It was his enthusiasm that gave him away. His accent had pricked my ears minutes before and the wheels in my head started to click with recognition, but it was the jaunty way he ran to get a customer a pack of tissues that sealed the deal.
"You are American." I said with a knowing smile as I reached the checkout desk he manned.
"Where are you from?" I replied. He started to run his fingers through his hair and look around.
"I'm from the Midwest. Its a state called Missouri. You've probably never heard of it." He had the same look I am sure I get on my face as I wait for a Brit to tell me they'd been to Florida/Las Vegas/New York/California.
I laughed. "I'm from Iowa."
"You are? I never would have guessed. You don't have much of an accent."
We chatted for a few minutes, each laying out the tangled map of what brought us to this small town in the Hillfoots of Scotland. He rang my soya milk and bread through the till. I paid. We said our goodbyes and I walked back up the hill to my house and wondered...
Are you still American if other Americans don't recognise your accent? It has faded to a point where I am asked as often in Iowa as I am here, "Where are you from?" My accent may no longer be the clear American it used to be, it isn't of the Hillfoots either. Maybe its wrong to mourn the loss of something so small, but now when I speak, here or there, I am always the Other.
Are you still American if you no longer feel American? I don't feel British, but I do feel like I belong here. I like things--trains and busses, butchers and haggis, strong coffee and rolled "rrrrrrrrrr"s. I feel at home here, even if its not "home". When we found out I was pregnant with Theo and imagined some sort of terrible car crash of chaos that we assumed would follow the 2 children one year apart, we looked at moving back to Iowa. We saw the things I love about the place: sweet corn at the side of the road, red-winged blackbirds, fields that stretch on forever and my crazy family. But we ultimately dismissed it because, quite simply, we don't fit there...no matter how much I miss my family. I have been gone too long. Something has altered in a way that means I can never be fully American in the same way again.
My own confusion aside, by all governmental standards I am still American. I don't have a British passport and until I get one, I only have permission to stay...a permission that could be revoked. The financial outlay for becoming British is one we can not make, so for now I remain a guest of the Queen.
Of course, my children are both, entering each country on a different passport. Ellis talks about his American family as much as his British one. We are fortunate to be able to give them roots in both places and can only hope it will strengthen their identity. With all of my heart, I hope they never feel the sense of rootlessness that I do.
As for me I guess I inhabit somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, like my accent neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. I will continue to take a greater interest in my local life and place, grounding us here. But we will also continue to honor the American side...make and eat Pumpkin Pie, give thanks on the last Thursday in November and celebrate the 4th of July (though maybe not with the same enthusiasm as the previous 2 years ;).
Just as I was about to post this, I saw this quote on a friend's facebook status:
"I think all people who migrate feel a sense of loss," she says. "It puts you in a vulnerable position; you don't know the language and you don't have a home. Migration is cruel - forever belonging nowhere."
yes, indeed. Maybe not as epic, but yes.