Tuesday, January 4, 2011

home again, home again, jiggity jog

"You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame…back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory" --thomas wolfe, you can't go home again.

our annual christmas trip to the frozen tundra (we make an annual summer trip there, too, when it's unfrozen) got me wondering: can you, in fact, go home again?

there is no doubt in my mind that there are things about syracuse, new york that are more home to me than any other place ever will be. from the people, of course--my parents, my sister and her husband, my in-laws, brothers- and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, as well as old family friends who may as well be actual family--to the places that were significant throughout my life, to the tastes and smells and sounds that are unique to that place--all of those things define "home" in one sense that will never be redefined.

my parents live in the house we moved into when i was in sixth grade, and though the paint colors may change and the furniture may be rearranged, there are many things that are so familiar in that house, more familiar than anything in any other house may ever be. i know the scraping sound of someone sliding a chair out from under the kitchen table, for example, even when overheard from the upstairs bathroom clear across on the other side of the house, through a closed door. i know which of the identical kitchen cabinets latch magnetically shut correctly and which require the firm nudge of a knee to open or close. i still remember never to flush the toilet before starting the shower--or even worse, while someone is in the shower--for fear of scalding. my heart still beats faster than normal when i back out of the driveway for fear of repeating the removal of two porch column panels from behind the wheel of my high school oldsmobile tank.

there are things about that place, that city, too, that could never be more familiar than they are now. i know the smell of worms washed from the rich, dark soil--so many worms!--and the precise look of a sky before the snow. i remain unsurprised by the black squirrels that show up all over that city, even though i've never seen black squirrels in any other city before. i know which streets to drive on during a snowstorm and which ones to avoid because they probably won't be plowed. just like the driveway at my parents' house, one traffic light gets my heart beating faster even to this day for the memory of having received a ticket for running a red light there as a high school senior. i know how to get to places--the apple orchard in the country, the nature center, the hair salon--despite the fact that i know none of the street names and could never give you directions. except that i'm remembering just now that the hair salon has moved...

despite all that, though, it matters how you define "home." while all of those things are in fact evidence of how much syracuse is still home to me, it is undeniable that durham, north carolina has become very much my home, too. i realized it when i was checking out in a store at the outlet mall near syracuse; the cashier asked for my zip code and then went on to describe to me how to make a return "back home"--that is, in my north carolina zip code. do i sound like i'm from north carolina? i wondered. i think, to my southern friends, i've always sounded like a yankee; but my northern sister, in particular, likes to point out whenever she visits that i've acquired some sort of southern accent. i have lived in north carolina for going on eleven years now--and those all of my adult years, moving here as i did less than a month after graduating from college. and i've lived in my current house nearly eight years, longer than the number of full-time years i spent living in my parents' house. and i realize that i know this "home" and this city in many ways as well as i know my "home" in syracuse.

i know the spots where the faux painting i did on the bathroom walls is less-than-thorough because i was doing it after dark, in a tiny room lit only by a lamp, in order to find toddler-free work time. i know the one spot in the whole house where the floor creaks and how to avoid stepping on it for fear of waking a slumbering child (or husband). i know how to pull the front door closed and turn the key all at once with only one hand in order to make sure it locks. i know the rhythm of the dueling ticking clocks in the living room, the smell of the heat when it's first turned on for the winter, the sound the refrigerator makes when it's making ice--even when heard from all the way upstairs. i know the places where the carpet is wrinkled from too much furniture moving and poor installation, and i know the sound of the mail truck from even a block away.

and this city? here, too, i can get places without thinking though i can't give you directions. i know the smell of the humid wall that descends in the summer, into which you must walk as you exit the door of the house in a mad dash to your skin-scaldingly-hot car. i know what kinds of birds to expect at the birdfeeders and in what seasons, and i know when to expect to hear the pair of owls that live in the woods behind our house. i know the sound of a female fox in the spring--finally identified as decidedly not a pterodactyl as we and some of our neighbors had feared. i know which playgrounds to go to on a too-sunny day, which attractions to avoid in the last weeks of school, which checkout lanes to choose in which grocery store. and the people? while they're not blood family, so many have become so close that they may as well be.

are those the things that make a place home, then? the very-familiars? the things i know as well as i know the patterns on the palms of my hands? and if so, can one have two "homes"? right now, when i leave durham to go to syracuse, i tell people i'm going "home" for christmas; when i leave syracuse to come back to durham, i tell people i'm going "home" now that the holidays are over. but which is it? am i talking out of both sides of my mouth, or can both statements really be true?

or does the dichotomy represent something deeper, a longing for "home" that neither city--nor any other--will ever fulfill completely? i try to imagine the home for which i am made, a place where i can't list the things that are familiar because there is nothing unfamiliar at all. the home where all the smells and sights and sounds are not only completely known but perfect as well. the home where there is no need for directions or air conditioning or snowplows or bird identification books. the home for which i'm created. better than my two "homes" here? it's hard to imagine a place that makes these places look like foreign lands. but philippians 3:20 tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. if my two earthly "homes" can be as good as they are, i can't wait to find out what that home is like.


Meredith said...

Love it. Beautiful. And, dear sister, you most definitely have a southern twinge from time to time. So long as you can still pronounce "Syracuse" correctly and pronounce the difference between Mary, marry, and merry, then the southern twinge is okay by me.

Kate Gallaway said...

This made me smile. It also made me sad that my parents no longer live in Syracuse. I loved our house on Hatherly. I would love to go home to Syracuse. I miss it terribly. Miss you too.

Kate Gallaway said...

This made me smile. It also made me sad that my parents no longer live in Syracuse. I miss our house on Hatherly so much. I miss going home to Syracuse. I miss you too.