Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On Becoming A "Local"

Is the place you live the same place as you were raised?

For most of the people that I encounter on a daily basis, here in the in the Washington, DC area, the answer is an emphatic no.

I live in Prince William County, Virginia, approximately 25 miles south of Washington, DC, and until about 25 years ago, Prince William would be considered by many to be a backwater. It hadn't yet been engulfed in the suburban sprawl that is now busy consuming green spaces with Ebola-like speed. The county population was fairly small, as it was mostly rural.

Fast forward to today. Prince William has a large population... I think it is the second most populace coutny in Virginia, behind our immediate neighbors to the north in Fairfax county... where some of the readers of this blog live.

Northern Virginia, and it's suburban Maryland counterparts, is home to huge numbers of government employees and military personnel, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of the people that you meet are originally from somewhere.

None of our neighbors are native to the area, and only three of my colleagues can claim to be life-long local residents.

Mrs Gunfighter and I came to this area in the 1980's, and moved into our house when we got married in 1994. Sprawl started even before we moved here, but, even then the differences were palpable. In 1994 we could still go to the grocery store and see blue-haired white women that routinely greeted us with: "Howy'alldoin'?" Not so much anymore.

In the past few years, much has changed. I have begun to feel like "a local". I have started to say "old guy" stuff like: "Remember when we moved here, and route 123 (or 234, or Spriggs road)was a winding two-lane road?". I have been wondering about this lately and I have decided that the catalyst between living in this community and being a part of this community is having children.

Soccergirl is our anchor here. We are involved in youth soccer, the church, girl scouts, and her school. Is it any wonder that we can be at the mall/bookstore/supermarket/you-name-it, and we see people we know... everywhere? Mrs G and I are not hugely social... in that we tend to go home and stay home, or do things together as we are busy most of the time, so our social interaction happens at soccer games, girl scout meetings, chatting with the "school moms" during school pick-up times (this is usually me).

Yesterday, I found myself talking, at different times with different parents about summer camps, travel soccer (no thanks!), school events for next year, vacation bible school, swimming lessons, day care and Tae Kwon Do all in the span of two hours. I talked with several parents and discovered that we knew people in common and wind up saying things like: "oh sure, I know her, she drives the green minivan with the Australia sticker on the back" or "Yeah, she goes to our church". Jeez, we even know some of the local politicians for whom streets and parks are named.

This place that we live, this bedroom community of commuters and SUV's (not us, thank you) has become our home. When I do the math, I come up with incontrovertible proof: I have lived here longer than I have lived in any one place in my life; we refer to the house at the corner of our street as "Tom and Arlene's house", even though Tom and Arlene sold that house and moved 10 years ago; we don't socialize with anyone (with the exception of sg's godparents, and them rarely) that we did when we moved here... back then, all our friends were DC friends from work; soccergirl is FROM here.. this area is the only home she has ever known, and will likely grow to adult hood right in this place.

Kind of strange, isn't it?

Adultood.... suburban parenting... being a local.


PT-LawMom said...

Gosh, I hope to get to that point someday. We moved a lot when I was a child - all over New Zealand and then throughout the U.S. Every time I felt "at home", we moved. And let me tell you, it's hard to go back. I lived in DC/VA on and off for 10 years and my son was born there. When Chapin and I moved away from DC two years ago, we picked a suburb of a large city with good schools, good people and a sense of community. We're hopeful that as Pumpkinhead starts school and we get involved in soccer, PTA, etc., we'll start to feel like "locals" and be happy to provide Pumpkinhead with a permanent home to come back to when he leaves the nest. That said, for me home is where my parents are -- no matter where that might be. They moved out of Georgetown to this suburb. We lasted about a month before following them. ;) If they weren't three blocks away, we might consider calling another town home.

Jenn in Holland said...

We obviously are not locals here at the moment, but it's an interesting world, this international community. Since none of us is really "home" then it follows that actually we all are. In that regard we have become established "locals" because we've been living as expats for more than a couple of months. So we are part of the crowd so to speak. That's one nice thing about it all is the instant community you have when you take on an adventure such as this.
Interestingly, the Dutch are notorious for staying close to home, but our street here is filled with folks who have done one or more stints overseas. So even though we are the only foreign nationals on the block we have a lot of empathetic neighbors who have 'been there, done that' as expats to another country themselves once. That's kinda cool.

