Friday, May 21, 2010

Hometowns: Upstate New York, East Tennessee

I have two places that hold the title of "hometown," two different worlds, two different slices of Americana. From Wikipedia:

1. Geneva is a city in Ontario and Seneca counties in the U.S. state of New York. The population was 13,617 at the 2000 census. Some claim it is named after the city and canton of Geneva in Switzerland. Others believe the name came from confusion over the letters in the word "Seneca" written in cursive.

2. Blount County is a U.S. county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Its population was 105,823 at the United States Census, 2000. The county seat is at Maryville, which is also the county's largest city. It is included in the Knoxville, Tennessee, Metropolitan Statistical Area.

I was raised in western New York, which, unless you live in New York, is known as "upstate" (because everything not in NYC is upstate). I grew up in a neighborhood in the city of Geneva, but we moved out to live on our lake property when I was in 6th grade. This was the view I awoke to for many, many years.

Geneva is a small, largely Italian-American town. When I was growing up, it had dirty streets and run-down buildings, just like everywhere else in the 1970s and 80s. Now it's been cleaned up, and the lake shines like diamonds beyond the row houses and carefully placed benches along Main Street. It's a beautiful place.

Last summer my parents sold our house there. It still makes me get weepy to read this post, called House. I've written a lot about Geneva on this blog, and I noticed that I always call it "my hometown." Here's something I wrote a couple of years ago while visiting my parents:

There's a curious dichotomy of familiarity and strangeness that invariably comes with being in the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Not much has changed in my hometown—or rather not as much as one would expect in the past 24 years. Of course I've been back annually in those 24 years since my parents still live here, but in the area where I live now, a whole lot can change in the course of a year. I can't even imagine the number of retail stores, restaurants, and subdivisions that have gone up in Blount Co., Tennessee in the past year. Here in Geneva, I've noticed but one building (Pudgies Pizza) bulldozed down and a Tim Horton's has gone up across the street from Dunkin' Donuts. I think I counted three new houses on a little cul de sac on Snell Road. That's about it.

Seneca Lake looks the same as always. There are the familiar sails of a regatta on weekend mornings (or "ricotta," as Duncan says) down by the Yacht Club. The hum of weekend boaters and the small lapping of the waves on the beach. Voices calling out from docks to houses. In town, Main Street looks just as it did when I walked on it three decades ago, tossing newspapers onto front porches with Lisa. The Baltimore-style row houses still look sharp and historic; the lady-of-the-fountain still gushes water on Park Place. Nothing's changed at the colleges—Hobart and William Smith—except maybe a new sign or two. …

But with all these familiar things, I can't shake the feeling of being a stranger in my hometown. My friends mention people and I search for the memory of a face. I can't help but feeling now and then, erroneously, I know, that lives have stood still for those who have remained here. I know that is a completely false perception, but it adds to the strangeness of coming back to my hometown.…

Dr. H. always says my New York accent comes back for a brief appearance after a trip to my hometown. I started hearing the upstate nasal twang about 15 years ago: the incomplete "r's" and the harsh vowels. Upstaters are way toned-down from downstaters, but there is something there, for sure, something fast and a little hard. I am missing the gentle cadence of the south. We have just over two full days left here before we head back to Tennessee. The next time I come back to Geneva, I'll be a full-fledged visitor, assuming that my parents will have sold their house here by then. I'm ready for that, I think. I'm so far from the girl I was when I lived here that I can't even conjure up more than ghosts of emotions. There's no question where my home is now.

There are so many emotions attached to that little city on the lake, but for me, my home now is outside the Smoky Mountains, just south of Knoxville. On a rainy day like today, the view from my front window looks like this:

I write a lot about our adventures in the Smoky Mountains. We call it our big backyard. I love the South. I love the people and the climate and the slow pace of life. I love the wild abundance of green and the softness of the people.

For tourism, well, 8 million people visit our area each year. Besides the mountains themselves, we have Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and all the attractions there, from Dollywood (which really is fantastic) to outlet shopping. And we live just 15 minutes from Knoxville, where you can find pretty much anything to do. Dr. H. is a professor at the University of Tennessee, and football season around here is just an amazing thing. The whole area becomes a sea of orange, and those who support other schools are enemies, pure and simple.

Two hometowns, two places that live in my heart. But if I were given the ultimatum—pick one, and live there forever—the choice would be easy.

I'm not budging from where I am now.

Linked up to Kelly's Korner


  1. A lovely post that echoes many of the same sentiments I have about my two hometowns. :) Nicely done.

  2. I came from Kelly's Korner. I used to live near Geneva, my father was stationed at Seneca Army depot in the late 70's early 80's when I was in elementary school.We used to go to Geneva often.

  3. I love upstate New York!! My family hails from Roscoe, NY actually and a couple of my cousins own a farm in Cortland as well. I used to fly up there every summer to spend time on the farm. It was so special to me. Gosh I miss it!

  4. We live about three hours from Pigeon Forge and have visited it, Gatlinburg and The Smokies Mountains often. Love the Smokies.

  5. There's nothing like being in Blount Co. on a Sat. when the Vols are at home! :D

  6. I'm from way upsate NY, Massena to be exact! I live in Nashville and just adore the south!

  7. And for the Rest of us Cummins' it's Carbondale

    Carbondale, "The Capital of Southern Illinois", is a city in Southern Illinois. It is located at the junction of Illinois Route 13 and U.S. Route 51, 96 miles (154 km) miles southeast of St. Louis, Missouri, on the northern edge of the Shawnee National Forest. It is known as a liberal community in largely conservative Southern Illinois. Carbondale is the home of the main campus of Southern Illinois University. It is also one of the largest retail trade centers south of St. Louis. The city and the university have developed a dynamic economy and diverse population that totals over 45,000.[citation needed] The city is located in Jackson County, Illinois. As of a special 2008 census, the city had a total population of 26,231[1].

    In 1971, Carbondale won the All American City achievement award, and was a finalist in the 2009 contest.[2][3] The city is part of the Metro Lakeland area.

  8. i like where you live, too. waking up to a mountain view was amazing. my one regret about our trip (we returned home yesterday) is that i wish i'd spent more time sitting on that deck with a cup of coffee looking out at the mountains. but there always seemed to be food to fix or an outing to get ready for... we did focus on enjoying the unique beauty of the area while we were there, though. with the exception of dixie stampede, everything we did was outdoors. it was a great place to visit.

    but, i like where *i* live too. your backyard is the big hills; ours is the Big Lake. that works for us.


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