Thanksgiving means the repetition of certain traditions: browned turkeys, afternoon football, sneering during political speeches of inebriated aunts between dinner and dessert. When I was growing up, my grandmother would put The Wizard of Oz on the living room TV. It was always muted and no one watched it. But, my grandma insisted.
She left her home state of West Virginia around the same time my grandpa left Kentucky, both heading for Ohio. They settled into the tiny village of Nevada, Ohio and never left. In fact, they have been living in their white house with the black shudders and green porch for 40 years. As someone who lived in Nevada for 18 years, I still can't comprehend why someone would want to live there, let alone for that long.
When I graduated high school, I moved (read as, "ran") to Columbus as fast as I could. Up until that point, Columbus was a mystical city where people went to get expensive clothes or eat dinner before prom. I grew up very poor, so walking around the Polaris mall was like a day-trip to Beverly Hills. The roads were so big and the sky was frequently punctuated by buildings even higher than the grain elevator two blocks from grandma and grandpas.
During college, Columbus quickly became Home for me. I drove all over town in the years I lived in the city, learning all the suburbs and the criss-crossing highway system. I scarfed down burgers at Thurman's and walked up and down the Short North more times than I'm willing to count. But, even though I loved it, I decided to go to Philadelphia for my Masters degree. I knew I had to leave Ohio for a few reasons, but the biggest was that damn Dorothy, muted, roaming around in the back of my head. I had to see the world and Columbus wasn't going to cut it.
So, I loaded up my Ford Focus and moved to a city I had visted once. I knew nobody and chose a house simply because it was halfway between downtown and my school. My first week in Philadelphia, I took the train (a terrifying experience for someone who had only taken the school bus by himself) downtown to explore. I exited the underground station at City Hall and surfaced beside the enormous Comcast Center. I wasn't in Kansas anymore. With all the beeping cars and street vendors and crowds of people, it was about as far from Kansas as I could've gotten. (Although, upon thinking about it, I think that'd actually be somewhere like Bangladesh. But, hey, I don't have a globe.)
Every day became a magical experience in my metropolis: The Piano Bar on Camac Street, eating lunch with a costumed Betsy Ross interpreter, catching the skyline at the perfect angle on South street. Not to mention, the total change in my writing style as I earned my degree. It wasn't all good, but it was all intense, colorful, and new. But, I was aware my movie was ending and I had already missed my hot air balloon.
So, after two years, I shocked my new friends in Philly by announcing I was returning to the Buckeye State. They couldn't comprehend why anyone would want to return to "a fly-over state with nothing but cornfields and republicans". They pointed out the museums, restaurants, and galleries. They looked at me the same way I looked at my grandparents, living in the shadow of Nevada's bright blue water tower. But, I clicked my heels, drove the eight hours home, and refused to look back. That was seven months ago.
Last night, after we celebrated Goatsgiving at our apartment (we named our house after the animal not the more modern "Greatest of all Time" phrase), my roommate, Jordan, said something that caught me off guard entirely. She said, "Sometimes I forget you lived in Philadelphia. It seems like you've always been here. It must feel like a dream to you." Now, I'm well-aware she meant this as a compliment, implying that we'd returned to normalcy quickly after my two-year hiatus of Ohio-ness. But, for me, I think about Philadelphia almost every day. Is this how the littlest Gale felt after she woke up, surrounded by her family, in her windswept bedroom?
I still know many people, in Nevada, Columbus, Philadelphia, who have never lived anywhere but their hometown. They are content with the set of streets they grew up cradled in. Sepia tones don't bother them, if we want to beat this metaphor just a little bit more. But, the things I've experienced have shaped me. I've had my share of lions and poppy fields and house-squashed sorceresses. And now, after growing up surrounded by the cornfields of that train-track bisected village, I've realized that I have two Emerald Cities: one that introduced me to Technicolor and one that caught me after the two-year Twister let me go.