaking the twenty-two-year record soon, with no plans to leave.
I’ve got wonderful neighbors. I travel to Myrtle beach every month or so to visit my sister. I’m acquainted with the most kind-hearted, giving people I’ve ever met.
Twenty-seven addresses, twenty-two cities, seven states, and two countries.
Even the dandelion seeds that get scattered about as they float away in the breeze eventually settle and sprout roots.
So, where am I from? I think I’ve figured it out.
I’ve lived in Argentina and California, spent some time in Virginia, but I’m most at home in Shepherdstown.
Where ar you from?