I have lived in four states ---- California, Tennessee, Nebraska, and New Jersey. I grew up in a smallish California town and went off to college in the big city of Los Angeles. I spent my grad school years in Nashville. When my son was born, I lived in a town in Nebraska with 5,000 people and 3 stoplights. Now I live in central New Jersey in a town of 10,000, sandwiched between other little towns. It's always been my experience that after a while I fall a little in love with the place that I am living. It's happened three times, so I think it's a dependable trait.
When I left Clovis for college at UCLA, Los Angeles and its surrounds represented excitement and opportunity beyond my wildest dreams. I learned to take the bus to new places and to love the city. I loved Westwood, the town at the foot of the university. I can still see its twinkling lights on a Friday night, and feel the freedom it represented.
In Tennessee, the first placed I moved after I left California, my love was immediate. Something about the thick sweet air and the relaxing pace just struck a chord with me. I lived there for five years and went back for a few summers after I had moved to the midwest. It's the only place I've ever been homesick for. That southern charm never faded for me and when I think of the idea of "home" it's Nashville that comes to mind.
It took me a while longer to love Nebraska, but I grew to appreciate the beauty of the wide view and the prairie sky, especially on a clear sunny day. The night sky was like my own personal IMAX experience. I never thought that the horizon could be so beautiful.
I came to New Jersey nearly 5 years ago, when my son was 2 years old. I like the small shaded towns strung together by busy highways (called routes by the locals...1, 22, 28, 206.... a seemingly endless chain). I enjoy the character of these towns, some with Italian bakeries, others with a Portuguese influence, and still more university towns. There are charming downtowns with shops and bookstores. There are deep dark woods to be found when I need them. Garden stores abound. It's the most multi-cultural place I have ever lived in.
I like the fact that my son can ride his bike in the streets of our town. I love our twice-yearly block parties and the fact that we can walk to the local theater to catch a movie. But close by are the bookstores, coffee houses, restaurants, museums, and lovely grocery stores that I loved about city-living. New Jersey has the small towns that people romanticize, without the smallness that can make those towns feel confining.
But most of all, New Jersey is the place my son knows best and it's home to him, reason enough to love it.