It bothered me well into my teenage years that I didn’t have a hometown. It bothered me when a classmate or friend proudly defended his state, or touted his state’s greatness. It bothered me, too, when I heard or read of a state celebrating a native-born citizen for an achievement. I felt jealous that my friends had a place they could call their hometown, a hometown they could have pride in. They belonged. I wondered who would recognize me for my achievements. I wanted a hometown I could feel proud of and claim as my own. I wanted to belong.
I moved every three years as an Air Force Brat, following my dad from duty station to duty station. As I constantly packed and unpacked, I learned to measure my life and friendships geographically in spans of years: three years at this Air Force Base, three years at that Air Force Base, three years with these friends, and so on. I attended Department of Defense schools overseas and made friends who also measured their lives according to where they had lived and for how long. Friends who inexorably faded from my life within three years to become dimmer and dimmer memories tucked away in the emotional sachet containing the treasures of my boyhood. Those memories remained half-buried beneath other memories, to be recalled later in life during moments when a scent, a song, a photograph, a nostalgic mood brought them vividly but fleetingly to life once again with a twinge of the heart, a sadness and, perhaps, a tear. If I had had a hometown I wouldn’t have had to say goodbye so often.
I learned at a young age to be brave when I had to part from my best friend at the airport and fly away for three years at another Air Force Base. While I didn’t live the vagabond’s life of being constantly on the move, I did live a life in which not all the boxes unloaded from the moving van were unpacked at the new house, where Dad began searching for his next duty station soon after arriving at the new one, where Mom spent hours writing letters to friends from previous duty stations and striking up new friendships with other dependent wives who lived their lives in the same transient manner. I didn’t have a bad life, or a hard one, I just didn’t have a hometown.
Life as an Air Force Brat had characteristics not experienced by boys with hometowns. My home existed only as long as I lived there. When the station wagon pulled into a new driveway, when the moving van deposited our boxed up lives in the house we would inhabit for a short span of time in this strange new town or strange new country, I could say I had a home, but not a hometown.
Teachers at Department of Defense schools overseas didn’t ask students where they came from, only where they were born. They knew Air Force Brats came from every corner of the globe. They knew better than to ask them the name of their hometowns. They didn’t have hometowns.
When teachers or classmates at stateside schools asked me where I came from I hesitated, unsure how to answer the question. Eventually, I would just tell them my dad was in the Air Force and I had been born in Turkey. The lack of a hometown meant I had no place to call home, no home where I belonged like my classmates. No hometown.
Then, one day as I reminisced about my life as an Air Force Brat, I thought of the place I had been born, all the places I had seen, the places I had gone to school, visited and toured. I thought of Turkey and its place as a crossroad of history. I thought of Rome and the Roman Legions, and Florence and the Renaissance and Michelangelo. I thought of Holland and its windmills and life-saving dikes, and Madurodam and Raphael and Van Gogh. I thought of Germany and its mountains and forests, Beethoven, the Vacation Bible School I attended at Hitler’s former palace in Berchtesgaden, and the Eagle’s Nest. I thought of Austria and Vienna, its music and Mozart, and its alpine lakes. I thought of California and the Bay Area, and Florida and its beaches. I thought of the history I learned, the people I met, the friends I made.
And I realized it didn’t matter if I had a hometown after all. It didn’t matter that my name might never be proclaimed by a native town. That I had so many homes in the world is what mattered. I belonged to the world. The world is my hometown.