I wrote this post in the summer of 2011 during our epic summer road trip. I returned to my childhood home again in August 2012 and was surprised to discover how much had changed in even this past year. My car from high school had been sold. Part of the leaning tree splintered in a wind storm earlier this spring. The trees in my parents’ yard have grown even more, though a heavy drought is causing them to drop their leaves early.
Our car rolled into town at about 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. After three long days of driving 1,700 total miles, I had arrived back in my hometown — the place I celebrated birthdays and Christmases, attended dances and band concerts, went sledding in the winter and watched fireworks in the summer — after nearly three years.
We drove past the baseball fields where, as a nine-year-old, I proudly wore my Albertville Hooters jersey in left field, a place where I did little harm to my t-ball team. The grocery store where I worked in high school — where I once worked a nine-hour shift on Thanksgiving during which I made $.12 per minute — had a new sign out front with a new logo. The house at the end of my parents’ street was for sale. A tree in its backyard had doubled in size since I’d seen it last. It leaned precariously at an angle; a strong wind storm will knock it over some day.
Driving up the street I’d driven up (and gotten stuck on in snowstorms) as a teenager, I noticed that one neighbor had built a new garage, another had added a patio and garden. These small changes, which were probably noticed by the other neighbors at the time they were constructed, jumped out at me one right after the other, prompting me to think momentarily that everything on the street had changed when that really wasn’t the case at all.
Turning up the driveway to the large country house I grew up in, I immediately noticed the size of the trees. Throughout my childhood, my sister and I had helped my dad plant thousands of trees throughout the ten-acre plot of land we lived on. At the time, the trees were the size of sticks, and they were placed ten feet apart from each other, which seemed unnecessary back then. In the winter, we covered each of these sticks with a big plastic bucket so they didn’t freeze and we could find them again in the spring. Now, these trees stood higher than the roof of the house, offering shade and privacy. The garage doors were new; I could tell because the doggy door was gone. My car from high school — a 1993 Ford Escort — still sat in the driveway.
My sister got married at this house three years ago, which is when I visited last. At that time, it had been a week of activity — mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, meeting and greeting family — and I hadn’t taken a lot of time to think about the place. While coming home again this time certainly had something to do with the people, my family makes it a point to meet up at least a couple times a year in other places. This time, I found myself focused on the place.
Coming home again meant feeling that Midwest humidity on my neck, swatting gnats from my face and watching storm clouds gather on the horizon. Coming home again meant flipping through the piles of magazines on the china hutch and in the baskets in the bathroom and realizing there were a few current issues on the top but on the bottom of the piles were magazines published five years ago. Coming home again meant visiting the pet cemetery we’d created in the shade of several pine trees and bidding a childhood cat who passed away the previous year a formal good-bye.
Coming home again meant finding drastic, detailed changes among the familiar. Even as I cross the globe, discovering and exploring new places, I find that those I know most intimately continue to evolve, surprising yet welcoming me when I finally make the time and effort to journey back.
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