“Knowledge of places is closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one’s position in the larger scheme of things, including one’s own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a person.” Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places
I’m lucky: I have my family, and I have friends who are like family. For Thanksgiving, I went to a one such friend’s house for dinner in my hometown. For the most part, I moved away from South Jersey when I was 18. I rebelled, with an appropriately dramatic teenage flair, against where I grew up. Not one for the quiet life, I was drawn to the stimulating toughness of the city.
I’m not entirely to blame; my feelings were exacerbated by the fact that my parents were from northern New Jersey, which, for all intents and purposes, is a completely different state. When I was little, my mother would quiz me on my accent. “How do you say coffee, cawffee or cahffee? Dawg or dahg?” Now, I totally consider these little exercises as the source of my interest in languages and linguistics. At the time, it made me feel different, which was both a source of pride and a reason for rebellion.
Nowadays, it’s not until I actually visit Galloway that I recognize the sense of connection I have to my hometown. It makes me think of the book Wisdom Sits in Places, in which the anthropologist Keith Basso explores how location, history, and culture are intrinsically connected.
I grew up in the pine barrens and when driving into Galloway, I can sense when I’m close just based on the trees. We had woods right behind the house, which were great for playing as a kid and even better for introspection as I got older. While there wasn’t much to do around town, it was a quiet, strong place with a beautiful landscape. (My personal culture shock? Kids in high school used to take off for the first day of hunting season.) It’s a place that is straightforward and unpretentious, which is worthy of the utmost respect, in my opinion.
For me, it’s also the kind of place I can only truly appreciate from afar, though I’m grateful for having grown up there. It’s taken me quite a long time to realize what a distinct place it is and how different I might have been had I been raised elsewhere, particularly in the suburbs of New York. Having friends who bring me back home, and who make sure I don’t stray too far from myself, is an even better gift.
Good friends, nostalgia, and thoughtfulness — yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s all I’ll ever need.