The past couple weeks, I’ve been looking through old photos. And you know what old photos do. They bring up memories, both good and bad. Thankfully, my past photos have reminded me of a lot of good. Reminded me of the place I still call home. I’ve also been messaging (off and on) a lifelong friend, and that’s also had me thinking.
I’ve moved around a bit. It was kind of a byproduct of my dad’s job. Every eight years, it seemed like. Until I got married three years ago, and I moved in with my husband. We’ve moved three times in those few years. Hopefully, we’ll be set for awhile. Moving is tedious and stressful.
The first eight years of my life, I lived in a little bitty town. In fact, if you Google it, it’s registered as a village. Yep. I was raised, until I was eight years old, in a village. It tickles the fantasy side of me. According to the 2016 census, the town had a population of 285 residents. Just to put it in perspective. Sometimes, I wonder if they’re numbering people or if they’re also adding farm animals with their head count.
So you could say I’m a Midwestern, corn fed kid. But that’s not the whole story. After I was eight, we moved to the suburbs. Unfortunately, I’ve been a suburbanite ever since. But to a country kid, the suburbs were city. I’ve since learned that city is much more massive than I so naively imagined. Still, I went from a place that had roughly 300 people, let’s say, to a place that had almost 22,000 residents. Quite a big jump.
Yes. I hated it. With every single fiber in my being. I grew accustomed eventually. Made a few fleeting friends. After I was sixteen, we moved again. To a city with nearly 70,000 people. Which wasn’t too big of a shock to my system. Yet, there was something that has always nagged the back of my mind.
Where did I call home? Did it matter if I had a home or not? What do I say when people ask me where I’m from? Do people even need to know where I’m from? (I’m a paranoid person.) Where was home?
After some soul-searching, I kept coming back to the little town. The “village.” That was where I wanted to call home. Then I came to the second part of my inquiry. Why was it the place I wanted to call home? Well, my favorite memories are from there. That was my childhood. What I consider the happiest part of my life. (Outside of my marriage, of course. I’m sure the husband will read this. Love you, hun.) I still have dreams about being there. I still cry when I remember how painful it was to leave. The other places? Not so much.
There’s something else. The Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. My family has vacationed there for years. I remember going there for the first time. It absolutely took my breath away. It was so green, so much of a fantasy setting. All I required was a wizard to lead me on an epic journey. I felt different there. Felt…free, so-to-speak. I could hike trails, climb along stream beds, see waterfalls. It was everything I needed to fuel my fictional mind. Everything I needed to clear my mind from stress and the mundane of everyday life.
While I do love the beach and ocean, I like to say my heart belongs to those mountains. I try to go there every year. Or, at least, every other year. It fills me with so much vigor, so much life. Reminds me of the times when I was a kid in the little town and allowed my imagination to soar. I’ve been to many places. I don’t know what it is about the Smokies, but that’s where I want to return. I feel like a piece of me has been left there since the first time I went. There’s a piece of my heart in my hometown, and you can bet your behind, there’s a piece of my heart running through the trees on the Smokey Mountains.
I plan to settle down there sometime. Maybe it’ll be when my husband retires. Maybe it’ll be if I can make money off my books. I don’t know. But I do know I will get there. One way or another, I will have my house in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery. I will find the piece of my heart and run in the forests with it. I will find my wizard and finally go on that epic journey through the woodlands. Along with the characters I’ve created, the creatures I’ve designed, the dragons I’ve made to ride on the backs of. It’s where I can let my mind be unleashed.
It’s the same sensation I had playing in the woods around my lifelong friend’s house. We could be anything we wanted, whether it be cowboys and space rangers, secret agents, horses, or anything else our limitless, child minds could conjure. It was our sense of freedom. Our sense of belonging. The mountains feel the same way to me. They always have and always will. I can be that little kid again. I can be anything I imagine myself to be. I can be free.
Where do I call home? Well, it’s a two-fold answer. My hometown, I consider to be my past home. The Smokey Mountains, I consider to be my future home. They’re almost the same to me in importance. Both places hold pieces to my heart. And that’s okay. Because I know where I came from, and I know where I will end up.
And it’s always home.