In a New York state of mind

Published 11:52 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

By almost all conceivable measures, I am proud to call myself a Virginian.

I have spent the majority of my life here. I graduated from college here. I was married and am raising my family here.

I bought my first home here. My wife and both of my children were born here, and I will hopefully spend the rest of my days, die and be buried here.

In my heart and soul I know this is where I was meant to be and, by the grace of God, I always will. So, yes, in every measurable way, I know that I am indeed a Virginian.

Except for one.

I was born a New Yorker.

There’s a funny thing about being a “come here;” no matter how much I feel like this is home, I will never be a “from here.” And for good measure, my friends and family who are Virginian by birth and not just the grace of God, won’t let me forget it.

Oh, they have all come to accept me, perhaps begrudgingly in some cases, as one of their own. But I will never, ever, be one of them. And I never really understood why.

Until now.

Having moved around a little in my life, I’ve always viewed myself as more of a compilation of the place I’d lived and the people whom I had befriended than just a product of where I was originally from. And perhaps it’s precisely because I’ve had to pick up roots a few times that I’ve long since quit identifying myself with the soil in which they were first put down.

I was born in Southampton, N.Y., a little beach town on the east end of Long Island. It wasn’t the Southampton that people read about now in People magazine or see on the evening news, overrun with celebrities who act like they invented the place.

It was a pretty quiet place where real people lived. We played on the beach all summer, but otherwise it was pretty normal.

My roots were planted there a long time ago; my mother’s side of the family called it home for at least 200 years.

When I was about 10, a job required us to move a little closer to the city and we wound up in a place called Levittown. It was a whole different world than what I was used to, and honestly I was a little slow to adjust.

But about the time I started junior high, I was meeting kids that I was happy to call my friends. By the time I was a junior in high school, I thought of many of them as family. So when the job meant moving again, this time all the way to Illinois, my heart broke when I found out we had to leave.

I didn’t want to leave New York 25 years ago and, honestly, I’ve spent the last 21 years loving Virginia so much that I had no real desire to go back. Yet though I know this is the place I was meant to call home, and in my heart I’m a proud Virginian, the Commonwealth will never be the place where I am from. New York is. Long Island is. And I’m proud of that, too.

Hurricane Sandy has put things into perspective for a lot of people over the last couple of weeks, and from afar, it has put a few into perspective for me as well.

It has reminded me that where we’re from does matter. It’s a big part of who I am and who we all are. It’s a part of our identity, and gives us a sense of where we belong. It’s helped me to understand why a “come here” can never be a “from here,” because the sense of pride in belonging to something truly unique, like where we’re born and raised, does matter.

I’ve thought a lot about my friends on Long Island lately. I’ve thought about the towns where they live that are destroyed. The beaches where we used to hang out that are washed away. The schools we went to that have been closed for weeks.

And I’ve thought about the friends I left behind a quarter century ago who are going to stay, and rebuild, and move on. They’ll do it because it’s what New Yorkers do. They’ll do it because it’s their home.

They’ll do it because it’s where they are from. And they will make me proud to say that’s the place I come from too.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of  The Tidewater News. He can be reached at