If I am not from here, then where?
I am not a Natchezian.
I know that I will never be considered one of Natchez’s native sons. It is not in my blood literally, but I realized last week when talking to a friend that I have lived in this Southwest Mississippi city longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life.
I have called many parts of the country home over my 46 years. I was born in North Carolina, spent most of my school days in Alabama and Mississippi. I also spent a few years in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oklahoma.
Because I have lived in so many places it is always hard to answer the ubiquitous question, “Where are you from?.” Usually, I fumble around for a response.
When I was little child, I realized that my grandmother only asked that question to people she knew were not from our small town. She was nosy. Besides, asking someone where he or she came from was a more polite way of asking, “You aren’t from around here, are you?”
Thankfully, I have never felt like most of the people who ask me the same question these days are being as nosy, but after living Natchez for 15 years, I wonder if I will ever get to the point where I can answer, “I am from Natchez,” without hesitation or explanation.
Maybe not, but if not Natchez, where?
Asheville, N.C, doesn’t seem like the appropriate answer. I was born there, but I only spent a few months in that town before my parents moved everything they had to start a new life after college in Anderson, S.C. My grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins still live in Asheville, but visiting them has always felt more like taking a vacation than returning home.
Carrollton, Ala., might be the best answer to question. When I moved in the fourth grade from suburban Pennsylvania to the rural West Alabama town, Carrollton didn’t feel much like home. That changed eight years later when I packed up my bags full of childhood memories and left for college.
That was almost three decades ago. Even though many memories of those years in Alabama are as vivid as ever, most of my friends and family from that time in my life have either died or left the town for something bigger than what the town of 1,000 people could ever offer.
After Carrollton, I skipped around the map. Tulsa, Okla., was wonderful and Dearborn, Mich, was too cold. Both Hattiesburg and Jackson seemed like a good places to call home, but I never really took the opportunity to live in those communities long enough to set down roots.
Then there is Natchez.
For the last three days, I have been working in Salisbury, N.C. — a town that has a beautiful vibrant historic downtown, a bustling retail center, a large YMCA and other amenities a town more than twice the size of Natchez can offer.
There were moments riding through the town, that I wondered what it would be like living in a town that offered such conveniences.
But when I crossed the Natchez city limits Thursday evening and passed by the same landmarks I have lived with for the last 15 years and when I caught up with a group of friends that I have grown to love over that time, I knew that despite all of its problems Natchez is the place I call home.
After 15 years, Natchez has become the place where I live and work. It is the place where I celebrate, commiserate, praise and criticize.
It is the place I love. It is where I am from.
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at email@example.com.