My daughter recently wrote an entry on her wonderful blog (mypajamadays.com) about how difficult it was for her when her dad and I sold the home in San Antonio she grew up in and moved to Virginia Beach. Mind you, she hadn’t lived there in ages, has been happily married and living in Michigan for many years with a terrific husband and two beautiful daughters in a house ten times grander than the one she grew up in, yet the loss of her house in Texas made her a little sad and homesick.
Ironically, I’ve been thinking about that sense of home for quite a few years now, so I understand where my daughter is coming from. I grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, for me the sweetest little town in America. I pictured raising a family there one day. Life, of course, takes you on quite a ride and leads you far from home sometimes, and there is not much you can do but hold on tight. After six years of marriage, my husband and I moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania with two small children in tow and another one on the way. After two years there, we moved to Texas, and there we stayed and raised our children through elementary, middle, high school, and college.
Since then all three of our children moved far away from us, our daughter to Michigan, our sons to Boston. I began to think more and more about Fairfield, how much I missed it, how much I wanted to move back, to move home, even though I haven’t lived there in nearly forty years. If my children had stayed in Texas…if even one had stayed in Texas…we wouldn’t have moved. We loved San Antonio and Austin and had many dear friends there. But without the children, it felt so lonely. We desperately wanted to move back east. I became my husband’s headhunter and after a year of searching, I found a great job for him in Virginia Beach, two hours from my brother and his family. The East Coast again! One day’s drive to Connecticut and Boston. One day’s drive to my husband’s family and our dearest friends we’ve kept in touch with during all these long years away. One day’s drive from our children.
Fairfield isn’t the same, obviously, as when I lived there. The Fairfield Department Store, Trudy’s, and the stationery store, among others, have been replaced with chain stores. My elementary school is now a public parking lot. The last house I lived in was knocked down and a 2.2 million dollar home was built on our lot, and none of my family is still there. My parents and little sister are all dead, and my brother lives in Virginia.
But when we go to Fairfield, I picture things the way they were. I see myself hanging onto my dad’s neck as he swims laps at the beach with me on his back, I drive by the Congregational church where my mother was president of the Women’s Fellowship, I picture myself marching down the Old Post Road on Memorial Day in my white pleated skirt and bright red shirt, playing the bell lyre in the school band. I always eat at Rawley’s, still the best hot dog joint on the planet and the place my dad would take us every Friday night when he came home with his paycheck. I feel home.
A few days before my mother died, I sat and listened to her talk. It was our last conversation. Did she talk about her life with my dad, whom she adored, or how much she had loved being our mother? No, though we understood those things to be true. Her last thoughts were about growing up in Irvine, Kentucky with her mother and father and brother. Playing silly children’s games, swimming in the river, going to school, the only responsibilities to keep her room picked up and the table set. She pictured her little family whole again. She pictured home.
Yes, I realize that you can’t ever really go home again because nothing stays the same and you don’t want to live in the past. But I think we tend to sift out all the painful moments we had growing up and see a place where we felt safe, where we felt loved, where the stresses of life hadn’t fully reached us yet. It was one idyllic instant that still shines in our heart. Home is not a physical place. It is a memory. Close your eyes and go home.