Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wherever I Go, There I Am

You can leave your hometown, but you can never escape it.

That's one of the themes of the National Theatre of London's production of Travelling Light, which I saw yesterday in a movie theatre broadcast in San Francisco. (If you're a theatre buff, you should catch one of the National's broadcasts; they've all been excellent.)

It's a story line with which I strongly identify. As a kid and teen, I couldn't wait to leave my hometown of Greensboro, N.C. The homophobia I encountered at the time was a particularly strong motivator for getting the hell out of Dodge. But there was more to it than that. I was enamored with the idea of living in a Big City (particularly one on a coast), and I knew Greensboro could never deliver.

In my 20s and 30s, I traveled as often and as far as possible. At 29, I moved to San Francisco, about as far away as you can get from Greensboro (geographically and psychologically) and yet still live within the continental United States.

And then, in my 40s, something curious began to happen. I realized the majority of my travels were no longer to Big Cities and other lands. Most of the time, I was flying back to Greensboro and sometimes spending a full week there. Even more surprisingly, I discovered that I often looked forward to those visits.

It wasn't the sights and sounds of Greensboro that compelled me back; it was spending time with family and reconnecting with old friends. (Of course, the Cheerwine, Chick-Fil-A, and Stamey's Barbecue didn't hurt, either.) Finally, I'd stopped dismissing Greensboro for what it wasn't and appreciated it for what it was, and what it offered me.

I guess that's what happens to most people as they mature. We discover the truth in that old cliché, "No matter where you go, there you are."

(c) Carol W. Martin
By the way, the photo above of downtown Greensboro in the late 1950s was taken by my father, Carol W. Martin of Martin's Studio. Originally from Roanoke, Virginia, he once told me that as a young man, he'd never intended to stay in Greensboro; he'd only gone there for a job on the newspaper. My father had originally set his sights on living in a bigger city, just as I did years later. But then he fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Ruth, married, had five kids, and had built a successful business. Did he regret never making it to a more exciting, bigger city? I've often wondered that, but I believe he found contentment in his adopted town. And ultimately, isn't that what most of us want?

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  1. I think we have found that contentment in our adopted home towns Jim, but like you, Greensboro will always have a place in my heart.

  2. Jim,

    I had the same Journey that you had. I couldn't wait to "Get Out of Dodge" which in my case was a small town (Downingtown) in the suburbs of Philadelphia. From the time I was 12 years old I knew I would leave as soon as I could. I joined the Army out of high school. After three years in the Army (Washington, D.C. and Balitmore) I moved home only to stay ONE DAY then I moved to Pittsburgh, PA. I only stayed there three months because I got homesick and went back to my small town. After two year I met Bill (my partner of the past 47 years) and I moved got New Jersey and worked in the BIG CITY of Philadelphia. We eventually moved to Philadelphia where we lived for 14 years. Then guess what? I wanted to go back home. Which I did. We brought some property and built a house and moved back to Downingtown in 1981 and stayed there for 25 years. Yes, you can go home again. In 2006 I decided to move to Delaware because I could no longer afford Pennsylvania's high taxes plus I wanted to live "near the water (all my life) and near a community of gay people because we were both getting older and my family was gone except for one brother. Downingtown was nice but NO GAY LIFE. I didn't want to be an Old Gay Man Living Alone in a Big House.

    I still visit Downingtown occasionally (to visit my brother) and the town will always have a place in my heart. But my new home is here in the southern most county of the Delmarva peninsula. I haven't made many gay friends (friends are hard to make) but Bill and I have a good life. This is where I will end my days. I am happy.

  3. Wonderful. I think as we age, we are able to find joy in all things, especially the more simple ones. Barbecue with family is one of the most simple and most joyous.

    I saw a Cheerwine sign the other day, wanted to snap a picture and send it to you.

  4. I was forced to move to a city at my father's behest. I hated it and spent a massive part of my life pining and longing to be in that small town living out in the woods where my first memories lay.
    We moved many, many times since then and eventually I grew to accept where I was and live (kicking and screaming) in the 'now'.

  5. i am glad to have found your blog through "retired in delaware". i moved to los angeles from san diego 20 years ago, but have had enough of this "big city" and am planing a move to san francisco (east bay) in 2013. this is what i write about, so i enjoy reading your perspective of being in the city and the adjustments that you observe in yourself. -tony