You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. - Anne Lamott
Raised in the military, the question “Where are you from?” used to be a thorny one for me. I was born in Liverpool, England, but only spent a fraction of my life in that city, and few years longer in England itself throughout the years.
In and around that time, I have lived on a practically deserted Air Force base in Vermont, where just about everybody lived in Officers’ Housing, Whiteman Air Force Base - located just outside the dreaded Knob Noster, Missouri (neither of which I have favorable memories of) and two military bases in Germany, one American and for a brief six months as part of an American contingent on an RAF base in Northern Germany.
Both of these bases - which I have written about - are high on the cool rankings - RAF Bruggen in the north of Germany, and Zweibrücken American Air Force Base, further south.
Oh, yeah . . . and two years in Pennsylvania.
So . . . where do you come from?
When I was younger, I’d try to trace my route for people, until the inevitable glaze would come over their eyes, and then I’d just learn to say, “My father was in the military. I grew up all over.” This seemed to satisfy most people.
But it never really satisfied me.
A few years ago a friend started to rag me after I realized that I had spent over half my life in Fayetteville. “You’re from Fayetteville!” he crowed.
Not so, I insisted.
I was . . . well, where the hell was I from? Intellectually, I began to grow up in Germany, at Zweibrücken, where my natural shyness began to dissipate some. I became community affairs reporter on the base paper (thank you, work study!) Humor Editor on the school paper - the only uncensored paper in the military high school school system overseas - a not quite so-so wrestler, and a lousy cross country runner.
It was the early 1970s, and it wasn’t until I spent my senior year in a podunk school in Scott Township, Pennsylvania, that I realized that Zweibrücken American High School wasn’t your ordinary high school.
Imagine, if you will, a school where Soul on Ice by former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was one of the books we discussed in Junior English class, or The Greening of America, or teachers would read aloud poems in class containing the dreaded “F” word” . . . and we had algebra, too, I think.
And I loved both Bruggen and Zweibrücken, because for the first time I was able to hear the views of those who saw my country in a different light than I did.
But you gotta leave high school . . . okay, most of us do.
In 1974 I came with my family to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Raised on the stereotypes of movies and TV shows, I had no idea what to expect. It wasn’t anything like what I had imagined, though.
Fayetteville was less than half its current size then, but it was still fascinating from the very first day.
And now it is 2013, and some time back, it came to me that I am, indeed, from Fayetteville, and the thought didn’t bother me at all.
Over the years I have figure I have literally walked over thousands of miles in this city, exploring whatever streets and avenues I can find. I have fallen in love here, gotten married, divorced, and gotten married again.
I have worked in poultry plants, tortilla plants, in chemical labs, shoe stores, been a Night Manager at 7 Eleven, written for five small newspapers, produced a talk show, music videos and documentaries for public access television for over two decades, attended the U of A, written a science fiction novel (my slow-moving cult classic), published a modern history of Fayetteville, run unsuccessfully for office three times and seen people I love and respect die.
Way too many people I love and respect have died, and I have shed way too many tears, but I guess that’s the price of admission for being almost 60 years old.
I am from Fayetteville, and that thought gives me some pleasure. I became a Sentient Being here, and not just someone who lives, breathes and eats. I became active in the life of my chosen community, a community which chooses to stay involved, and not claim the “some of us have other things to do” excuse when it comes to making life better for their fellow citizens.
I learned the value of friendship in Fayetteville. I learned that we don’t just write people out of our lives, but through it all, manage to keep friendships going.
Through my involvement with public access television, I have seen the diversity of our community come together, and folks help each other, even though they may have views that are worlds apart.
If you gotta “come from” somewhere, Fayetteville is as good a place as any to pick, and lots better than many others.
No more long-winded explanations for me; when people ask me where I come from now, I just say, “I’m from Fayetteville, Arkansas.”
Quote of the Day
My approach to learning how to write screenplays was to watch the best movies. I tried not to watch lousy movies, because I didn’t think I could learn anything from them. I didn’t take any classes. I just kind of dreamed it. - Michael Blake/Dances with Wolves