We went "home", to my parents' home city (Cincinnati), for a week or two in the Summer and a few days around Christmas. My grandparents lived (and continue to live) there. Their homes held endless fascination and comfort for me and I was always glad to visit. My cousins lived near one set of grandparents and we played together. I endured (mostly) gentle mocking of my "southern" accent, even though the folks in our Tennessee church claimed we talked (& acted) like "Yankees."
Since my parents homeschooled us, my siblings and I had no ties to the local schools. We didn't root for a particular high school football team. We didn't have ties to the local traditions or memories. Some of the food was strange. (Fried pork brains, anyone?) We were Cincinnati Reds fans surrounded by Atlanta Braves country.
I grew up there. I married there. I worked there.
I left there.
As a 19 year old young married woman, my husband and I moved to the city where my grandparents lived. My parents had already moved back the year before. I moved to a city I didn't know, even though I'd been born there. A visit or two a year does not make you a resident.
The traditions are not mine. The inside jokes don't make sense to me. I have no ties to the highschools or colleges. I homeschool my children so I have no deep affection for any particular school district. Some of the food is weird. (Goetta?) I am deeply ambivalent about football, but surrounded by cars that have "Who Dey?" stickers.
My husband and I have given birth to babies here, we've bought and sold houses, gone to Reds games and graduations, symphonies, theme parks, and playgrounds. We've voted on local issues and contacted our congressman. We've put down roots. I walk down our hallway to our kitchen and think, "I love our home."
But I stepped outside of our van on a muggy, Middle Tennessee May night and I could smell the fresh rain-washed scent I remember from my childhood. A few intrepid lightning bugs flashed a welcome.
"Hello! Remember when you kept a jar full of our ancestors in your room on Summer nights?"
I haven't lived there in 14 years. But that night I knew, deep down inside, this is home. The crickets were singing familiar songs. The air was heavy and soaking rain would have been a relief. Even the dirt - redder than you might think possible and dotted with limestone - is familiar.
I immediately remembered nights where my sisters and the kids across the street played endless games, even after the sun had gone down. We sat on top of the swing-set and laughed and dreamed about our futures, who we would marry and how many children we'd have. We caught lightning bugs. We made clubhouses. Generally confined to two good sized yards, we still had what can only be remembered as adventures.
And I remembered sitting on our front porch and talking about everything with my future husband on hazy summer nights. We left no current event or philosophical argument unturned. We were dreaming about what our life would be, who we would be. We never really discussed where we would live. It didn't seem to matter then.
Our home now may be 300 miles away, but part of my heart must stay behind whenever we make the drive back North.
That part of my heart skips on little girl spindly legs and hugs exuberantly. "Oh, you're back! Welcome home!" Every thing she says is prefaced, "Remember..."
Meanwhile, living here on earth, I don't know how it's possible but I know this is true: Home may be where the heart is, but pieces of your heart can be left in more than one place.
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picture sources: author's own, Pinerest, Pinterest.