Home on the Hill

Andrew Henderson

I’ve never quite understood the idiom “home is where the heart is.” At face value, it simply means that wherever you experience love and happiness is where your physical or metaphorical home is.

Maybe I’ve long rejected this idiom at face value because it downplays the other vital organs. Yes, the heart is an important organ for survival, but what about the brain, stomach or kidneys? What about the lingering attachment some of us have for our left pinky toes?

Now that I’ve worked at the Herald for almost two years, I’ve interviewed a good number of people. I always start with the same questions: “What’s your name?” and, after they help me spell it, “What year are you? Where are you from?”

I ask these questions so I can identify the person speaking in my stories and so people don’t think I’m making them up. I’ve interviewed people from Peru and Pakistan and, of course, a slew of folks who hail from Kentucky.

Asking people where they’re from, I started wondering if the answers really indicated where they considered their true homes — the places where their hearts were, not just their residences.

Home is an important concept and a popular word; it falls in the top 30 percent of words on Merriam Webster’s online dictionary. For me, home is Olive Hill where I grew up, attended church, was involved with the community, graduated high school and spent the majority of my formative years. Part of my home is still Olive Hill as my metaphorical heart is still there, but now my home is also Bowling Green.

In an interview with the Atlantic, Susan Clayton, psychology professor at the College of Wooster, said for many people home is a part of their self-definition. Clayton went on to say that “for better or worse, the place where we grew up usually retains an iconic status.” For me, that means embracing my identity as an Appalachian and coming to terms with the complexities of that identity.

Curious to know what home meant to other people and if it had the same connotations for them as it did for me, I took to the shade of the red “Centennial” statue in Centennial Mall to ask people what home meant to them.

Taryn Mitchell, Chicago junior, said she made Kentucky her home after living here for three years. She has family in Chicago and Hawaii as well, but for her, home is wherever a person is happy.

Robert Dietle, head of the history department, said for him home means Bowling Green. He’s lived in the city for 24 years now. For Dietle, home means “a place where your family and friends live.”

Charlie Starmer, a freshman from Louisville, said home means the place where he can be the most comfortable with being himself, and right now his home is here at WKU.

Nashville freshman Jayla Jones said she considers her home to be where she grew up: Franklin, Tennessee. She said she has a lot of family there and has fond memories of spending time with her grandmother.

“Home means safe,” Jones said.

Lynette Breedlove, the director of the Gatton Academy, moved to Bowling Green a year and a half ago from Houston.She said the move from Houston to Bowling Green wasn’t as big of a transition as people might think. For her, establishing friendships and ties within the community made the transition easier.

“Home to me is warmth and safety and belonging,” Breedlove said.

Subarna Pandit, a first-year student from New Delhi, India, said her home is in India but also in Bowling Green. She said she misses her home, and it can be tough sometimes being so far away.

Pandit defined home as “[a] place I find comfort and want to go back to.”

Glasgow freshman Alex Sergent responded to the question initially with what he thought was a cliche, but then he followed up by saying home is wherever he is and wherever he finds enjoyment.

“I don’t necessarily need a base camp,” Sergent said.

Safety, belonging and comfort are likely all qualities people can agree home embodies for them. Or maybe you agree more with Sergent’s perspective that home is something you carry with you rather than a “base camp.”

Our definitions of what home is differ dramatically, and perhaps these individual differences can be attributed to factors like economics, mobility, choice and social standing. Regardless of differences, however, the meaning of home is crucial for all of us.