QCS Managing Editor
Last week, I got involved with two stories that involved local histories and memories. Since I’ve only lived in Quay County for just over five years, I have to admit that I could only indirectly share in the feelings such memories evoke.
When I recall good times with my own family in our various homes, I often feel a longing for those times to return. It’s the family that I identify with more than the place, because my growing up occurred in several locations. My father wasn’t a military careerist, although he began and ended his medical practice as a full-time military officer, but he followed opportunities. Those opportunities took the family to California, Michigan, South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia, before I moved away and started my own move-around career.
After vicariously experiencing the sense of place that dwells within the down-to-earth folks who grew up in Quay County, however, I have to admit to some envy of their geographic identity.
My boyhood memories focus on Missoula, nestled in a mountain valley in Montana. Some powerful memories are rooted there: Family skiing trips, hunting, fishing and wandering the gulleys and fields near our home. I can’t leave out a serious leg fracture and a bout with frostbite in my recollections of this place, where I lived from third grade through my junior year in high school.
We left when I was 16, ready to enter my senior year of high school, and settled in West Virginia. It stands to reason I would remember Missoula as the home I always longed for, but that’s not the case.
I think I feel stronger roots in West Virginia, where I really grew up, than in Montana, where I was a kid. I never picked up West Virginia’s distinctive twang, but the years I spent there were formative in more significant ways than my Montana boyhood. I adjusted to a new high school, went to college, then careened through my first professional year and a half in the news business. Still, however, West Virginia does not give me that feeling of going home.
From West Virginia, I moved myself to Hammond, Ind. It was there I learned of life on my own, how to and how not to advance a news career, and where I met and married my wife of now 30-some years. Those years are vivid, but I still can’t claim Northwest Indiana or nearby Chicago as home.
After that came California, urban California, and I have to ask even life-long urban Californians—does it ever feel like home? Even the small town we lived in during our first months there, Banning, became a suburb before we left the state. We then moved deeper into the suburbs of Los Angeles and stayed there for the better part of 30 years.
I spent most of those years working anonymously in a corporate headquarters, not rocking boats. Then I’d commute through a crowded sea of identical suburbs to my home in another rubber-stamp suburb 35 miles away. We had two children who both moved away from California upon reaching adulthood with no regrets that I’ve ever seen.
Now, I ask myself, “Where is home?” With my parents gone and four brothers scattered over the eastern U.S., there seems to be no real answer. When my folks were around, visiting them wherever they were felt like going home.
It seems, then, that the answer to “Where is home?” now lies in my wife and me. It’s up to us to make where we live feel like home for our grown offspring and our grandchild. We can do that in Tucumcari.
Quay County and Tucumcari have changed so little in the past 20 to 30, even 40 years that nostalgia buffs consider them to be living history. That might account for that attachment that has drawn several generations back to these rural communities.
When you go back, it’s the same as it was. That may be the best reason a place “feels like home to me,” the tagline to the state’s current tourism ad campaign. Home should be a place where important things don’t change—you feel welcome, they remember what you like, and you can feel comfortable just sitting with people you know, talking over the TV, and laughing about things that leave strangers scratching their heads.
For life-long Quay County residents, that’s just about anywhere they go in town. Everybody knows everybody else. Everyone is family. I think that’s what a home place is supposed to be.
Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at shansen@ qcsunonline.com