Defining “home” has always been difficult for me.
I grew up a child of Missouri transplants. My parents, both from upstate New York, moved us to Saint Charles when I was five, but Saint Charles was never classified as “home” in their eyes.
The pizza was wrong, the weather was too hot, tornadoes had never been on their radar before, and the distance from family was just too great. Our inside joke with everyone quickly became “Misery loves company.” It was our half-hearted attempt at getting family to visit.
Each Christmas we would pile up into the car and “go home” (aka drive 18+ hours back to upstate New York). That’s where the good food was. That’s where the aunts, uncles, and cousins were. That was where Christmas and New Year’s where always spent. From that point on, my definition of “home” was skewed. Even now, at 24 years old, I still feel a stronger connection to New York than I do to Missouri and I didn’t really live there.
It’s the state that’s on my birth certificate, but do I remember a second of my first four years of childhood? No. However, every time I visit my family back in New York, it feels right. The things that have happen in New York, weather good or bad, have always made me feel closer to my family. New York has always been connected to a celebration or life-altering event in my life.
Case and point, this past weekend my family and I went for a whirlwind vacation back to Utica, NY to celebrate my paternal grandfather’s 90th birthday. My grandpa is probably my favorite man in the whole world. He is the poster-man for hardwork and has a bigger heart than most even though he’s seen so much heartache throughout his life. Almost everyone in my family made it to his party, which is saying something seeing as we have over 35 people spread across the US in our immediate Nolan clan.
Before that, the last time I went up to Utica was Christmas 2017. Even before that, we were in Watervliet, NY for my maternal grandmother’s funeral in June 2017. The beauty of her funeral was the fact that she made it home even though she had been living with us in Missouri for the last three years. When the time came, she brought all of us back home–which I believe was her final wish, even if she didn’t ever say it out loud.
New York State is a safe haven for me, like “home” is for most people. The only problem is that I live 18 hours away. I credit our connection to New York State with my willingness to travel. Getting in a car, plane, or train for a ridiculous amount of time has never bothered me. A piece of me finds it normal.
My love for Utica in particular has also taught me the importance of regional cuisines. When you go to Utica you have to have tomato pie, chicken riggies, a cold can of Utica Club, and finish it all off with a half-moon cookie. It’s just like when you’re in STL you have to have toasted ravioli, Imo’s Pizza, a cold can of Bud, and finish it all off with gooey butter cake.
As time has passed, I’ve become more connected to Saint Louis, MO. I’ve learned to love parts of it (I still can’t stand the pizza) and my obsession with New York has subdued. However, I still find myself questioning what “home” really is.
As of now, at my not-so-wise age of 24, I think I’ve come to believe at least one thing about home: There is no place like “home,” but “home” isn’t always one place.
Home can be Upstate New York, Missouri, and Ireland. It can be the house I ran to when I scrapped up my knee and it can be the farmhouse I visited each summer with family friends out in Washington, MO. Each of the locations I have listed here have memories. They’re all different, but each location has made me feel safe and has helped me grow into the person I am today.
“Home” is a fluid term. It’s a place where things can be good, bad, and anything in between. But, please take a minute to consider that home doesn’t have to be in one state, one country, or even in one house.