When I was 16, life was good. Everything was in order. I had my last two years of high school planned, and I liked the plan. I had a large circle of friends and was part of the “in-crowd” at my suburban high school in Columbus, Ohio. I was at peace with my narrow, insulated, conservative world. Then my parents ruined my life. My dad got a big promotion at work, and we moved to Memphis.
Memphis might as well have been another planet. It couldn’t have been more foreign if it had been Liverpool or Sydney or Johannesburg. It was 1966, and the language, social interactions, and customs were so different that I was lost for a very long time. I’ll never forget the first time a girl asked me if I would “carry her home.” I stared at her for a long time before I finally understood and said, “No, but I’ll give you ride.”
When I was 8 or 9 years old, my parents took me on a driving trip out West. The first Indian I ever saw was pumping gas at a filling station in Oklahoma. My mother pointed him out and said, “That’s an Indian.” I didn’t believe her. I had grown up on television and the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy. This guy couldn’t be an Indian because he wasn’t wearing paint or feathers. I came home from that trip having learned that the West had changed.
When I moved to Memphis I was so callow that I assumed that the South had changed too, and that the KKK and the Old South had gone the way of painted Indians and the Old West. The Klan had a big rally and marched down Main Street a week after we moved to town. That was the first of many shocks I experienced in my two years in high school in Memphis.
I adapted, as teenagers do, but being a Yankee made me an outsider. I was reminded of this and experienced it so often that I became an outsider. I made new friends, and they were all outsiders too.
In just a few years, we were all hippies and radicals of various kinds. We were Seekers of Truth. These people are still my friends. We are still outsiders, and we are still questioning authority and seeking the truth.
My friends from Columbus grew up to be respectable bourgeois conservatives. They found their truth without looking for it or questioning it. I found a different truth, and I’m still looking and questioning. So, thanks Mom and Dad. You made my life infinitely larger and more interesting by moving me to a foreign culture – even though you didn’t know you were doing it at the time.