“Where are you from?” asked the British stranger I happened to meet in a West African open-air market many years ago.

The question was always a “conversation launcher” back in those days. My wife and I were living in a village 120 miles inside the Sierra Leonean interior. White-faced strangers speaking English were rare.

“I am from the United States,” I replied. He immediate asked, “Where in the United States?”

“Indiana,” I told him. “It’s about 700 mile west of New York in the east-central part of the country.”

“Hmmmm,” he responded. “Where in Indiana?”

“I lived near a town about 45 miles south of Indianapolis,” I said. “It is called Columbus. Columbus isn’t very big. I doubt you ever have heard of it.”
“Is it close to Hope?” he wanted to know.

Too many years have passed to remember precisely why he knew about Hope, but why not? The conversation was brief, and the shock of his asking about Hope was enough to clear my mind of precise details. I only recall him saying he knew someone who had a friend in Hope.

Later, I thought about MY answer more than about HIS question. By the time he asked me where I was “from,” I had several answers I could have given. Before going to Africa, I had lived in New York. Before that, I had lived in Bloomington. Before that, I had lived in Indianapolis. I actually had not been physically “from Hope” since I left town for college at the age of 18.

Why was I “from Hope?”

Why do I still tell anyone who asks that question today that I am “from Hope?” Since the Africa days, I have lived in two cities in Texas as well as Franklin, Greenwood and Columbus. I have never been physically “from Hope” since the summer of 1963. Fact is, I am “from Hope” because my heart tells me I am, and my brain seems to agree.

That is why my selection as Grand Marshal of the 2018 Heritage Days Parade was such an unexpected honor. It said to me that not only do I carry Hope as my hometown in my heart, but that the town still considers me a native son. I never have received a higher honor.

I have lived in Columbus now for the past 21 years, coming back to the county in 1998 to serve as publisher of the county seat’s daily newspaper. As I looked for a place to live, I considered a house at Schaefer Lake, but the idea was quickly nixed by the then Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the newspaper’s parent company.

“You can live anywhere but Hawcreek Township,” he told me. “You are too emotionally connected to Hope to allow you to plug into Columbus properly, which needs to be the main focus of your job.”

In retrospect, that was good insight, although the interference with my personal living choices was likely something I should have rejected. (Those “rules” on top executives evidently departed after I retired. The next editor-in-chief bought a home at Schaefer Lake and lived there throughout his employment.)

Ironically, after living in Columbus all these years, many Columbus residents and community leaders still assume I live in Hope. In August, I attended a meeting which also was attended by the Columbus mayor. His first words of greeting to me were “How are things over in Hope.” I am flattered.

Evidently, the efforts of the COO were to no avail. When Hope is in your heart, your mailing address really doesn’t matter.