Home. For some people it conjures up comfort and coziness. For others it may bring back memories of neglect or indifference, or even abuse. For most of us the idea of “home” falls somewhere in the middle.
I went home for Thanksgiving this year, and yet I didn’t. The home I remember from my growing up years is not the home my mother lives in today, so going home for me does not mean things like sleeping in my childhood bedroom. In fact, my mother’s house is not suitable for all of my family to stay there so we stay in a nearby hotel.
The hotel thing isn’t bad, really. My kids enjoy the indoor pool and hot tub, and the whole “holiday family time” thing doesn’t lead to overkill and resentment.
I observed a few things during my trip home this year that I’d like to share with anyone interested in reading about them.
- Life Goes On. I moved away from my hometown back in 2006. A lot changes in nine years, and the changes in my town made me want to stop someone and inquire as to who gave permission to close that restaurant I always loved or reroute the street I used as a shortcut. It’s very hard to remember that life goes on when you leave a place. The entire population doesn’t all sit around in limbo until you come back again. Maybe it’s my selfish nature that causes me to imagine otherwise. For me personally, the town I grew up in just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I go back there looking for the scruffy little suburb I remember as a kid and I find something much more polished and, well, huge. There’s a Target store when my house used to stand. There’s a whole shopping/restaurant complex where there used to be a Kawasaki dealership. Housing developments dot the landscape where there used to be only farms. I follow the news outlets (thank you, Facebook!) to keep up with what’s going on in the town I left nearly a decade ago, but I never fail to be both astonished and dismayed at the changes I see when I go back. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to feel that way, just that I do.
- People Move On. There’s a part of me that thinks I should be able to walk into the local WalMart in my hometown and see the cashier that used to ring up my purchases back in 2005. And while that might actually happen, I doubt it, and expecting such a thing is a little nuts. (For one thing, the WalMart is in a different location. See #1 above) Social media is a great tool for keeping up with people you knew in years past. Sometimes you can make plans with those you used to know and meet up face to face, and it’s fabulous. But keeping up on social media can be done on the go, so don’t get your feelings hurt if you try to set something up and it doesn’t work out. You may be on vacation but these people are living their day-to-day get-things-done lives.I’ve been able to meet up with high school classmates a few times, and I catch myself wondering if they can read all over my face the years since graduation. I also still find myself walking into a store or the mall in my hometown (there’s a mall!) wondering if I will see anyone I know. I probably will but I might not recognize them now, just as they may not recognize me. It’s kind of sad to walk around feeling like a stranger or a visitor in a town that used to be called “home” but that’s pretty much what I am when I’m there. What’s worse is when someone DOES recognize me and I don’t know who they are, so I have to play along while frantically searching my memory banks for clues. I ran into my high school French teacher in the grocery store a couple of years ago and she hadn’t changed a bit in 30 years. Apparently I must have held onto some semblance of my high school appearance that she knew who I was right away. Maybe it was the awkwardness that I seem to carry around like a shield.
Memories Live On. There is a lot of satisfaction in driving my children around to the places I used to go. I have become one of those people who randomly burst out, “there’s where I used to catch the school bus!” on trips to my hometown. Maybe the satisfaction is just for me because my husband and kids don’t seem to get the same charge out of seeing the convenience store where I used to get lunch with my friends once we were finally allowed to leave school grounds, much less hearing what I always bought (a Pepsi and nacho cheese Combos). I must admit that I am less than riveted when my husband points out all his old haunts when we visit Wisconsin, so I guess fair is fair. Even more fun for them is when I point out where something
- to be. For some reason they just can’t imagine it like I can. But the public pools where I used to spend hours and hours (too many of them, according to the spots on my skin) in the summers, the skating rink where I hung out (not skating much because it seems I was/am bad at it), the drive-in movie theater where I watched movies and later, well, “parked” (and that’s enough about
- ) – those things are all still there and driving past them is enough to stir up sweet memories of my younger days. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t matter that my childhood home is no longer standing because in truth I’d love to be able to walk through it again. But the memories remain, as do the photographs, and that will have to be enough.
I hear people say that they go back to their hometowns and it seems like time has stood still. The same people are still there, doing the same things over and over like no time has passed. I’m not sure if they see this as a good thing: stability and consistency – or a bad thing: old-fashioned and stuck in a rut.
As for me, I know that sometimes I feel sad that I left my hometown. There is something to be said for remaining in the familiar environment you’ve always known and staying where your story began. My family is still there, which I guess makes me the black sheep who moved away, or the rebel, whichever way you want to look at it. But if I’d stayed in the same town, how much would I have missed? All the years, experiences, and friends we’ve had since then, first in South Carolina, and now in Virginia, for starters. My life would be so much less rich without the joys and sorrows I’ve seen in the years after we left Tennessee.
And in the end, home is where you make it, and we have chosen to make our home, the home for our little family, in Virginia.
There is no rule that says you can’t go back home again. You can go. You should go. But you should be aware that you may find that it doesn’t feel like the home you remember. It’s different. You’re different. And that’s as it should be.