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Dukes/My Turn: ‘This place I call home

I believe in knowing when you’re home.

I’m not from here. I have no hometown. I have no childhood friends. The only person I have known since kindergarten is my brother. I grew up in the military. When Dad got new orders, my mother whirlwind packed us up, wrangled the movers, and drove us to our new base.

Unlike civilians, wherever we went, we knew we’d be leaving. Transferred … again.

So, I learned to travel light. Mentally packed and ready to go; it’s easy to change jobs, go to unknown places, and to leave looking forward.

Four years was the longest I’d ever lived anywhere … until now.

Six years ago, I bought a big yellow house in a little town in the hills of western Massachusetts. My town is a Bedford Falls movie set come to life — complete with an iron bridge, a Mr. Potter, and a pharmacy with a working soda fountain. Local family names mark the hills, roads, homesteads, and century-old tombstones.

Stepping into the humongous kitchen, I knew it was my house. I had a few misgivings moving here. It’s in the whitest county in the state and New Englanders are not exactly known for their warmth. My plan? Maintain a low profile.

The plan disintegrated. Before I was completely unpacked, the neighbors introduced themselves, delivered banana nut bread, invited me to church, and took me to the dump. They told me if I needed anything to just ask. I was surprised by their easy acceptance of me and I had to adjust my preconceived notions.

I’m invited in for coffee and told to “stop up anytime.” I go “down street” to shop locally. Our librarian introduces me to other patrons. The neighbors watch out for me and my house. I’ve chased and corralled the neighbor’s far and free-ranging chickens. The police visit when my mother in Florida calls them. They admonish me, “You know, we all have to call our mothers.”

People wave and beep as I run by. I leave homemade artisan bread on doorknobs around town. Neighbors come up for dinner. Local contractors fix my house like it’s theirs. I stand up and ask questions at annual town meetings.

A couple of weeks ago, I was zipping past the hipster coffeehouse in town, when a man I did not know greeted me by my name. I helloed him back, while trying to connect a name to his face.

Suddenly at that moment … I hadn’t noticed … but … I realized … I am home. This is the place I’ve been looking for all my life and I found it. It actually exists.

I still don’t know who he is. But the next time I see him, I’ll ask. Chances are good, he’ll laugh as he tells me.

I know that I am woven into the fabric of this place and would be ripped if I had to leave. I’m not from here, but I belong to this place I call home.

Finally.

Cheryl L. Dukes’ double-secret identity is “The Bread Fairy.” Ensconced within kitchen-command-central, she bakes artisan breads, cakes, and pastry that she surreptitiously shares. She also is a selectman for the town of Buckland. “The Place I Call Home” is part of the “This I Believe Essay Collection” found at www.thisibelieve.org. Reprinted with permission of This I Believe Inc.

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