Can you go home again?

I have long thought of the idea of home and what it means to different people. It’s not always the obvious structure where you go to sleep every night. I think of home as that place where everything is safe and where I am my most authentic self. Sometimes home can be a forgotten favorite song that brings me back to one of those times of home. Sometimes home is a place that no longer exists except in memory and in the heart. Sometimes home is a long-lost friend who returns me to myself faster than anything.

I think of home along with a sense of place. Where is my sense of place the strongest? On a broad scale, I feel like I can breathe when I am anywhere in New Mexico, even though I have not lived in New Mexico for any extended period of time since 1998. I feel like my heart beats differently there and I can’t describe it further. Northern Wisconsin and Missoula, Montana are two of my favorite homes. I went to school at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin and feel like I found myself in those years and Lake Superior holds a special place in my heart. I lived in Missoula for a few months and that was such an intense and loving time; I think of it with a sense of yearning for a time and an identity that can’t quite be repeated. I haven’t been back since 1996 and I wonder what it would be like to see how it has changed.

Speaking of returning and change, this past weekend I traveled about 45 miles down the interstate to return to a former home. I went back to Littleton, Colorado where I lived from the ages of two to seven. I mapped out my journey to find our old house, my elementary school where I went to kindergarten and first grade, and other landmarks of childhood. I took pictures and drove around. In some ways I was surprised to see how little had changed, but in so many ways nothing was the same. As I drove through the neighborhood, I was able to recognize the spots of neighborhood importance: the house that used to have a big trampoline where all the neighborhood kids would go to jump, the cul-de-sac where I practiced riding my bike, the one house with a swimming pool in the backyard where I took swimming lessons for two summers, the shortcut through backyards that my older sister and I used to take to walk to the grocery store, the house a block away where we used to wait for the bus, the house down the street where my babysitter lived, the house of the boy (a year older) whom I had a crush on.

Of all the houses on South Vine Street, ours had changed the most. Instead of white with red trim, it’s now brown. The large blue spruce in the front yard is gone and the fence on the back yard has changed, but the wooden fence to the side yard may be the same and the crabapple  trees and cherry trees are still there. I wanted to go knock on the door and introduce myself. Perhaps if it had been warmer and people were outside, but it is winter and I am shy.

I return to the idea about coming home again. In this case, where I lived, even with the same address and zip code, is not the same town (and not just because this small older suburb has grown). What used to be part of Littleton is now considered Centennial, Colorado. The first address that I had memorized and can still recite in childhood staccato no longer exists. The school where I went, Mark Twain Elementary is now referred to as Twain Elementary. How can you have Twain without Mark? My guess is they don’t celebrate Huckleberry Finn Day anymore (which used to be right at the end of the school year and we dressed up in overalls and straw hats).

Ahh, the nostalgia of childhood. It was fun to go back even though it was not quite the same. Maybe that’s part of the joy and the sorrow. Bittersweet.

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