I have a friend from Summit, New Jersey. She left when she was fifteen. Her parents moved to Raleigh, North Carolina for work, and that’s where I met her. She’s since lived in Washington, D.C., California, and now Virginia Beach, Virginia. She’s never returned to live in New Jersey. But she will always be “from there.”
I’ve wondered what it would be like to be “from somewhere.”
My sister, Beth, noted the other night that we are not from anywhere. And it’s true. She and I were both born in Japan. We moved to America when she was five and I was newly born. Most people would say we “moved back” but that’s not really accurate, is it? Our parents were American. They had roots there. But for my sister and me it was a moving away. We moved away from the land of our birth.
As a five-year-old, my sister had already begun to send down roots. When we left, those roots were torn away from the soil of her identity and she had to start all over. I had only rooted to my mother at the time of our departure. I never knew Japan, so settling in Wake Forest, North Carolina was not much of an adjustment for me.
Still, I was never “from there.”
When we were young, my parents would take an annual car trip to West Virginia to see my father’s people. He was “from there.” Although he left the “mountain state” as a young man and never returned to live, he kept his roots there. Daddy was a traveler. I’ve noted as much on my posts here before. His journeying took him to Africa, India, Japan, and points in between. But the mountains never left him. His identity was grounded in the backwoods, digging for ginseng, trapping mink, and leaning into the cold gift of a winter wind. When he took us home to meet his family every year, it was like stepping into a wondrous world of tall tales and lamplight. I loved listening as my father swapped stories with his people, recalling the past, speaking in a language that murmured and rolled like the mountains themselves.
But, I was not “from there.”
I’ve lived in India, and I’ve lived in Japan. I’ve lived in St. Louis now for over thirty years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life. But I’m not “from there.”
A few years ago I decided I would move to North Carolina when I retired. I bought a house in the northwestern part of the state, deep in the Blue Ridge. I’m not from there. But, when I look out the window at the mountain ridges rising softly one behind the other as far as the eye can see, I feel that I am home.
“The mountains are in our DNA,” Beth says.
She recently bought a house here, too, just on the other side of Highway 88. My brother’s house is across the New River but a forty-minute drive away.
Here we feel connected to our father and to our mother, who after all married a mountain man. Without even needing to say it, when we watch the sunlight glow and fade along the hillsides, when we see the tracks of deer in the spring mud, or hear the robin’s call, we know we are home. We are rooted. We are “from there.”