Home is Where the Heart is.

One of the scariest things about moving away from a long-time home is the idea of starting over again, from scratch. Finding the nearest grocery stores and other preferred shops, setting up new doctors and a dentist, figuring out if the area where you think you want to purchase a home is actually the area in which you think you’ll be happy long-term, and so many other details can be completely overwhelming. Multiply that frustration by three or four times if your long-time home also happens to be the city where you’re from originally and then multiply that by ten times if you’re a control freak who hates change. I know, that’s a lot of math for a Monday.

That’s why, when Jim was in need of a new job last summer and couldn’t find anything in the Chicago area so he started searching elsewhere, I was terrified. I knew (and stated it loudly and often–to everyone around me and also myself–throughout the process) that everything would be fiiiiiine when we finally landed, but the entire process was anxiety-inducing and the idea of leaving Chicago was a nightmare in my mind.

Then he was hired by a company in Knoxville, where our story began; we met in high school here more than thirty years ago. While the anxiety and general upset about moving away from my hometown didn’t magically disappear, that we were returning to our roots was in many ways very comforting. We’d still have to find doctors and such but we are intimately familiar with this town: his parents have lived here ever since we left the first time and mine moved away for a while but returned years ago. We knew exactly where we wanted to live, which was on the same side of town where we both lived back then and fairly equidistant to our parents’ houses, downtown, and the airport. We found the perfect house for us in the perfect location, even though it’s in the backyard of our rival high school, something I make a much bigger deal out of out loud than it actually is. As I predicted, everything is fiiiiiine now. To be honest, I love it here.

The thing is, while life is pretty great in the Chicago area, it’s also pretty great here. My fellow Midwesterners are super friendly, and so are the folks here in East Tennessee. In fact, while hard-core feminists may balk at being called “Sweetie”, “Love Bug”, “Darlin”, or “Sugar” by total strangers, that kind of stuff is totally charming to me when it’s clearly meant kindly and innocently. In fact, a couple of weeks ago at two different stores, the cashiers (one of whom, I’m certain, was at least a decade younger than I) both called me “Sweet Girl”. At forty-eight years old, while I am often sweet I know my girlish days are long gone so I’ll take it. I swooned a little bit as I smiled and walked out with my purchases both times. Ah, Southerners.

When we first moved here, if I mentioned that I had attended high school here and recently moved back after being away for thirty-one years, more often than not the response would be, “Oh! Welcome home!”

My response to that would be an uncontrollable shrieking noise and the firm statement that “Actually, Chicago is my hometown.”

Okay, the shrieking noise only happened in my head.

The “Chicago is my hometown” defiance, however, did indeed happen out loud. I started out here being so protective of my roots that I didn’t truly pay attention to what I had adopted as a personal mantra to help get myself through the transition: “You can take Melisa out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of Melisa”. Once I started absorbing that mantra and living its truth, things changed for me.

Being in Knoxville doesn’t erase my Chicago roots. In fact, I’ve learned that home really is where the heart is, and I’ve truly got a soft spot in my big ole’ heart for both cities.

Here, I can drive around and relive my teen years. I live just down the street from my orthodontist’s office, which is now owned and operated by his son. The Target that is closest to my house is the same one my mom and I used to visit every single Sunday after we grabbed the ad out of the newspaper. Right near that Target is a salon that used to be a Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor, a Friday night date destination for Jim and me. Across the street from that is the movie theater where I saw many films but most memorably, it’s where my friends took me to see the Talking Heads movie “Stop Making Sense” in order to distract me on the day Jim left for boot camp. I live ten minutes away from my old house (and Jim’s old house, which was in the next subdivision over). I can go grab a Coke or an ice cream cone from the McDonalds just outside my high school, where I worked for two and a half years with a crew full of great friends. I’m five minutes away from the mall where Jim and I spent hours and hours (and hours) as teenagers. The hotel that my dad was hired to manage, the one that brought my family to Knoxville, was torn down a few years ago but the second one he managed, the one that has the gazebo which was the setting for pictures on my graduation day, is still standing and I drive by it all the time. Some of my high school friends still live here. Knoxville is in my heart.

I was born in Chicago and have many childhood memories there, and it’s also the area in which Jim and I raised our kids. I wrote a Chicago travel guide. I was very involved with the Chicago blogging community and am blessed to have countless friends in the city and surrounding suburbs. I co-produced a show there. I love Chicago for all that it has given me and for all that it is. I always will.

Life is full of lessons if you just open your eyes (and your mind) to them.

These days, if I happen to bring up the fact that Jim and moved back to Knoxville earlier this year and then the local person with whom I’m chatting welcomes me home, I no longer bristle. I just say…”Thank you.”

More than one home


  • Kari Wagner Hoban

    I think this is one my favorite posts you’ve written. I love that home can be many places. I have lived in the Chicago area for almost 30 years and when I first moved here, I hated it. I didn’t want it to be home. I missed Ohio terribly and told everyone out here, ”oh, I am from Ohio and I won’t be here long”.
    28 years later……
    I can’t imagine living anywhere else but I am open to living somewhere else and this post gives me a little nudge to say, change is okay.
    Sending you a huge hug.

  • Jenn

    Oh, Melisa, this is one of my favorites! Partially because of the child hometown I left 30+ years ago is still the answer I give when people ask “Where are you from?” But? I’ll be coming back and reading this over and over and over soon-ish when I need to remind myself that I can have two homes. Sending you many hugs. Love you!