Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where I Live(d): Ohio

or 'What is home?'

This weekend, I went home. As a concept, 'home' is something that I personally have trouble defining. For the purposes of this post, I'm using it to describe my parents' house in Ohio. I lived there for 12 years (ages 6 to 18), but during the course of the past two years I haven't spent more than a few days there at a time. Now, according to my mother, any place that she and my father live will always be my home. (At least, that's what she told me once when I made the mistake of using the phrase 'going home' to refer to a post-Thanksgiving return to Maryland.) But that made me wonder: does she still think of her own father's house as 'home'? She never lived in his current house, and she's spent more time away from Philly than I have from Ohio. Similarly, when my parents move (which they undoubtedly will, since my father refuses to spend his retirement in a red state*) where will 'home' be? I'll no longer have any ties to Ohio, but their new residence won't exactly be 'home' for me either. At that point will I finally be allowed to grow up, and decide for myself what 'home' is?

Because even when I lived there, Ohio never really felt like home. In college, whenever people would ask where I was from, I always answered very specifically, 'I grew up in Ohio.' Because, you see, I was born in Bensalem, PA, and even though we moved to Ohio when I was six, I'm very adamant about not being from there. Don't get me wrong- the small-town Ohio thing isn't all bad. Piqua is so safe that we once left our front door open- not unlocked, but open- while on vacation, and came back to find the house undisturbed. Every person I meet on the bike trail says 'good morning,' no matter how out of breathe they might be. The sunsets are gorgeous, and the night sky is stunning. And the traffic on the highway through Dayton is certainly a nice change from the Beltway.

But for me, none of that balances the drawbacks. Growing up, I didn't go to concerts and art exhibits and plays because there weren't concerts and art exhibits and plays. I spent hours in the car every week so that I could go to ballet rehearsals and theatre classes in Dayton. And forget Saturday night sleepovers- all of my friends had to get up for church on Sunday mornings. In elementary school, a classmate asked if I had a Jewish television that would show Hannukah specials instead of Christmas programming. In high school, one of my friends burst into tears in her car and, when one of our other friends asked what was wrong, she answered, 'Alex isn't going to heaven with us!' In my little town in Ohio, I was the 'other.' While I danced in the show choir and was president of the Honor Society and was even on Homecoming court, I was always very aware of being an outsider.

Maybe it was all in my head, but I felt like the fact that I was an East Coast liberal Jew made me different. My parents didn't graduate from Piqua High School, my cousins didn't live down the street, and I didn't plan on marrying my high school sweetheart so I could settle down there too. Instead, as soon as I could, I moved back to civilization (though apparently Maryland's status is debatable). While I love my parents (and a few select local purveyors of food), Ohio is not a place that I particularly enjoy visiting.

And should I really call a place like that 'home'? I took my boyfriend with me this weekend because I wanted him to see my little town and understand where I grew up. Most of my friends, in their lovely East Coast bubble, don't really get it. Piqua's a town where nothing changes: religion, morals, and political views are passed down like family heirlooms. It's easy enough to ignore these people when I'm not in Ohio. Then they become a vague community in the Midwest; they are the 'other' instead of me. But every time I go back, I'm forced to confront the fact that they really do exist. I grew up with them and it helped shape my life. But I am not one of them, and I really don't want to call Ohio 'home' anymore.

*Yes, technically Ohio's current governor is a Democrat and its electors went to Obama, but my parents live in a county that voted 63% for McCain and a district that has repeatedly elected John Boehner to Congress.


Jstone said...

John Boehner? John eh? hirarious.

I grew up in a similar place here in Maryland, although decidedly more secular of course I probably didn't notice because I'm Christian. In fact in school there was one Jewish girl who technically wasn't Jewish because her Dad was Jewish but not her Mom. There were 3 Asian kids, and one kid of Iranian descent. I return there frequently to find, much like you have, that nothing has changed. There is no diversity to this day, no plays, no concerts (except Jimmy Buffet) and little progress. But I find it's best to stick to the things I did enjoy about growing up in the middle of nowhere. I still like the people I was friends with in high school, I still enjoy giving a driving tour of all the weird shit we did that only country bumpkins with time, gasoline, and future engineering aspirations could do. So I do call my Mom's house home, even though it's three houses since the one I grew up in. But I also call my apartment with my wife home. As stupid as that greeting card slogan is, home is where the heart is. Wherever you feel at home, you are at home. Sometimes I feel at home in a hotel in another state.

David Pratt said...

Ohio will be a part of my own Where I Live series. It was not a pleasant time for me.

B.Graham said...

At some point in the near past I started calling my parents' house "my parents' house" and my mom noticed. And it was only then that it became a point of no return, and I was suddenly less of a kid than I ever was before.

ali d said...

I also broke my poor mother's heart when, one day upon returning to College Park (I think when I was living in Courtyards), I mentioned that I was going home. My dad understood though - he all but laughed at my mom and said that I had essentially moved out so of course that wasn't my home anymore. I was the first of the four daughters to do so.

Typically when I'm talking about my Baltimore County house though, I end up saying, "I'm going home this weekend... well, I mean, to my parents' house." I agree with Jstone. There's still a lot of love there - my parents, my dogs (minus one as of a few months ago, sadly), my church, the cow pasture, the walnut trees, even the paint on the walls of 'my bedroom' (which is now the guest room).

Much like Jstone, though, I was also a white Catholic girl attending a white (by circumstance, not by design) Catholic all-girls school. Granted, I had to drive 30 minutes to get there because my house was in the middle of bumfuck, but once I arrived, I matched enough to make my way through without complaint. This past August we moved my baby sister into UMD, and she reminded me that I came home for a visit during my own first semester at Maryland and proclaimed, "There are so many JEWISH PEOPLE! They're EVERYWHERE!" I thought it was awesome, but also very, very strange and new.

I was an outsider, however, in that my parents didn't (and couldn't) buy me a car for my 16th birthday, I didn't live in a McMansion in the middle of Towson, and I didn't want to wear pearls. I have not, and never will be, a preppy girl, and I often feel that if I end up hanging out with my Maryvale friends. I'm a backwoods girl, and I feel at home when I'm visiting my backwoods town, not when I'm out at the bars with the Pink Ribbon Club. So to a small extent, I understand where you're coming from, and why you wouldn't find that existence very homey.

I really loved this post. It's for different reasons and under different circumstances, but I get it. In a big way.

(P.S. I also loved that this was one use of the word 'hegemony' away from being an HonHum essay. Tanya and Pat would be proud.)