True stories with a twist!

It’s a question that comes up at every new meeting, every new party and every new class. I understand that it’s only small talk: a way to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, but it causes a problem for me every time. The innocent question is:

“Where are you from?”

I can’t tell you where I’m from. That place doesn’t exist any more. It’s like Brigadoon; there for a while and then gone.  If you took a drive through my old neighborhood you’d think you understood where I grew up and the environment in which I Iived. But I didn’t, it wasn’t, and you’d be wrong.

I grew up in what felt like a small town. I walked to school through open fields; there were no sidewalks then. My best friend, Harriet and I would leave notes to each other in the hole of our “note tree.”  My house had nothing behind it but unspoiled, unmarred fields. There was a pond back there, where we built a raft and rode across our pretend ocean. My brother Jerry and I  built forts and forged battles with neighborhood children. I rode my bicycle everywhere, pretending to be riding my beautiful horse, galloping through wild western prairies.  images-11  What was a wonderful feeling of freedom and free will. We never felt fear of being out alone or speaking to strangers.

Since then my old neighborhood was rained on and bombarded by building booms, multiplied by malls, enclosed by concrete. If I told you I grew up there you would have a totally different impression of my life at ages 10 through 21.

My high school, Jamaica High, was recently closed by orders of high government officials with closing power. It was declared one of the most dangerous schools in the history of the world. To think I graduated unscathed by fiends, bullies and gangsters!

So when you ask me where I’m from I would have to give a description of that place as I knew it rather than a name. The name still exists, but the place is long gone.

Comments on: "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" (62)

  1. Hey! Thanks for liking one of my posts this morning. In response, I came here and read this beautifully written post. I plan to read more. Thanks for the gifts you gave me this morning.

  2. Lovely post, Ronnie. I guess that’s why Thoreau said “We can never go home again.” Even if the buildings stay they same, things still change. The streets where I grew up were leveled and that is a good thing. Because they were destroyed, I triumphed.

  3. Your post does resonate with many folks who have grown up in the suburbs only to see the open spaces vanishing as urbanisation catches up.But I believe every child , as he grows up, freezes similar moments from his past and feels saddened by the changes. But in life change is the only constant and I guess as every child grows up, new moments and developments never quite hold the power of the earlier deep frozen moments of childhood.

    Loved the post.


  4. I am from a land of beautiful memories where everyone was safe and respected each other irregardless of caste, colour or creed. Oh, how I long for those times.. Sigh.

  5. They do always say you can’t go home again…

  6. I think The Pretenders pretty much summed up how you feel. This is one of my favorite songs of theirs…

  7. Miami not even part of USA anymore – over 50% foreign born and difficult to get job if speak English only

  8. An interesting article, I recently attended a reunion of army friends who worked together for about 6 years at the same army school over 35 years ago, the school has been vandalized and is derelict, but the beauty of the reunion was the memories of what and where we shared them, yes it is not an easy question to ask where we are from as we get older, the only things that we recall are place names and we keep the memories of those.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think any place stays the same. Some places get “better” and some go down. I always feel sad to go back to the farm where I grew up. There is industry now on this country gravel road. And the house I lived in shrunk!

  10. Snoring Dog Studio said:

    There are places you just can’t go back to. I have lots of them. I wouldn’t want to visit most of them now. Thank goodness for wonderful memories.

  11. I hear you! Keeping those stories alive is the best we can do!

  12. Ronnie, landscapes, people and structures do change – and our perceptions of them as well.

    When I was newly married, I went back to where I had lived from age 8 to 14 in North Syracuse, N.Y. I wanted to buy the house I grew up in and was sad to learn the house had just recently been sold. As idllyic as I felt that time period was, I knew I couldn’t recreate it. Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Except in our memories.

    Hold on to yours. It sounds like “that place” does hold a special place in your heart.

  13. DAVID LERMAN said:

    How true….I often think about that,  how our town looks somewhat the same but is totally different.     Outside the same , inside

    sad and different.  We tried to duplicate that good experience for the kids, but it doesn’t exist anymore. So they made their own good times and they have nice memories. Where you grew up sounds lovely.  Talk soon.  Miriam       

  14. I remember when I was offered my first job. The form before me demanded that I fill out the following: village, town, local government area (L.G.A), and of course my state of origin. Unknown to me, my employer (because he employed me anyway) had issues with Ibos from my town 😦

    Ronnie, your topics are quite refreshing.

    • Thank you, Uzoma, but I certainly wouldn’t want to bring forth unpleasant memories.

