the hometown boogie

by Toni McGee Causey


“Where are you from?”

It’s an innocent, easy question, right? Drives me nuts to answer it, and now, it’s just gotten more complicated.

I’m “from” a small town just northeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana (Kinder), if what the questioner wants to know is “where were you born?” But I didn’t live there long. I lived briefly in Lake Charles and then Breau Bridge and then Baton Rouge and then Zachary and then back to Baton Rouge (for a long time) and now, I divide my time between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

I just say, “Louisiana” to make it easy, but someone always ends up asking questions to try to narrow that down (if they’re from here). 

Less difficult, up until a couple of months ago, was “what’s your hometown?” and that was pretty easy: Baton Rouge. It’s where I’ve lived for 29 years. It’s the home of the LSU Tigers (not that I’ve ever mentioned that here) and there are tons of good people and great food. I lamented to my oldest son, Luke, that there wasn’t that much to do there and he listed off a couple of dozen things that there were to do, from the symphony to the Little Theater productions (which are, frankly, quite good), so I think my only real problem with Baton Rouge is that it’s much easier for me to be a hermit there and not participate. 

The last couple of months, though, we’ve been in New Orleans. The move was supposed to be temporary because it’s work-related, but we do love it here, and after the job is done, who knows? We’re in the Quarter, where it’s almost impossible to be a complete hermit, and that’s even when you’re not into the drinking/night-life. There are several dozen things to do and see all within walking distance, or a very short drive, which is appealing. [Just last Sunday, for example, we had lunch at a local cafe and then wandered down Royal, meandering into art galleries. One of the managers of the galleries showed off some of their very expensive originals that they keep locked in a back room.Carl admired his guitar, and before we knew what was happening, we were seated on a sofa and he was jamming out old Johnny Cash songs, playing for us like we were a room of a thousand: so much energy and enthusiasm, and talent, and when it was over, it felt like an event.]

Most of the locals don’t really hang out at the Quarter, unless they live here (like us), so you get a pretty fun assortment of tourists from all over the world. It’s a fascinating cross-section for a people-watcher/writer, and fun for eavesdropping for ideas. (Oh, the ideas….)

What I like best about the Quarter, though, is not the noise or the food or the architecture – well, it’s all of those things combined – but what I like best are the very early mornings when dawn is cracking open the sky over the old buildings, some which have been here since the early 1800s, and you get to see the real Quarter – the people who work here, prepping for the day ahead. Someone pressure washing a sidewalk, someone else setting up a restaurant, delivery men shouting to each other the news of the day as they pass, a few drunk tourists trying to toddle home, doing that ‘I’m not really drunk’ walk where they stare straight ahead, zombie-like, trying to fool everyone and failing exponentially. Living here is a bit like living out behind the big top of a circus, where you see the equipment piled up, the magicians prepping the show for the night to come, where musicians are winding down and counting their tips and the dancers and bouncers are warily walking to their cars. 

It’s an interesting place, for a writer. I’m not sure it’s home, and N’awlins is much more than the Quarter — the locals will be quick to tell you that — but it’s fast becoming another hometown for me. We only half-way joke that we wish we could do this in several other major cities–have a job that would take us there for a year or so. There are a dozen places I’d love to live, love to know it as intimately as one would a home town.

Does a home town define us? Or do we, in some way, define it? 

What if it were wiped away? New Orleans almost was, during Katrina. Some of it has come back fine–some will be gone forever. It’s grown again from the mud and the debris and stood proud and even won the SuperBowl… but everywhere I go, there are still scars. Empty storefronts. Rotting houses. Roads that are in desperate need.

And then I look at the images coming in from Japan, and I am rendered speechless. Heartbroken. I cannot look at this, without choking up. Imagine if everything you knew was gone. So much of your own family–your history–your place in this world: wiped out. It is astonishing, the fortitude the Japanese people have shown in the face of this destruction and I am in awe of them. In awe of the firefighters and men who are trying to keep the nuclear power plant cool. The men who you know… you know, despite claims otherwise… are going to have practically committed suicide by going into that plant every day to try to prevent it from melting down. They’re saving lives. And all those other people, digging through the rubble, counting bodies. It’s devastating. 

