In January I was traveling in Mississippi for an event when I realized I was almost out of travel-sized toiletries. So I stopped at Walgreens to stock up again.
As I was checking out, the cashier told me that I had enough Walgreens Rewards Points to get a few dollars off of my purchase.
“Do you want to use them?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Sure, why not.”
“Okay,” she said. “All you have to do is enter the zip code the Rewards card is registered to.”
I tried the zip code where my mail goes to now. It didn’t work.
“It’s the place where you were living when you opened the account,” she said.
I tried the zip code for my townhouse, the one I moved out of two years ago. It didn’t work.
Then the place I lived after that for a year. No dice.
Then the apartment in Santa Barbara where I lived for 6 months after that, before selling everything, giving up my residence and traveling/speaking/writing full-time.
None of the zip codes I could remember worked. The system locked me out.
“You’ll have to call corporate,” the cashier said.
The man in line behind me was tall and thin with a flannel shirt and suspenders and thinning gray hair.
“Darlin’, don’t you know where you’re from?” he asked in a slow drawl, half scolding, half teasing.
I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
Because I have no idea where to say I’m “from” when people ask me that now. I mean, I grew up in Pennsylvania, moved to Los Angeles for college, then Connecticut and New York for grad school, then Portland and then a short stint in Santa Barbara before setting out on an 18-month traveling adventure and speaking tour that has included 25 states, 9 countries and 5 continents.
Sometimes, when people ask me where I’m from, I simply say all that and then ask, “I don’t know, you tell me. Where does that make me from?”
And I wanted to laugh at the Mississippi man’s comments because my life is…..um…..unorthodox, maybe….but it’s good. I’ve had so many opportunities and experiences because of not having a home base right now that little annoyances — like not knowing what zip code to enter at Walgreens, or repacking my suitcase for the 119th time, or sitting at the airport while my flight is delayed for a few hours— well, these are the small costs I pay for this kind of freedom.
Last week I spoke at a college in Oklahoma City, then hopped in the rental car and drove to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where I’ll be the author-in-residence at a Presbyterian church here.
I did the same thing last year, around exactly this time of year, and I loved it. I have a little apartment across the street from the church. I love Phil and Tasha, a husband-and-wife team that co-pastor the church together. There are lots of older women in the congregation, many of them widows, who love to chat and cook homemade meals for me and give me lots of hugs.
I feel a similar sense of familiar welcome when I go home to my parents’ place in Illinois or to my brother and sister’s places in Pennsylvania.
When I stay with my friends Jody or Angie or Steph in Portland. Or Reba in Cinncinatti. Or Karina in California. Or Kat in Minneapolis…I feel like I never left. Like I can make myself right at home.
And I realized as the man said, “Darlin’, don’t you know where you’re from?” that the real answer is: I’m from people who love me. I’m from people who care for me. I’m from people who do lots of different jobs in lots of different places, but these are my people.
And maybe home, at least for me right now, isn’t a place with flower boxes and a doorbell and a zip code.
Home is this patchwork quilt of people I have all over who make me feel like I belong.