Destiny Delivered

In America, your birthplace says it all.

By Ann Patchett

I am not from here.

I moved here the week before my sixth birthday. I grew up here. And even though I swore I would never do it, subscribing as I do to Thomas Wolfe's theories about going home again, I moved back 10 years ago, and it looks like I'm staying. But all of that counts for exactly nothing. In the South, you are either from a place or you are not, and coming close opens as many doors as a safe combination that is one number off. Had I moved here when I was six days old, it still would have made no difference. My birth certificate is always going to say Los Angeles. Not that anyone ever asks to see it. They don't have to. They know. Even after all these years I still emit that indescribable scent of foreignness. "Where are you from?" the old man checking out my groceries asks me by way of polite conversation.

"Here," I say too quickly. "I'm from here." I went to grade school here, I want to tell him. I bought a house here. I pay my taxes to the state. I have a Tennessee driver's license.

He is a careful man. He sets my eggs on the top of the sack. "You're not from here," he tells me.

When I am in New York or Chicago or Detroit and people ask me where I'm from, I say Nashville, and they buy it. After all, I possess many of the qualities that people who have never been to the South associate with southern women: I write thank-you notes, never pick up my fork before the hostess lifts hers, and can accurately apply my lipstick without benefit of a hand mirror. It's true, I do not have a southern accent, but that's because my father strongly suggested that I not pick one up when I was a child. But when people from Nashville ask me where I'm from, I inevitably wind up sounding like I'm lying, probably because I am lying. I know what they mean: from, born, began. They do not mean how long have I been in town.  

For the remainder of this article, e-mail us to purchase a back issue. Or read more excerpts from this issue.