What if my own home town–my sense of place–had been ripped from me? Would I still be me?Would I be the same? What would you miss the most? (besides the amenities) 

What do you love about your home town? Do you have more than one to claim? Have you moved around a lot? Enjoyed it? Hated it? And where would you stay put, if you could only choose one place on earth?


20 thoughts on “the hometown boogie

  1. Kathy Collings

    What a great article. Thank you. As for me, I have moved around but home has always been somewhere in the pacific NW. All those homes live in my soul. The favorite, well, I miss it. I cherish the time in the solitude among the trees and wildlife. And if I was settled in a place without them, I would forever miss the trees and underbrush and green. My choice of that "only one place on earth" would be back on that 164 acres of solitude on the canal. If my home was destroyed, perhaps I would do what many have done, walk back to where it used to be and again make it home.

  2. Catherine

    I'm semi living in the city I was born in. To start with I was only there 10 days and then my adoptive parents took me home, to a little inland sugar cane town. When I was about 3 we moved onto the other half of my grandparents block of land down near the sea. I remember (this must be one of my first memories) Dad making a big fuss out of the last bricks being put into place below my bedroom window. This house was opposite a creek. I loved playing on, in and around this creek. I lived in trees, made cubby houses, later sneaked cigarettes in the hollows of the banks. Learned to run around the block to manage seething teenage anger against pretty much everything while living in that house. I loved riding my bike up to the beach and just breathing in the salt air. Even after I was married I got a kick out of riding along the beach paths getting my hair tossed about, and watching people surf at the bluff.

    Then sometime in my late twenties we all moved inland, to the place where we and later I mainly raised our children. A town surrounded by farm land and virgin rainforest. Lately I've been chafing against whatever held me here…so now I'm semi-living in the city of my birth. Finding new cafes, learning new ways to get about. I'm looking forward to organising a canoe trip on the river at night some time.

    I haven't moved around all that much. Each of the towns I've lived in are with an hour and a half driving distance of each other. I think the one thing they have in common is that I can always seem to find the wild places within. Not the crazy night places, although I seem to be able to find that easy enough, more the places where I can feel the elements, and not so much the fumes. I don't have some urge to be only in one place. I feel a bit twitchy thinking about what it would be like to only live in one place…

  3. Grace

    I have moved from the east to the west coast and back to the east again – countless different homes when growing up. Married and raising our children, we had four different homes now living in our fifth and most likely last one. Moving has been a way of life for me and I confess I get restless when I'm somewhere longer than 5 years but getting older is starting to slow me down.

    As far as Japan, and those who lost everytning, almost too painful to think about. I admire their strength, resilency, going on with their lives despite the pain of loss and deprivation. They are heroes, every last one of them, inspirational people whose courage is a message to us all.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Alafair Burke

    Really thoughtful post. Strangely I think of Portland as my hometown even though I neither grew up or currently live there. But it's the place I always feel I know and the place I keeping back to. That's the closest thing i know to call home.

  5. Louise Ure

    I'm jealous of your Louisiana heritage. I'm from Tucson but today I call myself a San Franciscan. And I do not have the strength of the Japanese.

  6. Barbie

    I've lived here almost my whole life (except for the five months I live in Reno), here being Fortaleza, Brazil and… I honestly don't have any strong attachment with this place. It doesn't mean I don't love it, that I don't cherish it. I like living here. I like that we're a 3 million people city by the beach. I love the restaurants, the malls, the buildings, some days, the traffic, and, good Lord, the food. I love that our accent is so distinct, you can tell my state by talking to me and that we speak the aspirated /t/.

