One of the underlying reasons for my solo road trip last fall was to think about my relationship with the place I’ve called home for the last forty-three years. To be honest I was tired of the place in a way that had not happened in the past – tired of the maintenance work around our farm, tired of the daily drama that often seems like the lifeblood of the community, tired of the expectations of others regarding my work.
Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live and continue to believe that moving to the mountains was the single best decision I ever made. But increasingly as I’ve aged, and ostensibly “seen it all,” I find myself asking what if? And if that question was persistent enough, what would I do about it?
Throughout my time in Madison I’ve heard the old adage, you ain’t from around here. I’ve generally ignored it, but lately I’ve come to understand its truth. My upbringing, my values, my cultural influences, my manner of speaking and acting, and many other characteristics all mark me as an outsider. Sometimes, those ways of being come into conflict, but most often they don’t because I’ve learned if I can’t be from the place, I can be of the place.
The difference is subtle. I think of it as the difference between thought and instinct. I’ve been able to learn how to live here: How to sort of manage our place – the firewood, the water, the gardens, the mowing, the dead animals; how to live and relate in a community as foreign to me as some small village in Sicily. I learned the dialect, and about ballads and tobacco, and how to be moderately self-sufficient. I learned about darkness and quiet. Some of those lessons were hard learned and few, if any, came instinctually.
What comes naturally for me are Italian Delis, Broadway Musicals on Sunday morning and Blues and Rock the rest of the time, and the ever-present light and hum of a big city. I know the proximity and abundance of people, the availability of anything I want, anytime I want it. I can talk fast and do so without thinking. I love to dress up. I know pavement and chain-link fences and comfortably motor the DC Beltway. I effortlessly find my grandparent's graves in Arlington Cemetery or my parent's in Gate of Heaven. Of course I can, this is where I'm from.
It's the same for people who are from Madison County or the wider region. I watch them – how they interact, or dig, or grow things, walk and talk, how they live their lives - and I say, “They are from here.” There is an ease about them – a sense that what they say or do comes from a knowledge learned long ago, so ingrained it’s now part of the DNA. “How do you know that?” I might ask a local friend about something that stumps me. “Why,” he would answer, “I just do. I'm from here.”