Going Home

Every time I buckle down for the 15+ travel hours of travel to visit my family, songs about home crowd my mind.

I’m lulled into a nap on the plane by Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound.’ Once I’ve landed in the Midwest, that flat sprawl of land of my childhood, the song changes to ‘Feels Like Home to Me,’ a twangy ballad that reminds me of my family and my elementary school.

I spend the long jet lag hazy days wondering about that old saying, the one that says, ‘You can’t go home again.’ I appreciate the sentiment of the saying but is it true?

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In many ways, my parents’ home is really and truly my home. The city, the neighborhood, the house – they are so deeply ingrained in me that I have never stopped calling them home. I can get around town with my eyes closed. I can point to house after house and tell you who used to live there. I know what restaurant used to be in that location, and the restaurant before that, and the one before that.

The ghosts of time wafts around me as I drive around, thick and heavy. In my hometown, I only see the past.

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arts fair bloomington indiana

arts fair bloomington indiana

At Target last year, I saw someone from a distance I knew in high school. We were acquaintances; her younger sister was a good friend of mine. But there she was. She looked like herself, just a little older. I ducked behind a rack. I couldn’t manage to say hi. Barring the obvious risk of embarrassment – do I look the same as I did fifteen years ago like she does? – it was worlds colliding. Past. Present. I slunk back to the car.

One day on my recent visit, my family went to an annual art fair that has been held downtown for as long as I can remember. It’s changed locations (up and over a couple blocks from the original space), but the local artists and craftspeople were out in force. As we browsed the booths in the glaring summer sun, the community band played America the Beautiful on the courthouse square. It was so quintessentially small town America that I had to pause.

I’m from a town that has a center square with a courthouse, a community band, an annual art fair. I’m from a place where houses have ghosts of families past. I’m from a place littered with people I used to know.

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bloomington neighborhood

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bryan park bloomington indiana

Some things never change. But I must have changed.

I’ve lived in big cities for many years now. I also travel a ton, usually to capital cities which are easy to get to and have lots of attractions. But when yet another Brit tells me about their upcoming first visit to the States, where they will visit New York and San Francisco, I’m always a little disappointed. The vast, vast majority of Americans have never lived in cities that big, and many have never set foot in one. Yet, those are the places that attract visitors, and I have to dispel the myth yet again that I didn’t grow up in a place like that.

‘I’m from the middle’ is my usual explanation.

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pancake breakfast

pancake cutting
luke

In my parents’ kitchen, there is this little objectively hideous jar which holds pens that has been in the same place on the kitchen shelf for nearly 35 years. Underneath the blue carpet upstairs are the signatures of my entire family, a remnant from the addition that was completed in my childhood. My prom dresses are still in the attic. And yet, with my different perspective, my outsider-ness, I am overwhelmed with the changes of the city, the growing sprawl, the previously behemoth elementary school that now looks downright dainty.

 Maybe you can go home again, with all of its comfort and nostalgia, but only as an observer. Outside looking in.

What do you feel about going home? Can we ever really go home again? I’d love to hear that I’m not alone in the comments below!

can we ever really go home again?

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  • June 24, 2016
    Bradford

    “You cannot step into the same river twice.” – Heraclitus. You can never truly go back. That’s more good than bad, I think.

  • June 25, 2016
    Barbara

    No, once you have left, lived in a really big citiy, lived in two foreign counties, you can’t go back to your small “hometown” to live. I still have family there, life long friends I stay in touch with through media almost daily, but the pace of the town is no longer who or what I am any longer. I have changed. While I love that State, that city, and the family and friends who live there, I would be unhappy after a couple of months. Traveling to 23 different countries, living in foreign countries, changes you and you can not return to the person you were before you knew all the wonders you have seen since you left…

    • June 25, 2016

      very, very true. You can never repeat an experience/memory from your past in your hometown. Time changes many things…

  • June 25, 2016

    Going “home” is such a strange concept and even if you move away to somewhere else in your own country, I’m sure it can feel really weird visiting. I’m an American in France and just went back to the USA a few weeks ago. But my home, where I grew up, is in NJ so going to Florida felt like a vacation even though my family now lives in the Sunshine State. I feel like we all adapt and move on and sometimes it’s for the best and sometimes it can make you sad. When you wrote about people you used to know, I was nodding my head. Even with FB and email and Facetime, sometimes people just can’t be bothered to make an effort. Thanks for writing this piece, totally resonated.
    Diane recently posted…Quick French lesson: Provence vs. provinceMy Profile

    • June 26, 2016
      Julie

      Thanks Diane – I love that feeling of being on vacation in my hometown (even more when I visit my in-laws) but there is something about being back where I came from that always feels complicated for me! Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  • June 26, 2016

    I’m not sure if you can ever go home again after you’ve been away for a long time. At least you can’t go home and pick up where you left off. Everyone changes, even the people that stayed there will have changed and they might not be people that you would find things in common with anymore. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think that’s just the way it is.

    This post definitely caught my attention as I’ll be heading home in August. Home to Canada, mainly to where my parents live now (which isn’t where I grew up) but also to spend two nights in the town I did grow up in- but as a tourist this time. I’ll be showing my boyfriend my old ‘stomping grounds’ but it’ll be really interesting to see how different it actually is from how I remember it. And then we’ll be visiting a few things in my home province that I have actually never visited in the time I lived there so I’m a tourist. I think it’ll be a bit of an odd week. Home, but not home.
    Stacey recently posted…Hiking Waterfall Canyon Trail in the White Tank MountainsMy Profile

    • June 26, 2016
      Julie

      Thanks so much, Stacey, for your thoughts. The first time I brought Drew home with me to show him around, it was fun to show off the places of my best stories (remember the time I broke my arm? It was on THAT swing!), but also inevitably complicated as well. I wonder about the day my parents move out of the house I grew up in, and what it will be to drive by it without stopping…I’m not sure I’ll ever quite shake that weirdness…

  • June 27, 2016

    Beautifully expressed and something i’ve been wondering about. I think every experience we have forms part of who we are, so we are ever-changing and (hopefully) growing – nothing stays the same. But home to me will always be where my loved ones are, i think.
    Michelle | michwanderlust recently posted…The Coastal Towns of Gran CanariaMy Profile

    • June 28, 2016
      Julie

      It’s true that family will always be there, but trying to relive those memories from growing up, it never quite feels the same, even if the place and the people are.