There’s no place like home. Dorothy knew it when she clicked her heels to embark on that journey home from Oz. In actuality, she knew it long before then, but it took the open, out loud admission of it to get her there. Me? I like Oz, or more accurately, Connecticut, and I want very much to stay here. But that does not mean that I can’t admit that there truly is no place like home.
The thought first became evident to me the night before I moved. It occurred to me that if I wanted a Middleswarth or Grandma Utz brand potato chip (among others) that I’d better stock up because they can’t be found outside of Pennsylvania. The thought was reinforced when I went to my first New England carnival desperately seeking a funnel cake. I found fried dough, and powdered sugar was a topping option, but it was nothing like the good ol’ fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cake that had been the staple of every carnival, fair, and PA (because only people from Pennsylvania say “PA”) amusement park trip I’d ever had the pleasure of taking. I thought about writing this piece then, but all I had to go by was food. I didn’t want to write about food. This is mainly because I didn’t want to go into the art of a true Philly cheese steak or the love and care that goes into a true Polish-Pennsylvanian pierogi without having other fond things about which to write.
It took me a while. While I have many things tying me to Pennsylvania (my family, my friends, my familiar stomping grounds), I have many reasons not to miss it (drama, disappointment, my familiar stomping grounds). Having lived in central Pennsylvania for my whole life, I wanted nothing more than to leave; to venture out and learn something new, to be something else. I was fully prepared to assimilate completely to New England life (this would have been true of any region), and leave all of Pennsylvania behind. But something funny happened. I ended up wearing my PA on my sleeve. I would tell people where I was from, and they would find something PA-centric about which to give me a little tease, and no matter what my response, it was always tinged with an element of, “Yeah, I’m from PA. What of it?” My sudden Pennsylvania pride, of which I had very little when I lived there, astounded me.
I remember very clearly the moment at which the pride made itself most evident. Now might be a good time to point out exactly which part of Pennsylvania (besides the term “central”) I’m referencing. When I say I’m from a college town, I’m referencing State College, Pennsylvania. Still doesn’t sound familiar? Try this: Penn State University; known best to me as my alma mater. To be truly accurate, Penn State’s main campus is located in University Park. State College is the town built around University Park. That said, the moment I felt the most pride was when I was driving my car on the way home to my parents’ house right outside of State College. There I was, on I-99 with Beaver Stadium rising into the night sky, shining almost like a beacon. I indulged in a quiet, if only a slightly self-serving “We are” and as the traditional response of “Penn State” echoed softly in my head, the only things that rivaled the pride welling up in my chest were the tears welling up in my eyes. I thought I’d escaped some of the things I’d dubbed silliness as a townie. I was wrong. I suddenly found myself understanding the scary alumni that come back to town and pay an exorbitant amount of money for a sweatshirt. I paid for that sweatshirt. After all, I have to represent.
The proverbial flood gates had opened. Upon my return to Connecticut (how odd it was to say “going home” in reference to anywhere but State College!), I began to point out the similarities between my homes, which only helped to bring into greater light the things that are unique to my true hometown.
Some of the differences are due to lifestyle choices. For example, I do not have a home bar in Connecticut. There are bars I have visited. I have enjoyed them and I have returned. But since I’m not exactly a bar fly (or for those from home who remember the cabaret performance-bar hag) anymore, it’s strange to think that my home bar is the bar almost seven hours from my apartment. It used to be that if I fell down my front steps, I was halfway there. Now if I fall down my front steps, I’m merely in my yard.
It’s strange driving to work in the morning and seeing a certain sign with recognizable lettering and a familiar-looking logo and having to remind myself that the sign is for a furniture store and not that restaurant that I made sure to avoid during football season. The sign reminds me of a familiar thing, but it’s a place I don’t actually know. And that darn sign still fools me every time!
Don’t get me wrong, I love my new home, but I no longer run from the home inside me. I am a Pennsylvanian. I like funnel cakes and I miss the fact that the first day of buck hunting season and the first day of doe hunting season are considered holidays. I am a Nittany Lion. I like football and I miss having arguments with the Willard Preacher and “climbing” Mt. Nittany.
These are things to which I never thought I’d admit, and now I wear them like badges of honor. I have learned that Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.