Home Sweet Home is Where the Heart Is

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Vasilis Rebapis)

References to it overwhelm our psyches and rattle our souls from an early age: Home. Home Is Where the Heart Is. Homeroom. E.T. Phone Home.

Staying on this thread, where is your hometown? In forming your response, please try not to think too clinically. This isn’t a Biology 101 final. Let your emotions rule. That will reveal a lot.

Right up there with the spectre of four more years of Trump, nothing unleashes cascading feelings more than where we started our earthly journey. For some, “hometown” may not be where we were born but where we were brought up. For others, it may be neither, but instead where we live now – even if that has only been our address for one week or one year. Or maybe it’s a crazy-quilt of divided loyalties that are nearly impossible to sort out.

Webster’s defines “hometown” as being where you were born or where you grew up. In my case, I was born in Washington, DC, about a mile west of the White House. While my family moved to suburban Maryland when I was very young, Washington is what I answer when asked where my hometown is. Even though I haven’t lived within its legal borders for decades, it’s where a lot happened.

The row house we lived in was where my older sister, far craftier than Wiley Coyote, deposited me under the dining-room table and hosted a feast where the ‘entrée’ was carpenter’s nails. For my mouth only. One, two, three, four. I became a Venus flytrap for her afternoon amusement.

The next day, this same sibling took me under the same table and watched with relish as I sampled the appetizer: our mother’s pre-natal pills. What could have been my last supper(s) ended with back-to-back trips ambulance trips to the hospital.

Years ago, I asked my grandfather where his hometown was. Without hesitation, he replied “Mount Vernon, Ohio,” where he lived until his death. When I pressed him on it, I could see the wheels behind his Aegean-blue eyes whirring. Then came the correction. “Yes, I’m from Greece. I was born in the village of Glaredo back in Ikaria. (Notice how he said “Glaredo” was his hometown, not nearby Agios Kirykos, the larger, better-known capital of the island.) Some in my family starved to death. I came to America to get a life.”

He and my grandmother, also from Ikaria, were the first Greek American residents of Mount Vernon, a farming community. They made a living running a neighborhood store called Glaros Grocery, raised three sons, all of whom were World War II veterans, and planted roots.  The Divine Liturgy and mousaka were alien to virtually all of their crusty Midwestern neighbors.

When I quizzed my wife about what she considered her hometown, she rolled the word “Baltimore,” off her lips. Not Washington Township, N.J., in Bergen County, where she went to high-school.

Baltimore was it, she explained, because it was where she spent the first dozen years of her life. “If I had moved away before I was 2, before I had firm memories, I would have no emotional attachment to it,” she said, adding it’s impossible to look at it through a strictly objective lens. “If your hometown makes you feel warm and fuzzy, then you’re going to go back to your childhood.”

Meanwhile, my wife’s sister, Anna Campas, also hailed from Baltimore. In her case, however, she left New Jersey at 17 to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. She considers Delmar, adjacent to Albany, her hometown, she said proudly. That’s where she married, raised her two sons and pursued a career as an architect and civil engineer for the State of New York. And that’s where she will take her last breath. Baltimore is a watercolor memory, too far in the past to elicit deep meaning.

“Don’t try figuring it out,” warned my wife.  “The subject of home and your place in it is an existential thing which calls into play contradictory jumble of emotions, how we see ourselves.”