I was entering first grade when we moved to Morgan Hill, California, where we were promised endless sunshine and warmth all year-round, but got grey rainy winters instead. The schools were failing then as they're failing now. In fourth grade I read the history textbook on California twice for fun and the teacher made me read it a third time as the rest of the class was. In fifth grade my mother moved me to an experimental school, where I spent my days playing D&D and reading Oz books. This was probably just as educational as the regular curriculum would have been; I certainly remember it better.
Before school started in sixth grade, we moved again, back to Poughkeepsie. I remember being struck by how polite the people in New York state were. If you dropped a folder in the hall at a California school, the kids would trample over it. In Poughkeepsie, they would stop and help you pick up the papers.
At Arlington junior high, the teachers were dismayed by my lack of geographical knowledge. They made me memorize all 50 states, though not the state capitals. I can't name all 50 states any more -- not without Google to help. Even today, when I live in the Midwest, my recollection of which states are where between the two coasts remains sketchy.
When I went to college, I left Poughkeepsie, NY for Albany, NY. Albany is the state capital and an unprepossessing town in upstate New York. "Upstate New York" is everything north of New York City. Since New York City is in the southernmost tip of NY, "upstate New York" is really just shorthand for "not NYC or Long Island". I attended the State University of New York at Albany -- SUNYA. It has a beautiful campus, my favorite of any college I've ever seen: a unified symmetrical layout of three-story buildings in an enormous rectangle centered on the huge fountain at its heart. On warm days students would bring towels and sunbathe around it, as if the surrounding area was a big concrete beach. At night they turned lights beneath the fountain on, to make the falling water sparkle in shimmering arcs.
When I started at SUNYA, tuition was $750 a semester, which seemed like very little money even then. In my freshman year the state talked of raising the cost by $250. It didn't seem like much to me, but some of my friends were working their way through college and it was a lot to them. We went to a student protest on the capitol steps, where sat in silence, gagged, to symbolize mute ignorance. It's the only protest I ever participated in, which is as American as that I went to this one.
My parents moved to Florida at the end of my freshman year, and I lived with them for one summer. I remember the heat of Florida, and how bathing suits were terribly expensive scraps of cloth at every shop I went to. On the weekends I biked to the beach, two miles from our house, and swam in an ocean as warm as a bathtub. During the week I worked at IBM, with co-workers that were transplants like me. Very few people are from Florida; they come instead from somewhere else, to live in this state full of beaches and sunshine and amusement parks and retirees.
I lived in Ohio for two years, nominally to get my Masters degree but mostly to be with narile. Ohio looks like everywhere, and everywhere looks like Ohio, as Krud says. Wright State University wasn't far from the Wright Airforce Base, where Narile's parents worked and were proud of America's military. When I was a child I'd thought the military was a waste of money: what's the point of having an army if you don't want to fight anyone? I'm not sure what changed my mind. Maybe it was Narile and his family, or maybe it was all those long hours of playing Civilization.
I started taking Spanish classes when I was in junior high, because growing up in California there'd been so many Spanish speakers around. But it wasn't until one summer in Ohio that I actually started to learn the language, in three-hour classes four times a week. I forgot it again when I moved away at the end of the summer; I can't retain a language I don't use.
I live in Kansas City now. In Missouri, not in Kansas, but Kansas City, KS is just across the state line from us. KCK is much smaller. Most people would rather live in Missouri, where the taxes are lower and the state school board doesn't embarrass us. Kansas City is proud of its cows, its barbecues, its football team, and its fountains. Me, I like the fountains.
But mostly I love the green spaces, the parks and the trees and the lawns. I live in the city but I walk past fall foliage on my way to work, past cheap houses set on large lots covered in grass, flowerbeds, bushes and trees. I look up at an open sky that stretches from horizon to horizon, unbounded by hills or skyscrapers: the canvas of God, painted in blue and white, silver and gold, streaked by sunlight emerging between clouds. I have friends who own a farm and more who own horses. This is Kansas City to me, a metropolis abutting the countryside.
This is my country, from coast to coast and all the places in between, seen through my eyes which have seen so very little of it. The United States of America, huge and crowded, sprawling and empty. I am not a good observer of differences; everywhere I've been, the people were all so very human. People call my part of this country "the heartland", but the heart of America is not here, or not here alone. My country is not a place, or a people. It is not a government, or an economy. It is not the Declaration of Independence or even the Constitution.
It is more than the sum of all its parts. It routinely fails to live up to its ideals and aspirations, and is a better country than it has any right to be. It has not given me everything I ever wanted, but it has given me so much that I would not have known I needed without it.
I love it so much.
This is bard_bloom's meme, so let me pass it along. Tell me about your country. Even if it's the same as mine, and even if it's not.