    But I wouldn't mind moving, building my life somewhere else. My only real attachment to this place is my mom and my brother (I won't even say family, because I'd leave my father and even my sister behind and not actually miss them — I barely see them anyway), and, with them, I'd go anywhere. You see, I'm very easy to please. When I lived in Reno, I missed two things: mom and brother (that's being one thing) and Brazilian food. So, you put me in a city that is big enough to have malls 10 minutes from each other, and I'm game. Malls and restaurants are the only essentials in a city to me. It's pretty much all I ever do, where I ever go.

    Sounds superficial, I know. Maybe I am a shallow person. I'm not into History or Heritage, I'm into Food and Shopping. Umm… I'm gonna go hide now…

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni

    I've also lived a bunch of places. Someone asked me yesterday where my accent was from and I responded that it's a mongrel hybrid of all kinds of different places in the UK.

    I weep for Japan, but feel emotional overload at the news coverage. It feels like it's picking over their tragedy with an almost salacious glee.

    And where do I feel at home? With Andy. At the moment, home is a hotel room in rainy Sacramento.

  8. judy wirzberger

    I loved Catherine's place of memories. It is't where I lived as much as the memories I have wrapped around myself. Aunts and uncles and cousins. Warm summer evening and lightening bugs floating on the warm air. Smooth wood floors and chairs scraping; the smell of fresh beer and the sound of my Aunt's open hearted laughter. And love pouring sunshine on my days and fanning me to sleep.

    Where am I from? If I told you the name of the city, you would shudder and step back a pace, look away fearful I might have a gun or blade tucked under my jacket. But I am from before that, before a bite was taken from the apple.

  9. Kim C

    Home, That's tough one. When I dream of home, I dream of the house we lived in for my grade school years, though I never think of that city, Milwaukee, as home. I've lived in the Los Angeles area for 15 years now, but I'm not sure I think of it as home either. I kind of feel like home is where you feel at peace with the environment, the earth, the locals, the architecture, the vibe… where you can be yourself, relax and breathe. I've traveled a lot and found very few places that have resonated with me in that manner. Paris, the Marais specially, was one. I could live there and feel at home, you know, other than that whole language barrier thing. I currently live in the South Bay, a beach community between Los Angles and Long Beach, and I guess this is the closest I've ever really felt to home, and yet I have this unyielding sense that it isn't, that I've yet to really find 'home'. Crazy, I know.

  10. Rae

    Such a great post, thanks!

    I have a couple of homes. One is in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I've been for 35 years (and doing that math is sort of shocking – it sure doesn't feel as if that much time has passed). The other is in northern Idaho, in the town where I did most of my growing up. I rediscovered it a few years ago, and completely surprised myself by choosing to grow new roots there; when I left back in the day, I would've bet good money that I'd never be back.

    The other place that really feels like home to me is Paris. I have no idea how it happened, but from the first moment I set foot there, I was just completely comfortable. The bummer is that I just can't get there often enough.

    I did move around a lot when I was younger, and didn't much care for it. I like roots, but I also like being in different places. So it's nearly impossible for me to pick just one place to stay put. In my perfect world, I'd spend quality time in my two existing places, plus New York and Paris. And as soon as I win the lottery, that's just what I'll do 🙂

  11. Gayle Carline

    My hometown is mostly depressing – a place I'm FROM but it's not really in my heart. Your post reminded me of a trip I took to Baldwin, LA with my hubby and son for my hubby's grandmother's 100th birthday. Our son was two and loved cars, so we were in the church parking lot admiring vehicles when about five or six little black girls came up to us. Oh – let me point out that hubby is black and I am white. The tallest girl stepped forward and said, "Where you at?"

    I said, "Um, well, we're staying over at the motel."

    She scowled a little, then said, clearly enunciating, "No. Where. Are. You. From?"

    "Oh, we're from California."

    "Ooooohhhhhh," said all the little girls, and they ran off.

    I love Louisiana.

