Hometown: Blank (and P.S. a give-away)

1st edition cover

"In the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elm trees were green and higher than the houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the back yards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns, Stuart stopped to get a drink of Sasparilla."

This passage from E.B. White's Stuart Little always takes me back to the town I was born in, the town where I began my growing up, the town that, in some ways, still feels like my hometown. Here, I was known, I was my mom's and dad's daughter, I was the middle sister sandwiched by two boys. With the other kids, we ran around the neighborhood in a pack. We went sledding on Davie's hill and walked our way lost in the woods. It was just like Ames Crossing, the loveliest of all towns in Stuart Little, except that the orchards gave way, westward, to dunes and we drank Faygo Rock'n'Rye or Vernor's instead of Sasparilla.

But then there is the town where we lived amidst field after field after field. Where the noon whistle reminded us of lunch time and the six o'clock whistle told us it was time to go home before our parents got cross. This was the town with the old fashioned wooden water tower that darkened to silhouette against the evening sky going down toward dusk. And this was the town where my BFF and I would sit on the swings at night at the little town beach, drinking diet cherry 7-up and wondering where life would take us. The town that had a town drunk called Sundown, where you could walk across M-66 by waving your hand at the traffic to stop, and it would even though there was no stoplight. This is the town where my BFF's grandpa was the Village President once, and then her dad was, and now her sister is. In this town I graduated from high school and tried to graft myself on to the history of farming families, many of whom are still living and working there today.

And then there was New York City, that amalgam of thousands of small towns held together by the stitching of cross-streets onto Broadway, the Asian grocer where I got my coffee "light," the trembling of the 1/9 below the streets, the barely-there restaurants where you could get black beans and scrambled eggs and pressed Cuban bread for $4, thank God. Because that was all you had till you got your sliver of a paycheck the next week, and you needed a full belly to get through your finals.

Next came the Township, strung between the dark blue bay and the every-color brilliance of the lake. We swam at the drop off, walked to the fruit stand for sweet corn in the afternoons sun-soaked and happy. In the evenings we reached up to touch the stars that looked so close, we saw ourselves in the sparkling wash of the Milky Way, we walked through tunnels of fireflies. Then played euchre late into the night; always sit the way the bathtub runs if you want to win (ancient family secret). This is where we brought our first loves, our first real loves, the people we joined ourselves to in marriage. This is where we brought our babies home to meet their grandparents. This is where we go home to now.

Next there was the biggest small town in the world: Saint Paul. There everyone is Catholic, and everyone grew up there, and we lived in John and Millie's house even though John and Millie had died long ago. This is where my babies were born, where my dearest friendships took root and grew as rich and tall as the trees in the boulevards. This is where I learned to expect flood, to take shelter away from the basement's rattling windows, to huddle together and keep the fire burning strong during winter's long residence.

Now we are here in this little peninsula town. We have put down shallow roots in its here-and-there streets that are a patchwork of House Beautiful and houses slouching down to their dotage. We find our way to the best dry-cleaners, the semi-secret produce market, the library quiet and nourishing as the womb. We sleep with our windows open, hear the song of crickets and the Caltrain going through downtown. We walk through our days hemmed in by mountains: to the east, the blonde foothills curled like so many hips and thighs under the sun; to the west, the blue-dark Santa Cruz with its mantle of cloud bank off the ocean. Here we have landed: taken by surprise, but together. Our life unfolds day by day as if we have always been here. This is where those babies are growing up, at least for now.

Which is my hometown? I've been wondering lately. My field for 'hometown' on Facebook has always been blank. I have never known for sure, and still don't, what makes a town a hometown. If, as Joan Didion says, "a place belongs to those who claim it hardest," then the Township is mine all mine (don't worry, I promise to share!). But still, I hesitate to say it's my hometown -- there are families who have been there generations; it's their hometown. Sometimes I think my hometown is wherever I am right now: so, here on the peninsula; except when I'm visiting Mom and Dad at the lake; and then, near Ely, Minnesota, on vacation -- that week, the northwoods is home.

What's your hometown? How did you decide? Is it the place you were born and grew up? Is it the place you've been longest? Is it the place you raised your children, had the best library, or your favorite orchard of all time?

I would love to know how you, Reader, define hometown for yourself. Or if you're not sure, then something about your hometown or several of your hometowns. Anyone who comments will be put in a drawing for a copy of Today's Special Dish by Nina Lindsay, a hometown poet: born and raised and still working in Oakland; a poet who uses characters and scenes from her hometown to make her art.

Wherever you are today, I hope you feel at home. Happy Friday.

PS. I forgot to say I will draw the winner next Friday 10/28/2011! And also, if you're kinda shy like me and would rather "comment" via e-mail, you'll still go in the drawing.


CitricSugar said...

Hmmmmm.... Good question! I would say that a hometown is somewhere to which you have enough of an emotional connection to justify calling it 'home', usually meaning you've spend a great deal of time there and most likely received mail there at some point.

For myself, I wasn't born in Saskatoon; we moved when I was six. I consider it my hometown. I lived in Russia for six months and call St. Petersburg 'home' quite nostalgically. Yet, I lived in Edmonton for almost two years and never called it my hometown and a week in Edinburgh, two days in Glasgow and would not hesitate to adopt either as a hometown if I had the chance to live there. If your heart and soul have roots there, it's a hometown.

drew said...

I agree with you: Wherever I am right now. This seems the most grounded response to me, and it keeps me appreciating where and who I am, right now, at home in the world, wherever that may be.

p.s. I love giveaways. Of anything. You could offer a stick of gum and I would wave my hand high. All of which is to say, I would REALLY love a poetry prize (even more than a stick of gum). Thanks!

Ms. WK said...

The pull of that S-town where we drank diet cherry 7-ups... it's a strong one. Even though I am on to my second S town and have been here most of 16 years it is still not my hometown. I see others and know it is THEIR hometown. My mom still feels like the outsider from the south in her 40+ years in S-town 1.
I would love for our kids to share the same hometown. Alas.
This post made me miss you, friend.
~~ the BFF ~~

Trish B said...

You pulled me in with the EB White quote, but you kept me with your beautiful writing. Simply lovely.

I guess for me hometown is any place I feel truly connected to. So I, too, have a number of hometowns - each one shaped a different aspect of me. Each one still calls me from time to time.

Thanks for making me think!

And thanks to Drew for directing me here :-)

Cathy Murphy said...
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Cathy Murphy said...

When I hit college years, after a less-than-stellar childhood, I would claim that I was from the place I put my pillow on a given night. Now, at 45, I'm living less than a mile from my childhood home. I'm also the only remaining family member in the area. I've never held a nostalgic feel for this town, and the familiarity here frequently leaves me unmoved.
When I was little, 5 or 6, I knew where I was supposed to live. This place had rolling green hills, red barns, and beautiful fall leaves. Twenty-ish years ago I landed in Amish country in Ohio at the wedding of a very good friend (actually, the one who got away...). I was suddenly in the dream-home of my childhood. More evidence in my mind, at the time, that he was marrying the wrong girl!
I still pine for my hometown; I've just not lived there yet. I can picture it clearly. And this time of year, the leaves are breathtaking!

katherine said...
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Molly said...

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I have enjoyed hearing all the different takes on what a hometown can be. Spread the word about the giveaway -- it's a great batch of poems!

minga said...

Lots of thoughts about this one. How I answer "Where are your from?" is different from the question you ask. Where I am from is the city in which I was born and spent my childhood-generally I say "the Detroit area". There have been many 'hometowns'. Where I am presently living I consider to be my hometown. Currently a lovely spot far from the bustle of a city!