Wednesday, April 25, 2018

a place that smells like home

“You’re from Illinois, right?”

 I froze inwardly, though I hope that outwardly I didn’t miss a beat.

 “Well, the Chicago area.”

 “But what state is Chicago in?”


 The kind man from church went on his way, rectified in his knowledge of American geography, and I went home to ponder the error of my ways.

I didn’t see that coming at all.

The question "So where are you from?" has always made me angsty, because, well, I'm not really from anywhere. I could talk for hours about the idea of home and why it's so deeply meaningful and so deeply difficult to define. (Actually, I did talk and write about this for hours on end during my senior seminar in college, a course about the concept of "home" in literature. It was amazing.)

Over the course of many transitions, I've coped with not having a hometown in different ways. When I moved to Munich, I fell into the habit of answering the dreaded question with, “Well I studied in the Chicago area, so…Chicago.”

Some people prodded further and got a little more of the army-brat-moved-a-lot narrative, but many took the answer at face value.

It was easy, because everybody has heard of Chicago. And I like the Chicago/Wheaton area. I don’t mind being associated with it.

Call me crazy, but it never once occurred to me that people would think I was from Illinois. Yes, I know that Chicago is in Illinois – I’m not that awful at geography – but for me they were distinct. Never have I once said that I lived in Illinois for four years. Whenever I went back to college after breaks, I was going back to Wheaton, which only incidentally happened to be in Illinois.

So when someone asked if I was from Illinois, I was a little stunned.

I have nothing against the state. I like the Midwest, cornfields are breathtaking at sunset, and Chicago and Wheaton amazing. I’m open to moving back there at some point.


I am not. From. Illinois.

I’m just not.

You might be wondering what the big deal is. It’s hard to explain – it’s something on the gut level. It means something to say you’re from somewhere, and Illinois just doesn’t have that meaning for me.

So telling people I’m from Chicago was now off the table, but I still needed a simple answer for those times when people don’t want the whole story.

And then I realized something that’s been staring me in the face for the last couple of years.

My official stateside residence is in North Carolina. It’s the state I vote in.

I have a North Carolina drivers’ license.

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the west of the state are one of my favorite landscapes and one of the few constant places in my childhood, and I also love the piedmont and the coast.

I have a lot of family roots in this state.

When I had to list a hometown for my college graduation program, I said Fort Bragg, NC, even though my family only lived there for a couple years while I was in college and had moved on by the time I graduated.

And – the clincher – North Carolina just smells like home.

So, for now, I’ve started saying I’m from North Carolina.

And it feels good.

1 comment:

  1. Most people who are actually from Chicago in the most genuine sense of the word don't identify with Illinois, lol. But yeah you're definitely from NC, not Chicago :P