For Us Transplants, Home Is Where The Heart Is

By David Leibowitz

When does a place become home?

The question occurs to you as you pack your suitcase, another airplane departure a few hours away. You are headed back east to celebrate the holiday in the house where you grew up, around the nicked, wooden kitchen table with the television set no doubt blaring in the background. Jake, once your parents’ dog, now your dad’s alone, will beg for scraps at every meal.

The house on Dahlia Drive in south Florida was home once, for most of your life. It was where your family moved from New York, the place you came home to on college spring breaks and for your two weeks off from so many jobs. “When are you coming home?” your mother would ask. Or you’d send your high school buddies a text message: “I’ll be home in a couple weeks!”

Then, at some indeterminate moment in time, your sense of home shifted. The Valley and Arizona won out. Now the desert is home and everyplace else is simply a destination.

When did it happen? Was there a date and time, a precise moment?

The best answer you can summon is not one moment, but many, a series of occurrences that have etched this place in your heart.

There was that November night in 2001 when Jay Bell crossed home plate and the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series over your childhood team, the New York Yankees. You high-fived and hugged strangers that night and everything you screamed began with the word “We.”

There was 2009, when you left daily journalism behind for good and started to work for yourself – your own business, your own chance to sign the front of a paycheck as opposed to the back.

When people ask about how things are going, how the business has grown, you are always quick to credit Arizona for its role in things. Without this state and its people, you think, you would have no work, no network, not a dollar in income.

The other moments are not one-offs, but repetitions, sights you see so often they become a part of you in perpetuity. A few hundred sunrises viewed as you hike up Piestewa Peak. A few dozen beers on a few dozen nights in Pomeroy’s on Seventh Street.

The unfurling of the Grand Canyon along the West Rim near the spot the Hualapai Tribe refers to as Eagle Point. The way you take offense at another Phoenix Suns loss and the cratering of “your” beloved basketball team.

The gentle arc of a golf ball against the backdrop of a cloudless Arizona winter morning. One more step across the threshold into the living room of the place you call home.

More than 70 percent of Arizona’s population comes from someplace else, another state, another nation. We are a disparate people, without the roots and bonds of many other states.

For the natives, the Valley is always home, the place where they’re from. The rest of us adopt this place – we choose it even as it chooses us. Maybe for some people who call the Valley home, it’s always a way station, a temporary stopping point on the way to elsewhere.

But for most of us, Arizona eventually becomes home. Maybe not on Day One, or during the first year or decade, but eventually. The exact moment doesn’t matter. The end result is the thing.

So, you pack up a suitcase and head out to Sky Harbor. As you lock the door behind you, you think about how happy you’ll be to get back home – to the place that has a permanent claim on your life, your brain, your heart.