What do you say when people ask you where you're from? I've moved fifteen times so far (not counting moving from one house to another in the same city; that would make it closer to 20), lived in seven different states and four foreign countries. I've never known what to say when people ask where I'm from. I'm from everywhere, I suppose. But being from everywhere and nowhere in particular is a rootless and lonely feeling, so when a friend suggested many years ago that I pick the place that felt right and be "from" there, I realized that I've always been from central Virginia.
My people are from Scottsville Road, Ash Lawn and Monticello, Crozet and Culpeper and Orange. Just reading the names of the towns near my grandparents' home brings back the hiss of the soft black asphalt roads and the blue-grey of the mountains fading into the clouds and the zzz-zzz-zzz of the cicadas in the summertime, right back close enough to touch. Close enough to fill me full up with a mellow, time-worn loss. I won't sit again with my grandmother in the green wooden rockers on the front porch, picking over a bushel of beans for canning. I won't clear the dishes in the fragrant-steamed kitchen on a winter evening, won't climb the steep wooden stairs to the camphor smell and flatiron heat of the attic to dig into the neat piles of her saved treasures. I won't go visiting with her to Mrs. McGee's little house with the big green yard full of banty hens, or to Uncle Robert's house with his fruit trees and freezer full of venison, or to Aunt Laura's tidy house in Charlottesville where it looked like the early sixties had been pinned in a frame and kept well-dusted on the mantle.
All of those people are gone now, all except lovely, fragile Aunt Laura with her perfect skin and genteel accent, who told me long ago that she could not possibly sleep on sheets that had not been ironed, and to always wear gloves and a hat in the sun because ladies should avoid freckles. And except my grandmother, who was not just nice but deeply good to every single person she ever met, black or white, rich or poor, at a time and in a place that didn't encourage it. She was so good to me, from my scabby-kneed childhood to the birth of my own children; she gave me a place to rest my homeless heart. Alzheimer's has taken me from her: now she sits in a room full of strangers whose names she can't learn, waiting to get home so she can cook her Papa supper when he gets home from picking apples, sometime in the 1930s. Taken me from her, yes, but it hasn't taken her from me. And whenever I close my eyes to see Albemarle, the smooth green hills, the creosote fenced pastures and the old brick homes, the tall trees and the haze of woodsmoke on cool mornings, I can return again to the home my heart is from. Even though I can never go back.