  12. lil Gluckstern

    I was born in Haiti during World War II-long story-raised in New York City, lived all over New England and loved it. The I moved to the West Coast and fell in love. California is such a beautiful state. I now live just south of San Francisco in a little town called Half Moon Bay, and I'm right where I want to be. I would like to live in San Francisco, but I can't afford it, and my other favorite city is Boston. They both resonate with history, and beauty. New york is now overwhelming to me. I loved your pictures, and it's good to hear about New Orleans coming back. I fear that the Japanese have a terribly hard and painful road to come back after such destruction-heart breaking.

  13. Catherine

    Thanks Judy. The good thing about memories is you can take them with you. Although as a general description I would say I live in SE Queensland ( both Brisbane the state capital, and a little country town) I'm drawn back time and again to the wild places, especially water ways.

    The place I grew up in has changed beyond recognition over the years. The massive tree that I used to escape my sister in to read for hours was knocked down to make way for a car park. One branch of the creek was similarly filled in as part of this car park. Over the years the mudflats were gouged out and evened out then lined with stone and wire on the remaining part of the creek. However I still have years of memories of what it felt like wild. For which I am truly grateful.

    I think a place where you feel at home is transferable. I felt very much at home in the swamp around a lake in Central Florida. Also the architecture, mobs of tourists and sea breezes evoked a feeling of home to me in Key West.

    Maybe it's easier for me to hold onto memories as the transition to the land was gradual. Hurtful yes, but without loss of life. That to me is the base line. A place can reshape or rebuild, but people lost …truly heart breaking.

    Toni thanks again for another thought provoking topic. It's been interesting seeing what evokes a sense of home for everyone.

  14. Reine

    Love this post, Toni.

    I was born in Salem, Massachusetts, but I usually say I'm from Marblehead. Although I've lived in many places across the country, that is where my heart is.

  15. Reine

    Love this post, Toni.

    I was born in Salem, Massachusetts, but I usually say I'm from Marblehead. Although I've lived in many places across the country, that is where my heart is.

  16. toni

    Thank you, everyone. I ended unexpectedly gone all day and am just now able to check in. I have loved so much reading about what makes your hometown "yours" for you. And it's refreshing how many of us feel that way about our adopted cities and towns.

    You 'Rati are beautiful.

  17. Allison Brennan

    I was born in San Carlos, California and lived there (or next door) for my first 18 years. With 2 brief years in Santa Cruz and a couple in Los Angeles, I've lived in (or outside) Sacramento since 1995. It's my home. But while I like it here, everytime I go elsewhere, I picture myself living there, what I like about each place. I rarely think about what I don't like. I could live in New York City, Lake Tahoe, Seattle, San Diego, an island in the Pacific Northwest, Denver, New Orleans, most anywhere (though Orlando? Not so much. Humidity. Yuck.) I know Atlanta is humid, but I love it when it's not. Sort of like The Who song that goes, "I like every minute of the day," I like different places for different reasons. I don't know if I'll ever move again, but I'd like to. Someday.

    If I missed anything, I think it would be comfort. Not amenities, but knowing where everything is, knowing people in town, the contentment that goes with familiarity.

  18. Kagey

    I've lived in six states, and there have been times when I felt rootless, with no defined home. There was a time when I was fiercely proud of being a Kansan, especially when I went away to college out-of-state, and being a Kansan was a novelty. I lived in a small town from age 7-17, and there is still something about a huge sky and prairie as far as you can see that sings beauty to me, in stark contrast to the complaints of boredom on I-70 from friends trying to just drive through.

    Now, this little neighborhood in a Denver suburb is home. I can tell I'm settling in because I'm paying attention to local politics more, I've got great neighbors I can depend upon in a pinch, and I know all the back ways to get to things. But it's more about people than place.

    But I also have an odd connection to small towns in the middle of Illinois, where my parents hail from. We used to spend part of every summer, as well as every other Christmas, driving there, staying on the farms that my parents each grew up on. I was not a farm kid, but for a few weeks here and there, I walked fields, bottle fed calves, and knew the smells of alfalfa, tractor exhaust, and cow manure. The air is thick with humidity, the nights dotted with fireflies, and my ears ring with katydids. Maybe it's genetic memory, but some part of that will always be home, too.

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