Finding Home

Anna Whites - Frankfort, Kentucky
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, September 22, 2014
Anna Whites
Home page photo by cmh2315fl via flickr

Growing up, Anna Whites moved many times, living in exotic places all around the world, but she never quite felt that she belonged in any one place. Later, when she married a man from eastern Kentucky, she found a place—and a people—where she finally knew she was home.

Themes: place
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My mother was a traveler. We lived on three continents by the time I was five. She searched for meaning and art and experiences. I wanted a hearth like those in storybooks, with rocks stacked by great-grandfathers and firewood from trees planted by an ancestor. I looked for my home in London, where the weight of history made pieces of brick crumble into the street. I searched for home in Kenya, under a sky so flat it seemed to go on forever, baking the trays of tiny fish that grandmothers fed the babies who were strapped to their hips. I asked the sawgrass of Florida and the lush green leaves of Madrone trees in California, “Are you what home looks like?”

When I met my husband he told me not to marry him unless I was willing to move to eastern Kentucky, back to where his grandmothers lived. The first two years were hard. I was an outsider, classified by all who met me as “not from here.” I would come home each evening and complain about standing in line at the grocery store while the clerk chatted aimlessly with the customer in front of me about church news and the health of neighbors.

One day, while registering the car at the courthouse, I was sharing stories with the woman next to me when I suddenly noticed the irritated face of someone “not from here” standing behind us. In that very moment, I realized that I was no longer the outsider—I am from here. That small town had woven me into the daily pattern of its life without me even noticing. My neighbors were my friends. My husband’s grandmother was my Maw-Maw. My children walked the streets where their father grew up and sat on church pews emblazoned with their grandfather’s initials.

But it wasn’t just that which made it home. It was how connected I felt to the courage of the women who made beautiful quilts out of hand-me-down rags . . . the fierce pride of those who survived hardship for generations and had the stories to prove it . . . the humor of people who came through the worst, decade after decade, and still thought life was pretty darn funny . . . and the way they reached out to me and made me whole. And did I mention that my home is beautiful? That there is nothing more gorgeous than the speed with which black velvet evening covers the hills? Nothing more magical than dew glowing on redbud branches or ice sparkling on limbs dipping into the creek?

I believe we all need somewhere to call home. I’ve found that home isn’t just a place; it’s where I feel I belong.

I don’t live in Louisa right now, having traded a small town for the state capital and blue jeans for suits, at least temporarily. But it’s still my home—so much so that when I drive up the interstate and come around the curve leading to the first of the hills marking eastern Kentucky, I can’t breathe for all the happiness that wells up in my heart. I may still be a traveler, but now I know I have a home. No matter what, I can walk in the door of the Lawrence County courthouse, tomorrow or twenty years from now, and we will pick up talking about the news of the day as if I’d never left.

Anna Whites is an attorney in Frankfort, Kentucky, practicing health and education law. She is the president of the Board of the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, which retrains retired racehorses, and she is a member of the Interagency Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is married to Pierce Whites, and they have a daughter, Amanda, who is a ballerina, and a son, Lawson, who is a Mandarin Chinese translator.