From Away

It’s strange how much trouble I have with simple questions. On the road, there are those two questions you’re always asked by those barefoot marketplace kids: “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?”

Name? I’ve always had trouble with names. Pick them up like lint. What people call me seems to depend on where I am, who they are. What day of the week it is. Someone calls me, I answer – that’s a name. What do you want to call me?

And the other question: where I’m from. I guess I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve gotten past asking them what they mean when they ask. Where was I born? An Army base in North Carolina. Don’t remember it, though – we moved when I was still to young to speak, let alone remember. Where did I grow up? That depends, too. I need both hands to count, and half those places are gone, anyway. Home? There’s only “home for now.”

I remember hearing Patty Larkin talking about small towns up in Maine. Folks up there know their neighbors; their parents knew their neighbors’ parents. This is the only place they’ve ever known. And they complain about strangers moving in, folks “from away.” I remember when I first heard that phrase – it stuck with me, resonated. Where am I from? I’m from away.

(Note: not a bad place to be from, by the way. I went poking around the web and found a lovely essay by writer Barb Ross, who is also clearly from away, extolling it as “a very writerly place to be”. Well worth a look.)

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