KarenO said...

"Soccergirl is our anchor here." Wow - how true is it that having children binds you closer to the community you live in! It's one of the most difficult things you have to deal with if you don't have children. But I have to agree with you that you become a local when you can say "remember when..." regarding something in your neighbourhood.

Leslie said...

We haven't been in our new home a year yet, but the same is true for us - Julia is our anchor where we live. I hope to have that rooted feeling you wrote about someday. For now, I'm okay with being "the new folks in town," or simply "Julia's Mommy," which is good because our town is so small, we'll probably be the new folks a long time.

Lawyer Mama said...

I really look forward to being a "local" here at some point, after a life time of moving around. We spent almost 10 years in D.C. though and that's my longest unbroken stretch anywhere. If you've been there since the 80's you're practically a native. I think 1 year in D.C. is like 3 years anywhere else!

cathouse teri said...

Seems like all I ever live in is bedroom communities.

Anne said...

I'm fairly close to being a local. An Army brat, I moved to Alexandria when I was nine years old. Without resorting to public true-confessions about my age, I lived there until I married at age 24 before moving to Baltimore, where I've been ever since and where we've raised our own two boys. Alexandria still feels like my home town. When I was a youngster, Prince William County was almost entirely rural--we often went camping there. I took my horseback riding lessons at a farm near what is now the Dulles Toll Road between Leesburg and Ox Road. I went to college in Fredericksburg, and the 50-mile drive was through countryside and farmlands. The DC suburbs stopped at Dale City, which was considered really remote. I had two of what used to be called "maiden aunts" who lived in the city at 18th and Columbia Road in a building called The Chatham. At some point, they became concerned about blight in the neighborhood and took an apartment on Connecticut Avenue just above Rock Creek Park. The Adams-Morgan neighborhood they left did, indeed, deteriorate pretty badly--but now it's revitalized. So I've seen it come around full circle. I'm too young to remember much about the streetcars, but I'm old enough to remember my inaugural ride on the first day of the first line of the Metro. Enough of this--it will turn into a memoir.

I vote for Robert Frost's definition of home:
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Gunfighter said...

Nice memories, Anne!

I don't think I care for Frosts definition.

I think of home as the place you always want to go back to.

Thats how I feel about where I live. I love our home. When we travel, no matter how good a time I had, I am glad to get back to our "fort" and pull up the drawbridge, where it is just the three of us.

Janet said...

Ah, if only it had water pressure it would be perfect, eh?

jessabean said...

Is it wrong that I still think Fredericksburg is "out there"? I can't believe you commute from there to Alexandria!

But you're right that it isn't backwater anymore; in fact it is the bane of my existence when I'm in I-95...so much traffic!

I'm glad you've found home, though. You make it sound like heaven. I have a sneaking suspicion DC/MD/VA might become my home as well, with Code's and my family living in the region.

Gunfighter said...

Yeah... if only yhe water pressure were better. Sigh!


Fredricksburg would be a bit out there for me if I were doing the commuting thing... but F'burg is about twenty five miles south of Woodbridge, where I live.

jennifer said...

I love posts about what "home" really means. I feel like that's all I write about... so thanks for this one.

jessabean said...

Oops, wrong place! You caught me. I wasn't even reading correctly. My mind is a bit fried--I wrote that comment after a long and torturous evening training session at work.

WOODBRIDGE is closer, yes. I lived in Centreville for a time and commuted to Arlington, so I guess I can't say I would never live "so far away." Still don't envy your drive, though! :)

Gunfighter said...


I work in Alexnadria... not far from the Edsall road exit... My commute is nothing.

Desert Songbird said...

My husband and I have had this conversation quite a bit lately. We live in the fastest growing county in the US, and most people don't live here for more than five years. We've been here for almost 17 years; this is the only home my children have ever known. We remember the abandoned orange groves and vineyards that have been replaced by the now decade old mall, the six lane freeway by-pass, and the numerous master-planned communities.

We commented to each other recently, when we attended yet another funeral for a friend, "You know you've lived here a long time when you've attended multiple funerals for friends and their families." Sad, but true.

Lene said...

Like so many people, the location we are currently in is most definitely not home. The only people that can really call this home are the migrant Cubans, but even so - it really isn't home for them.

I look forward to the day where we can plant some roots!