Ain’t got no home: Thoughts on having no roots

The Hagyard Building in Lenox, MA, where I lived with my mom and grandparents at various times as a child.
The Hagyard Building in Lenox, MA, where I lived with my mom and grandparents at various times as a child.

I don’t have a hometown.

For years and years, if anybody asked where I was from, I’d say Lenox, Massachusetts. That’s the town I lived in when I was born, though I was actually born next door in Pittsfield, site of the nearest hospital. We moved a lot when I was a kid. My biological father changed jobs, then he and my mom got divorced, so she and I moved a couple more times. Then she remarried and my dad worked for the FAA, so we moved again. Here are the dozen moves we made between my birth and fifth grade:

  • Lenox, MA
  • Amesbury, MA
  • Lenox, MA
  • Pittsfield, MA (Plunkett St.)
  • Lenox, MA
  • Pittsfield, MA (Edward Ave.)
  • Lanesboro, MA
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Watertown, NY
  • Greece, NY
  • Canandaigua, NY (technically our house was in Bristol)

“Where are you from?” didn’t really become a question I thought about until I started going to school in Canandaigua. But once it did, it was very important for me to be from Massachusetts. There was one another kid from Massachusetts in my grade (Jarrod Graham, from Springfield), and we both reveled in being out-of-towners. I think for me it was like being part of a club. I’ve always liked being part of something, and in this case the something was “people from Massachusetts.” Or maybe “people from elsewhere.” By this point, I was quite used to being the new kid, having switched schools four times during kindergarten (in three states), then again in second grade and fifth grade. And it felt cooler to be from a whole different state than just from the next town over.

I stayed in Canandaigua until I graduated from high school, never wavering from the firm belief that I was from Lenox. I’d moved from Lenox by the time I was five, maybe even four, and of course by the time I graduated I’d lived in upstate New York longer than Massachusetts. That didn’t matter to me, though. Lenox was my hometown.

A panel from Lynda Barry's book One Hundred Demons.
A panel from Lynda Barry’s book One Hundred Demons.

Certainly another factor in my passion for Lenox, as I later uncovered in therapy, was its connection to a perceived “golden period” in my life. My grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles were all in or near Lenox, and in my child’s memory it felt like a magical time of family and security. My grandpa, Bernie Flanders, was from Pittsfield and my mom was from Lenox, and I really wanted to be the next in line. I wanted their long, shared history in this place to be my history, too. It wasn’t, of course, but I desperately wanted it to be.

Whenever I would go to Lenox, I’d feel “at home” in a way I never felt in Canandaigua. I hated school, and I never really liked the town, even though I made some good friends there. But our infrequent trips to Lenox were trips home for me.

When I graduated from high school, I moved to Japan for a year as an exchange student, and never stopped moving:

  • Furukawa, Japan (September 91 – June 92)
  • Potsdam NY (September 92 – May 93)
  • Rochester, NY (September 93 – October 94)
  • Tucson, AZ (October 94 – June 96)
  • State College PA (June 96 – October 96)
  • Yokohama, Japan (October 96 – December 98)
  • Hilton Head Island, SC (January 99 – January 2000)
  • Brooklyn, NY (January 2000 – June 2000)
  • Concord, NH (June 2000 – Fall 2000)
  • Rochester, NY (Fall 2000 – Fall 2007 or maybe 08)
  • Albany, NY (Fall 2007 or 8 to March 2011)
  • Manhattan (March 2011 – summer 2011)
  • Brooklyn, NY (summer 2011 – June 2012)
  • on the road (June 2012 – October 2012)
  • Auburn, AL (October 2012 – August 2013)
  • on the road (August 2013 – October 2013)
  • State College, PA (October 2013 – present)

That’s another 17 places, not counting moves within some of those cities. I got married in Tucson, and we kept moving. I got unmarried in Albany, then ended up homeless and on the road (my cleverly named “Jazz Or Bust Tour”) in 2012. Somewhere around that time, when people would ask me where I was from, I would say New York. Unless you’re from the state of New York outside NYC, “New York” means “New York City,” and that was certainly the impression I wanted to convey. I lived in New York less than two years in total, but I still to this day often say I “moved here from Brooklyn,” which isn’t even true. I moved to State College from Alabama. But Alabama is such an anomaly in my history that it just doesn’t make sense to mention it and then have to explain it.

In the last year or two, I’ve noticed a new trend. I’ve lived in or traveled to so many places that I have something in common with most people I meet. I’ll often tailor my response to “Where are you from?” to the person with whom I’m speaking. Just the other day I met a wonderful person from Tucson, and Tucson was very important to me and still informs who I am. It was in Tucson that I got married, and started my careers as both a musician and a radio host. The ripples from those events are still with me now. So I happily become someone from Tucson, without ever saying I was from there.

The problem with all this is that I’m a man without a country. Or at least without a hometown. I still love Lenox, and my parents recently moved back to Canandaigua so I go there sometimes. But nowhere feels like “home.” New York City did for a while. I felt like I fit there. Like I knew how I worked. But I don’t really have a Place That Is Mine. State College sure as heck ain’t it, although my kids are here and that means a lot.

It bothers me. I want to have a home. A place to go back to. A place I’m really, really from. I don’t have that and it sometimes make me feel like I’m floating around with very little grounding.

Unless something changes drastically, I’m going to live in State College for the next nine years, until my younger son graduates from high school. I’ll be 50 then (!), and the chance to have a hometown will have long passed. But maybe not the chance to go somewhere and finally make a real home for myself. We’ll see.

2 Replies to “Ain’t got no home: Thoughts on having no roots”

  1. It’s really hard to not ‘fit’ anywhere. People were nomadic once, but for centuries human beings stayed close to home, never went far, Home was established, not something you searched for. Now we take for granted that home can be wherever you want it, but roots are pulled up and forgotten. Sacred ground is not what she used to be. I’ve moved 38 times in 32 years, back and forth across the country and sometimes just a few miles away, I’ve never had a chance for roots either… My Gram says I have a gypsy soul on account of my father, but I long to put down, be a part of something and I have never known where that is because I am from so much more than one place, I guess I still have that nomadic desire to roam. These places have all made me who I am, and I think the same is true of you. I hate to say home is where your heart is, I hate that saying, because my heart is divided into so many places, but Home is where you make it, it’s you, feeling comfortable in you and you’re a good guy, feel good about yourself, the town may not present itself, but you’ll find that it won’t matter. *hugs*

  2. We are moving into the second floor of the Hagyard Building this week and so excited. Fascinated by this photo of the place.

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