Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hometown? Hmmm

“Where are you from?” a new friend asked my visiting cousin.

“How far back do you want me to go?” was my cousin’s response. He was born in one city, went to college in another, and lived in two other cities where he did graduate work before settling in the Midwest 40-odd years ago. So where is he from? His multiple moves are par for many, including me. I have two states and several areas within those states that I refer to as, "hometown," depending on the questioner.

After my brother’s and my families moved to the same area on Long Island in the 60’s, a mutual new friend said to me, “I thought you and George were brother and sister?”

Since we are, his question made no sense, and I said so. He replied that my brother said he was from Brooklyn, whereas I claimed Queens as my home. We moved out of Brooklyn when Big Bro was ready for college, but I still had Junior High and High School to attend. Hence, I consider Brooklyn as my place of birth, but Queens, where I spent my teens and college years as the place where I'm from.

I’ve been in South Florida for over half my life. My sons grew up here. Florida is one of the states like California where many people my age were born somewhere else. Occasionally I meet folks who were actually born here—occasionally. Yes, they are true natives. But what should I answer when asked where I’m from? The place I lived for 30 years before I moved South, or South Florida, the place I lived for over half my life? A comic who entertained in my development a few weeks ago settled the issue for me.

“You’re a native Floridian,” the comic told his audience of retirees,” if you were here before I-95.

Those in the audience like Hubby and me who qualified as Floridians according to his definition howled. The others had a blank look on their faces. They were clueless that all the interstates weren’t in South Florida until around the turn of the century—just a bit more than ten years ago, right around the time many in the audience relocated south.

When we moved here in ’73, from Long Island I was amazed that Florida was not crisscrossed with highways and parkways as the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut was. The last “rail” of I-95 that connected the northern part of the country to South Florida was completed about ten years after we arrived. I-75, wasn’t complete until around 15 years ago. Florida’s turnpike extensions to bring it to the tip of our peninsula shaped state also weren’t complete until long after our arrival.

I have friends that won’t drive on an expressway—and some hail from Manhattan and never owned a car until they retired! To me, driving for 45 minutes on a highway is as easy as walking across a room. Learning to enter and exit highways was part of my driver’s ed. Did all the years of accepting bumper to bumper traffic for hours until I reached my destination—usually work or visiting “nearby” relatives, zooming onto an expressway at 50 mph to merge with traffic prepare me to view an hours drive as “nothing?” Yes. And I definitely didn’t pick up those skills in Florida. There were no highways here when we arrived. I brought them with me, along with the attitude that a 30-minute trip doesn’t require an overnight stay.

So, when asked where I’m from, I may answer South Florida, but my driving ability and outlook as to what constitutes a “long drive” definitely demand I give the city of my early years proper recognition.

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