Sunday, June 04, 2006

Photo Friday: My Great-Grandfather's Hometown

This post is late because we were at my tenth college reunion...that, however, is another post (soon).

I took this picture outside the train station in Vienna, 12 years ago. It is definitely right up there with the weirdest things I have ever seen anywhere. It appears to be a statue of a pig. A naked pig, with big muscles, wearing a large tie, a hat, glasses, and white gloves. And, of course, pink shoes. The purpose or symbolism of such a statue, however, entirely eludes me.

I'm cheating, of course, because Vienna is by no stretch of the imagination my hometown. I've been there once. As indicated by the title, however, Vienna was my great-grandfather's* hometown.

This week's theme got me thinking about that concept of "hometown." It wasn't really necessary thinking, since the assignment was clear enough: take a picture of something weird where you live. But that word "hometown" always gets me. Where I live now is one of three places I could call "hometown," and whenever I am asked where I am "from," where is my "hometown," I wonder which city counts as my hometown, if there is one place that is The Answer. The place where I was born? The town where I went to high school? Or the middle city that imprinted upon me so deeply that I have chosen it as my adult home?

I'm hardly the the only person on earth not to hail from a single place -- three cities is even a rather short list, in comparison to many people I know including my mother -- but coming from a single "hometown" is a quality I envy. All three of my cities have had their influence on this person I am. I can't say I'm sorry to have lived the life that created this self I inhabit. But the grass is always greener...

*And even with this claim, I'm still cheating. My great-grandfather always called Vienna his hometown, but it wasn't. He hailed from a small village (shtetl) that was at different times in Austro-Hungary, Germany, and Poland. (Now it's in the Ukraine.) He did live in Vienna for several years while he did his apprenticeship with a furrier, and from Vienna he immigrated to the U.S. Here in the States he met my great-grandmother (a true city girl from Budapest). They courted, married, raised children and then grandchildren, and finally died in the same Big City that is one of my hometowns...the one I have chosen for my adult life. My heart is here in the city of my ancestors (but also, my heart is in another Big City, where the ancestors on the other side chose to settle). I did feel an unexpected tug of familiarity when I visited Vienna, a city I'd never seen before but that somehow still lived underneath my skin. Place matters so much, often in unexpected ways... (just one of the reasons it makes me angry when people suggest to me blithely that if I'm not satisfied with the rights I have where I currently live, then I should move...)


Jest said...

It's funny how people identify their hometowns. I have no question when thinking of mine: I am definitely a Portlander. Sure, I didn't live there until I was 5, and we technically moved away when I was 14 (but to Beaverton, and while it has a certain appeal, as a dyke, to say my high school team was "the Beavers," I never identified with the city; however, there *are* things I can now appreciate about it).

But I also grew up in a less rooted family: my parents moved a lot when they were kids, their parents moved a lot... go back far enough, and you've got people on wagon trains. One explanation for the last name on my maternal grandfather's side (DuBois) is that it comes from French trappers (corrers du bois)--people who just, well, moved around a lot.

But the last lines of your post really struck a note with me. I remember quite vividly when I was teaching about some economic downturn my first year teaching, and all of the students were insisting, "But if people couldn't get jobs where they were, they should have just moved to a different part of the country." I was still in the throes of homesickness for Portland, and did my best to convey not only the economic side of things (if you're broke, you can't just move cross-country), but also people's deep love for particular spots on the planet.

I'm lucky in that the two places where I would be desperately homesick if I didn't live there (Portland, NYC) both offer more than minimal rights to chosen families. Not as good as they could, but not as bad, either. The downside with these two cities is that there's no way to live in both of them.

Calliope said...

I so get that. The longest I have ever lived any where was 6 years & that was in L.A. So is LA my home? I used to tell people that the town where my grandparents lived was my hometowm- it was where we all had holidays. & Home was where you went to for such things, right?

But now that I have lived here for 3 years I no longer claim it as home. I actually think of it is a big layover.

I'm still searching for my hometown.

Calliope said...

so um....where did ya'll go??
Was it something I said??