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Columnists

Homing In Where You Belong

April 27, 2024

The issue of what to do at our southern borders inexorably drags on, leaving a tidal wave of decisions awaiting answers in big and small cities. At its most primal level, the subject orbits one thing: home. It’s a zeitgeist, aromas past, present, and future.

Home.

References to it often overwhelm our psyches and rattle our souls from an early age. You know all the familiar ones: ‘E.T. phone home’. ‘Home on the range’. ‘Home Goods’. ‘Homeroom’. ‘Home run’. ‘The chickens have come home to roost’. ‘A man’s home is his castle’.

Keeping this thread going, where is your hometown? In shaping a response, please try not to think too clinically. We’re not taking a biology 101 semester final. Let your emotions rule. Open the screen door of your heart. Always look out the peephole first.

Much like the looming Biden-Trump rematch this fall, nothing speaks to conflicting feelings more than where we start our earthly journey. For some, ‘hometown’ may not be where we were born, but it could be where we were raised. Some people also exist in a crazy-quilt of divided loyalties they spend the rest of their lives struggling to make sense of. On the surface, it seems an easy slam-dunk all the way. In truth, it’s a mystery for the ages.

Webster’s defines ‘hometown’ as the place you were born or where you grew up. In my case, I was born I Washington, DC, on 23rd Street north of the Lincoln Memorial. While our family – like throngs of others after World War II – found suburban living in Maryland, the District is where it all began. Even though I haven’t lived within the boundaries of the federal territory since the Eisenhower administration. It’s where my older sister, as we played under the dining-room table, gleefully invited me to sample carpenter’s nails. Open sesame! The same loving sibling, under the same table, who later had me swallow our mother’s blood-red pre-natal pills. What could have been my last supper ended with back-to-back trips to the emergency room.

Years ago, I asked my grandfather where he considered his hometown to be. Without hesitation, he replied “Mount Vernon, Ohio,” There was an unswerving conviction in his tone. He relished, in his later years, living on a 40-acre farm on the outskirts of town until his death. While I pressed him on it, I could see the wheels of his Aegean-blue eyes whirring. Then came a clarification. “Yeah, I was born in the old country, in Greece, of course, in the village of Glaredo on the island. (Interesting how he said ‘Glaredo’ was his hometown, not Agios Kirykos, the larger, better-known capital. “There was no electricity. People starved to death, so we escaped to America. I wanted a life. I got one.”

He and my grandmother were the first Greek-Americans to settle in the town. They made a living running a neighborhood market, raised three boys, all of whom fought in the war, and planted roots.  “We were happy,” he said. “We got to know everyone in town. During the Depression, I lent a lot of money to folks who had come on hard times. Didn’t get one dollar back. That was all right, because but for the grace of God, that could have been me begging.”

When I asked my wife about her hometown, the word “Baltimore” rolled off her lips. Not the place in New Jersey where she went to high-school and was class valedictorian. Crab Town was it. “It was where I spent the first dozen years of my life. If I had moved away before I was two, before I had shaped deeper memories, I would have no emotional attachment to it. If you have a magical relationship with your hometown, that’s a good indicator of where your first loyalties are.”

Meanwhile, her sister, Anna, is also a Baltimore native. But she left at 17 to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. The Albany area is her “adopted hometown.”  That’s where she met her future husband. Where they raised their kids. “This is where I will draw my last breath,” she vowed. “Baltimore one of those misty, watercolor memories. It was too far back for it to evoke deeper meaning.” She paused. “Then there was the time I opened the lid on our grimy, steel garbage can. A rat jumped out and bit me.”

On balance, becoming one with a nail can’t be that bad.

Hammer it home.

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