Home is where your heart is

I have been a traveler. Although I have lived in East Tennessee for over thirty years, I am not “from here.” In some respects, I will always be from somewhere else. But where?

When asked where I am from, I jokingly say, “Yes!” I am from everywhere and nowhere. When I was eighteen, I had moved twenty-one times. I was born in Kansas.  I went to high school in Germany. By the time I reached thirty, I had lived more than a third of my life overseas. Even my own children were born in three different states.

During my time with the military, you developed a sense of “community” you’re your compatriots. When you arrived at a new duty station, you were part of the same system. Everyone came from in a different place. You had a commonality of experience. It brought you (rapidly) together, but those same forces just as quickly tore you asunder. The average longevity in an assignment was likely to be measured in months rather than years. Seeing one’s comrades again was often a matter of chance. No matter how close those ties became, they were “permanent” only in the personal nature of the relationships.

A vagabond mindset is difficult to abandon. Regardless of the settled times, the roots remained near the surface, subject to the winds of change that always threaten to overturn the status quo. “Uprooted,” forced to leave (by military orders). It is a disruptive experience to be yanked from the ground (often tossed by vagaries of fate). I suffered that throughout my military career. I had no home.

“Home” is a place where one lives permanently (or derives a sense of belonging). To say the least, I had but a vague notion of what that meant. Even here in the region, I have lived in five different residences. Only in the last decade has a sense of permanence taken root (but even now, it is far from constant or unchanging).

I left the military in some significant part because I wanted my children to have a permanency I did not. I wanted them to know that they had a place that they were from. When the world knocks them about, there was a place they belonged, a familiar place where they were accepted unconditionally. People knew them and loved them (no matter what). I wanted them to have the home I never had.

We did travel (a bit). Indeed, we took some vacations when my kids were growing up, but as someone who ran his own businesses, they were fewer and farther between than I might have liked. Instead, we played sports (and that did include a lot of trips around Tennessee and the southland). It was fun. It was togetherness. Inevitably, the trips wore on you. Not exactly what I might call a “vacation.”

For the longest time I would say that “I don’t do vacations (well).” It was simply too hard to “unplug” from work. That was true for the first twenty years in Kingsport. It was a two-edged sword. I was perhaps too busy. But I am also thankful to our local community for the opportunity to be successful.

Perhaps that is another way to define “home:” It is a place where you can build a life and have a shot to make your dreams come to fruition. Well, maybe not all of them, but true in some substantive manner.

It is not until the last few years (as I exited one business after another), that I have had both the time and inclination to travel again. Just as I have come to embrace a real sense of belonging, I am becoming a vagabond again. This time it is “self-inflicted.” As I move into retirement (a well-worn topic for me), I now find myself back on the road…or air, or water.

This time it is different. The nest is empty. Friends (both old and new) provide an impetus for adventure. In fact, I write this in an airport on the way home after a spontaneous trip. Life really is more fun with friends (and they are a wonderful byproduct of having a home).

I love my “home” (yes, I now admit to having one). I love the property. I have wonderful friends. I love our critters. I do miss them as we travel. I know they likewise miss us. If not for them, I might be tempted to pull up roots and search for another place (if not exactly a “home”).

And then I drive down the hill on I-26 and see Bays Mountain open up before me. I feel a peace come over me. If I’m true to myself, as much as I like to be away, my heart always brings me back to East Tennessee.

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