By Robert Stanhope
I was born on Summer Street in The Sunshine Town of Newport, New Hampshire in the month of May. To southerners, I was born a Yankee.
I was briefly moved to other Norman Rockwell-esque towns in the Granite State and the Green Mountain State of Vermont. Returning to Newport in the second grade, I began school at the red brick building rising on the hill. I was home.
I was home, where I played marbles in the dirt near the aluminum slide and the swing set with black rubber seats. I was home, where a classmate strummed a guitar and sang Peter Paul & Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon one hundred miles from the sea. I was home, where I kissed a blonde schoolgirl under cover of a concrete pipe converted to playground equipment. I was home, where I could walk the streets from one end of town to the other in under a half hour. I was home, where I could buy a Coronis Market ham grinder that is often imitated, but never duplicated. I was home, where a barber named Spunky cut my hair once my bangs covered my eyes. I was home, where I went to school dances at The Rec, sat in a metal folding chair along a cinder block wall before working up the nerve to slow dance to Total Eclipse of the Heart, socially distanced arm’s length apart, hands on the waist per blunt instruction from parent chaperones. I was home, where one teacher taught me to appreciate art, another taught me to be a storyteller, and another told me not to swap spit in his classroom. I was home, where I couldn’t breathe when my future wife took my breath away when she walked into my homeroom in tenth grade. I was home, where I graduated a year early because home wasn’t where I was meant to be.
Home wasn’t southern New Hampshire for college. Home wasn’t the cities or the small towns where I lived in apartments, or where I bought homes, and raised a family.
The signs were all there from birth. Summer Street. The Sunshine Town. Newport was a town for my proper upbringing. It’s a small town perfect for some. I could count on neighbors for a lending hand. I could count on thin walls and a gossip train too. I could count on brutally cold and snowy winters up to six months of the year. The winters were how I knew Newport, New Hampshire, New England, wasn’t my final home. It took me a better part of forty years to come to this realization.
I’m a southern soul. Yes, Yankee at my core. I’m a Yankee that needs warm weather twelve months a year. I need a home with sandy beaches and palm trees. I need a home where my feet can be bare and my pants can be shorts. I need a home where the music is a little trop rock, a little blues, a little swamp rock, or any genre I choose. I need a home where the seafood is same-day fresh and the sweet tea is ice cold. I need a home where I’m inspired to create by the locals and the transplants.
Much like me, the transplants have realized their southern soul.
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Writer and photographer.