I never felt at home where I grew up.
I was born and raised in Waukesha, WI. I was driven home from the hospital where I was born and graduated high school living in the same rural/suburban house 20 miles west of Milwaukee.
From an early age, I knew I didn’t belong there. At 12-years-old, I distinctly remember thinking to myself on an ice fishing trip that I would leave Wisconsin as soon as I had the chance.
I didn’t know exactly where I would go. I would have to travel from home to find my home.
The first time I travelled home occurred as a junior in high school visiting prospective colleges. I was drawn to the South since before I was a teen. Five minutes in Auburn, AL and I knew I was home for the first time.
Auburn was everything I was looking for: warm weather, small college town, great college football, pretty girls.
My first night there at 18-years-old, alone in my dorm room, not knowing a single person, truly away from home for the first time, I felt more at home than I ever did in Waukesha. More than 20 years later I can still recall the waves of joy which overcame me realizing I was finally where I felt I belonged.
In the words of John Denver, I was “coming home to a place he’s never been before.”
The next time travel would take me home occurred during my mid-30s after meeting my now-wife while we both lived in Atlanta. Her parents owned a rental condo on Amelia Island, FL that we would make the six-hour drive to when it wasn’t occupied by renters.
I had taken a short vacation to Amelia Island three or four years prior while living in Connecticut. It stood out to me among the many places I was fortunate to visit as not only a destination, but a place I could live. I could never imagine living in the Florida Keys or Hilton Head or San Diego or Las Vegas. Amelia felt different, livable.
After several trips to the Island with Kristi, a career opportunity in Jacksonville allowed us to make Amelia livable. We’ve been here since 2012 and have no intention of ever leaving – her more so than me.
I write “her more so than me” because as much as it feels like home to me, I know that feeling for me has traditionally been temporary. I have no desire to ever live in Auburn again or Atlanta, for that matter, which also felt like home. What Auburn and Atlanta offer I’m no longer interested in. The same phenomenon could occur on Amelia.
Fortunately, I’ve already traveled home again.
My brief time living in Oregon planted a seed inside me for the West. A trip to Jackson Hole, WY not long after I first visited Amelia Island gave it roots. I’d never been to Wyoming before and might still be there with the moose if it weren’t for jobs and bills.
Much the way I instantly felt home upon my first visit to Auburn, Kristi and I felt the same way during a trip to Breckenridge, CO in 2015. We visited for a long ski weekend that winter, becoming so taken with the place we went back for a week that same summer. At some point during that next trip we seemed to simultaneously look at each other and say, “I think I could live here.”
Our dream now is to spend summers in Breckenridge and winters on Amelia Island – why dream if your dreams aren’t big?
I am happy to be from Waukesha. I wouldn’t change that. I can appreciate it now more than I could then. It still doesn’t feel like home to me. It’s where I’m from, it isn’t home.
While vacations typically take us away from home, the trips which have had the greatest impact on my life have taken me to home.