Whether it was a house, an apartment, or a condo, the building I’ve called home in my life has changed twenty-three times in my thirty-nine years. Last summer, for the first time in twelve years, I didn’t move. Sometimes I moved twice in one year. Given all that, how do I know where I’m from? What do I call my hometown?
For me, these questions weren’t so hard to figure out. I just “felt” their answers, a state-of-knowing by feeling that I usually try to avoid. For about ten years I let my feelings be the primary rudder that directed my life and they took me into some pretty treacherous waters. “Do I feel as if I love her?” Now I try to let my thinking tell me what to do, and I find that if I just do what I know to do, my feelings will often fill in the sails of action behind me.
But in the case of “where I’m from,” I know the answer in my gut: Winamac, Indiana. Although it’s not where I was born or where I went to school through the seventh grade, it’s the place where I graduated from high school and the town where both of my parents grew up. Winamac is a small town set up high on the bank of a horseshoe bend of the Tippecanoe River. I remember once when I went away to college and brought a friend home for a long weekend. He asked, “When are we going to get on the interstate?” Travelling from Kankakee, Illinois to Winamac there are only two-lane roads and lots of corn fields. We weren’t getting on any interstate.
In 1984 I was fourteen years old and burning to see Eddie Murphy’s Beverley Hills Cop. All my friends were going; they had permission from their parents to see the rated “R” rated flick, but my mom told me I wasn’t old enough to go. I hatched a plan for circumventing my mother, and my first mistake was that I stopped pestering her to go. Like my own daughter now, when I wanted something, my primary plan was to beat my mother into submission with countless repeated requests. Letting it go to fast probably sparked her suspicion that something was up. My buddies were going to an afternoon matinée and so when show time came around, I told my mom I was doing something like going down to the park to shoot hoops. She said fine and I was a bit surprised.
I went straight to the Isis Theater, but when I got to the ticket counter—facing an attendant for all I knew I’d never seen before—I was denied admission. Although I don’t remember anything about the attendant, I do remember what he or she said: “Your mom called and told us not to let you in.” Mom was smart: who cares about where Bill is; I know where he wants to go.
So Winamac—where the Pizza King is tasty, the bike paths are flat, and a nice day is best spent on the Tippy—it’s the place where I say I’m from. As for my oldest daughter—the child of a Midwesterner and a Southerner, born in Macon, Georgia; one-time resident of Queens and now living in Connecticut—I can’t imagine from where the little girl is going to say she’s from. Us four Torgs, we were all born in a different state.
It’s easy for me to know where I’m from. My parents mostly kept anchored in Winamac, so no matter how old I was—nineteen or thirty-nine—when I go visit them I am returning to the same place. I’m certain not everyone has it this easy, and I wonder if the notion of a hometown is a problematic source of stress for some, if being from no place gives a person a different sense of identity, or if everyone has some way of figuring out where they are from.
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