      • Oh that’s okay. You’re my dear friend and there is nothing about your post that evokes a painful memory either. My predecessor on the job then, was sacked because she intentionally failed to balance the accounting sheet for two months. So when I came on board, he (my boss) asked if I’d behave like her. I told him I wouldn’t. Thankfully, I didn’t fail him and ever since, we have been good friend. So, from time to time, he would jokingly say: “That your place, ehn…that your place…”

  15. Such a sad post, the town I grew up in and still live in has changed dramatically too. The days of being free to walk anywhere you want without fear are long over. What has our world become? Glad you survived your school days, that is a scarey thought. I actually found your blog by Fransi, congrats on the nomination, you have a very nice blog.

  16. The sad part of growth and change and development On Jan 19, 2013 6:32 PM, “morristownmemos” wrote:

    > ** > morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer posted: “Its a question that comes up > at every new meeting, every new party and every new class. I understand > that its only small talk: a way to start a conversation with someone you > dont know, but it causes a problem for me every time. The innocent > question is”

  17. Beautifully written post, Ronnie.

  18. What a lovely post.. I too grew up in a small rural village, and walked to school and back until I was 11 then travelled the 5 miles via bus .. Im pleased to know that I wasnt the only one to pretend to ride my horse.. We didnt have even bikes as we just couldnt afford such luxury but I would ride the broom handle around the garden saying giddy-up!…
    However when I was 12 my Dad did let me go for riding lessons just to shut me up I think as I was Horse Mad.. my friends had horses,, as some lived on farms etc.. so I would walk around following them on their ride out hoping that eventually they let me in the saddle .. 🙂

    • Poor you, Sue. Did you ever get to ride a horse?

      • Yes I did Ronnie, My Dad relented and I had riding lessons so went once a week for about a year.. We would then take the stables horses/ponies off along the Moor and ride with the wind in our faces.. I loved that…
        But then funds got tight with my parents and at 14 the lessons stopped.. at 15 i started work in a factory and well, horses were then in my dreams! as I had to help with paying my wages to the family…. Things were tough, but I guess I wouldnt have had them any other way, as all life experiences shape us to who we are today.
        Love to you and have a great week 🙂

  19. This is the story of our wonderful march forward into the brave new world. Just too sad to think about.

  20. Have we not all seen the old become the new… specially of my age… I came from a small town in a country that no longer exists… when asked I always say Rhodesia.. but after the political upheavals and the changes that have been made, my country no longer exists… and to be honest with what is happening in that country I don’t want to have people think I come from Zimbabwe… but one thing… our memories can never be erased and that is a true blessing…

  21. I am facing the same issue – I am no longer from place where I was born and brought up as their problems are not any longer mine but at the same time I do not belong to the places I have been moving into since I have left my homeland. Even if I treat any of them as my place, people still remind me that I am not from there asking the second question – ‘but where are you from originally?’ ….

  22. Even if the place we grew up looked familiar, it would still be different – smaller, populated in a different way, rearranged by technology. They say you can never go home again and I think they are right. My husband was from a small burrough in the Bronx. It looks exactly the same but he says it just isn’t.

  23. Jerry Warshaw said:

    What a wonderful piece and not because I am your brother. I remember digging a hole in the mud behind our house and pretending I was trapped in a coal mine. When I came home full of mud our mother told me a good coal mine manager would send somebody else to crawl on the mud and the next time I should convince my friend Tommy to do it.

  24. Where are you from? This reminds me a great deal of a question like; Who Are You?.
    Change is the only constant thing in life. The name may be the same but the significance can keep assuming different concepts and directions. Places change, values change, concepts change and what defines us is not really where we are from but what we have in us and the changes we intend to make in our world. For the purpose of a mere conversation, you would always have an interesting start, whenever you are asked; where are you from?
    Lovely post!

  25. fransiweinstein said:

    Such a shame. I’m all for progress, but too much of we call ‘ progress’ is really totally the opposite. Most kids today sadly have no idea what you’re talking about and never will. Consider yourself lucky. My childhood was similar. I could also roam free with no fear. And we had breathing room between buildings. Those days are gone.

  26. Very poignant. I still say I’m from a small town in Connecticut that most haven’t heard of. But have been many places since then.

  27. Lisa Honecker said:

    What good story. It is always hard to transcend back to our happy past. Because of Storm Sandy my childhood at Chadwick Beach, New Jersey, is forever marred. It can only live in my memory. The small cottage with the un-graduated steps to the bedroom I shared with my cousin Heather. When you ran up the steps, you banged your shins every time. I think there is a short story there if I have the courage to write it. Good Job, Ronnie.

  28. jakesprinter said:

    Great Post my friend 🙂

  29. Like many people of us 🙂

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