When asked where I’m from, I can say, honestly, that I’m from South Carolina, the eighth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1788, and the first state to secede from the Union in 1860. Both of my parents were South Carolinians. I graduated from the University of South Carolina (Go, Gamecocks!). I spent most of the first two decades of my life in South Carolina and knew very little about the country beyond its borders.
When asked about my hometown, I usually say it’s Charleston, South Carolina. This is a partial truth, at best. It is where I was born, to a sailor and a nurse. I still have family there, in fact. My mother, an aunt, a cousin and her children, who are my second-cousins, if I understand genealogy at all. But, I didn’t really grow up there.
In fact, while I was still an infant, my parents and I moved to Norfolk, Virginia, for a time, and then to Puerto Rico. Some of my earliest memories are of attending kindergarten and the first grade in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But, I don’t consider San Juan to be my hometown either.
We moved back to the United States, to South Carolina in fact, when I was seven years old. And I began second grade in Lancaster, South Carolina. I spent the next twelve or thirteen years in Lancaster. I graduated from Lancaster High School. I attended USC-Lancaster my first two years of college, before moving to Columbia, SC. Lancaster was where I formed most of my longterm friendships, the ones that carried over into my college years and a few that continue to this day, from a distance. A lot of stuff happened to me while we lived in Lancaster. And, in my heart, it does indeed feel like my hometown. When I reminisce about my childhood, it is set there. It’s where I experienced the majority of my “firsts.”
But, I haven’t lived in Lancaster for about thirty-three years. I went from there to Columbia, SC, and then moved out of state, but just over the border to North Carolina. I lived in four different places in North Carolina during the following six years, and then moved to Virginia. I spent most of the next four years in Virginia, with a brief stopover about three-quarters of the way through in North Carolina again, and then I moved west to Arkansas. A couple of years later, I moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and then back to Arkansas another couple of years after that.
This was 2002, I think. Then, I decided to stop moving. We moved to a lovely three-college town in central Arkansas that was truly the hometown of the lady who became my wife a couple of years later, and we’ve been here ever since. I’ve lived in the same spot for nearly 16 years now. Three years longer than I spent in Lancaster, which still feels like my hometown, if only for the memories created there.
But, my current home is my adopted hometown. When we travel and people ask where we’re from, I say Arkansas, the same as my wife. And this is where I’m from now. While I may not have experienced quite as many “firsts” here, I have celebrated many new ones. And lots of “seconds” and “thirds.”
Thomas Wolfe once wrote that you can’t go home again. I think I understand what he meant by this. The Lancaster of my youth is no longer the Lancaster that exists today, and it wasn’t the same when I first took Sharon to see it. My hometown exists only in memory; it exists only in my mind. And that’s probably how it’s meant to be.
And, me? I’m from here.