Feb 16 2009

I hereby declare my hometown

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If you spend any time in the military, you’ll get asked the age-old question: “where’s your hometown?” I’d say things like “I came into this world near San Antonio,” or “I started school near Indianapolis,” or “I graduated near Chicago,” or “I mortgaged my first house near St. Louis.”

I never really knew how to answer the question. I mean, I joined the Air Force just to get away from Chicago. I never felt like it was my hometown.

Denise & I built not just a house, but actu­ally our home in Well­man, Iowa in 2000. We built it speci­fi­cally so we could enjoy it during our re­tire­ment years…

The Air Force stationed my new bride near St. Louis in 1986. We purchased a home there and, as fate would have it, we ended up living there for 13 years. We knew all the local haunts and we fully admitted to “homesteading” at the local Air Force base. And yet I never felt like it was my hometown.

I remember in August 1997 — after 11 years in the same house — getting a phone call from a computer security manager pleading with me to join his company. I accepted the job, hung up the phone, turned to my wife, and I actually said “I guess we’re locals now.” But I said it to my wife with a note of incredulity.

We lived there another two years before Denise got a job offer in Iowa. She drove away from our house without even looking back. I spent a few months getting it ready for sale, then I left it behind without shedding a tear and without looking back.

You see, Denise & I had scoped out the town of Wellman, Iowa for more than a decade. Her parents moved there the same year we moved to St. Louis. They lived there, they retired there, and her dad is buried there. Denise wanted to retire there, too and (quite frankly) so did I.

When she got a job offer in Iowa City in 1999, she insisted on driving 45 minutes each way to work just so we could live in Wellman. We built not just a house, but actually our home in Wellman in 2000. We built it specifically so we could enjoy it during our retirement years, complete with an ADA-compliant bathroom. We jokingly “took the ‘local resident’ test” and we made strong friendships with our neighbors.

I ended up spending only five years in our home. I buried my wife next to her father, barely a mile from our home.

Actually … to be precise: I spent only three years with Denise in our home — having spent two of our last four years on the road with the Air Force Reserves after the 9/11/01 terror attacks.

I ended up giving away the equity in our home to a soldier who wanted to start a new chapter of his life with his family in Wellman. I packed up my belongings and hit the road … but this time, for the very first time, I did shed a tear and I did look back.

I recently met a man who long ago retired from the Air Force. He asked the age-old question: “where’s your hometown?” I answered “Wellman, Iowa, just south of Iowa City.” And it felt right when I said it.

Oh, sure: I pay taxes right now in South Carolina and I bought into a property in North Carolina. But that’s just because I choose to live in an RV. I go where I want to go, stop when I want to stop, see what I want to see, and do what I want to do.

But my hometown is Wellman, Iowa. It’s where I buried the love of my life. It’s where I buried my heart. And it’s where I’ll be buried someday.