The thing about hometowns is that the worst thing you can do is live in them. Hollywood had given me the impression hometowns were somewhere to move away from, the starting line of life. You had to go somewhere exotic, away, to find yourself, and your adventures would show you who you were. On that advice, I moved to Japan and learned to live.
And once I did I realized that I was an idiot and that my hometown was just as good as anywhere else. That it hadn’t been was my fault.
When someone asks me about my hometown, I don’t tell them about how every Tuesday I sat on my sofa and watched TV over a frozen pizza. I say how I watched the sunset reflect over the Chesapeake Bay and appreciated what God or Buddha or whoever else you do or don’t believe in gave you.
“You can do that anytime,” I say. What I don’t say is I only did it once.
I went to a local hockey game once too. I was twelve and they sometimes hit the pucks out of the rink during warm up. I stood behind the net waiting without any luck until a player whose name I don’t remember skated over and tossed one over the plexiglass. He threw it too far and a boy behind me got it. But he was younger and I was old enough to know that it was okay.
I went fishing from my friend’s boat once. I let the biggest get away, but caught a handful to be proud of, along with a lot of oystertoads and eels. I’d always thought about going back but never did.
I never went back to that flower nursery with the Christmas exhibition after I was too old for their big candy cane sticks. The Pirate Festival only happened once for me. I’d planned to go another year but never did. The Jazz festival? Civil War reenactments? Native American pow wows? Sure, seen them all. Once.
I never went to that restaurant I wanted to try, the one downtown with the interesting name that now escapes me. I never bought anything from that store with the eclectic ornaments in the mall where everything was always 50% off.
What a waste.
Ever since noticing that pair of eyes in the bush was our number one priority humans have been programmed to look for novelty. Familiarity was likewise reassuring because we knew nothing was going to rush out and bite our heads off in our own territory. In modern times though, it’s become the mother of complacency, even contempt. It’s why we travel, and why I’d thought my hometown had nothing for me. But as someone who’s been around, I know where I came from was just as just good where I’m going.
If you try being a tourist in your hometown you just might see what’s there. But tourists can only exhaust as much ground as possible before heading home. You can live there. You can live there. But only if you look. And that’s the trick. You have to look. Because if you don’t look, you’ll never see what’s there.
But maybe I’m just being sentimental.