Monday, January 23, 2012

wistful - you really can't go home again

That old truism, "You can never go home again" is never more expressed than at the winter holidays.  The "home" referred to is such an elusive beast, both physical and rhetorical, with a dash of nostalgia for good measure.  In my rural childhood, my grandmother was most thrilled (in a busy, overburdened sort of way) when her whole family was "HOME for Christmas".  She meant, of course, that 16 people would travel between 10 minutes and 10 hours from their own street addresses, stay under her roof, play Canasta, attend a candlelight service in their childhood church, and open late-night presents in her living room.

First Trinity - where at least 3 generations are buried.

Bring the younger 9 of those people into adulthood and sprinkle them across the continent with their own responsibilities, families, and schedules, and things begin to shift.  Subtract the grandmother, then the grandfather, then even the big old farmhouse, and what becomes of grandma's home?

Sometimes I envy my friends who have a real hometown.  I grew up and went to elementary school far in the country.  No, to be honest, I was at one of the last remaining one-room schoolhouses (like the one in this photo, but in the 1980s), and didn't enter "town" school (in a bustling burg of 5000 people) until 8th grade.  This is where I was lucky to have met the three wonderful women who are sharing authorship here.  When my parents divorced 3 years later I moved to another state with my mother and finished high school there, where my graduating class had more students than the entirety of my former high school.  Two sets of classmates, two high schools.

I find that two hometowns means no hometowns.  I can visit either town happily, and reminisce about how things seem to have changed in the time since I've been away.  But there is no continuum of people I've known since kindergarten.  Further, neither of my parents or my brother live in either town anymore, and with the loss of my remaining grandparents this year, neither do they.  When I visit family for the holidays, I can't make plans with old friends to catch up over brunch.  I don't sleep in my "old" bedroom.  I don't run into high school classmates at the grocery store or gas station.  My holiday visits sometimes struggle to maintain the sense of depth of generations of traditions and family friends.

Some years, I find myself wistful - even melancholy - over my perceived lack of the traditional "homecoming".  I choose to lose myself in the personal interactions of the visits with the rotating extended-family-of-the-year for Christmas, and concentrate on creating new traditions for my young daughters.  I make myself remember the annoying parts of the larger family traditions; how often I found myself hiding sulkily in a side room with my nose in a book rather than learning to play cards.  I make myself accept responsibility for not having kept in touch with cousins over the last 20 odd years.  Then - after hours in a van with children and husband and dog - I park in my garage and can't hold back a sigh of relief at being ... home.  Wherever that is, wherever we are.  After 16 years of marriage, home for me is not where my roots run deep and my family name is known, but where there is an "us" smell and our own bed.  Maya Angelou has my heart with the statement, "I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself."  Still, maybe I should reconsider learning Canasta; it does look a bit fun.

wistful - musingly sad


  1. Since marrying Danica's father, I lived in many places, but I was always home. Never being able to take my children into the house when I was a child, I wanted to create a "home" they could bring THEIR children to -- Nana's House. I am glad to say I can make my space my own wherever I may plunk myself down. Yes, Kim, it is I who has changed. And my idea of "home" as well. You beautiful young women are creating memories your own children will bring to mind when they, in the future, remember "home."

  2. Great timing, as we're very tentatively (and yet again) discussing relocation. Wistfulness is prominent among my feelings as we consider leaving a place that feels like home.

  3. I think it's hard to leave places - it feels like a bit of yourself stays behind. In adolescence, it was both frightening and exciting. I had the opportunity to "rebuild" my self concept without a scaffolding already in place saying who I must be. Sara's great essay on the concept of home varying depending on our own stage in life captures that so clearly.