A hometown is like a first love. It resides in the recess of fondness, but as lifetime piles up, it becomes less real.
I’ve not seen the back roads or fields of Marion County in a long time. Occasionally I look at the photos, though not often. When I do this, I am always fond of the place. It is as if I’m observing the blush of youthful love.
Chicago, on the other hand, is like a marriage. It is at once joyful and rugged. It is a very real place. Sometimes I find myself a bit envious of those who grew up and remained here. They relate to the neighborhoods and streets in a way I cannot. I say I am sometimes envious, because more often than not I do not envy those who marry their high school sweetheart as it is something to which I cannot relate.
I do not know why I am quick to equate geography with relationship. It is only that it makes sense. The Pfalz was my nursemaid and the Canal Zone my nanny. New Jersey was a childhood friend and Ohio first love. In a certain way, all of that is literal, but I do not mean it in a literal way. I only mean places reside in my memory in these ways. If you grow up moving a lot, you have these experiences and at some point you find the place that is real.
Loving Chicago is akin to having a wife with beautiful hair and a crooked nose. She is capable of saying both the sweetest things and telling you like it is. She is often charming, but sometimes is not. She is often many things and often not these things, but she is always real.
Image: Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood