The veterans writing group had the following prompt: Where are you from? When people ask that question how do you answer? With the name of a town? Your state of origin? Where you live now? Does it depend on whether you are near your home or in a foreign country? Has the answer changed since your days in the service?
Minus the military service portion, here’s my answer.
Old Saybrook. Connecticut. New England. Near New York. I give one of those answers depending on who is asking and where I am. Any place in Connecticut and pretty much most of the Northeast, I’ll say Old Saybrook, and people nod. Even though it’s small, circa 10,000 people, it’s a stop on Amtrak between Boston and NYC and several exits on I-95. Outside the state, I’ll go with the next three answers on a widening geographic area. “Near New York” works in Europe, though it’s likely to bring questions such as, “Oh, do you know my cousin, friend, etc. who lives in New York?” Americans aren’t the only ones with a vague sense of geography and population.
There’s a variation on “Old Saybrook,” which is to omit the Old, something that anyone lived in town before 1947 said. That was the year Deep River became a separate town. Those of us who heard it still say it, though now it yields a puzzled look, followed by “Isn’t it Old Saybrook?” I sigh and say yes.
When I was younger “Where are you from?” often was code for “What race are you?” My unhelpful answer was Old Saybrook. And people would say, “Where are you really from?” And I would say, “I was born there, and so was my mother.”
Even though I lived for fifteen years in Philadelphia and have lived in Deep River, briefly in Chester, then in Cromwell, and Middletown, I’m still from Saybrook – or Old Saybrook, if you prefer.