The official certificate that bears the seal of the State of New Jersey authenticates Newark as my official birthplace because that’s where the hospital was located. But at the time of my birth my parents were living just a few miles west in a suburb called East Orange, so officially East Orange could be documented as my first hometown because that’s where the crib in the nursery was situated.
Later on when I was 4, and the folks had saved enough money for a home of our own, we moved yet another few miles west to a community with the inventive name of West Orange. It was here that I lived for 12years, attending grammar school, junior high school, and finally graduating from West Orange High School in the ’60s.
That same summer following graduation, my mother, who was now a widow, sold our home and moved to an apartment house in Orange. (You can see a pattern here, can't you? The Founding Fathers didn’t stretch much for names in that part of Jersey, so you had every “Orange” except north...no one knows why.) I, of course, moved with her, but only stayed two and a half months, because following the Labor Day weekend that year I was on my way north to Syracuse, New York, to enroll in the university.
Initially I didn’t like Syracuse. I was homesick, thought it wasn’t enough like New Jersey to suit me, too cold, too not-for-me. But somewhere after that first, difficult freshman year I began to really appreciate living in Central New York. I embraced the differences and began to enjoy being part of them. So much so that I stayed for 19 more years. I graduated, married, owned a business, made wonderful friends, bought a home, then another one, and really made the Syracuse area mine for a long time.
In 1983 my husband and I moved to Ohio for a job that ultimately didn’t work out; but for a while northwestern Ohio with its endless flat terrain, tractor pulls, chili served on top of spaghetti, and twangy accents was home. Serendipity brought us back east to Worcester, Massachusetts; then Binghamton, New York; and finally to a permanent address in Rhode Island 32 years ago this month.
So...why the recounting and rehashing of all this geography? Because I have a dilemma. Where exactly is my hometown?
Everyone has a hometown...just ask them. It’s one of those words that simply by its very nature conjures up familiarity and warmth and love and bowls of creamy mashed potatoes, but how is it actually defined? Is your hometown the place where you were born, the place where you grew up and went to school, the place you spent most of your life, or the place you’re living right now?
It probably differs from person to person, but to me “hometown” is where I am today. Where I hang my clothes and where I hang my heart. Where my husband rubs my sore back at night after I’ve pounded too many miles on the country roads, and the place where I feed the animals I love so dearly. Where we have parties, celebrate birthdays, mourn losses, make friends, and fight silly, insignificant battles.
My hometown is where I can walk or drive down the street and find someone to wave at who will wave back, even if we don’t know each other, where the guy in the post office knows to give me a receipt even before I ask for one, and where I can sometimes leave my door unlocked because I want to feel safe in my little world and yet not afraid of the big one.
My hometown is both in the big city and in the rural backwoods north of the seacoast. It’s a place where they have every kind of restaurant and attraction you could want and a place where they roll up the sidewalks at 9 p.m. because nothing’s doing.
Most of all my hometown is my safe haven, but still a place that will keep evolving throughout my life as I move from chapter to chapter, growing gloriously old with my loved ones, my crazy quilt baggage, and all the hometowns that make up who I am, where I’ve been, and where I have yet to venture.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.