Those of us who live far from home experience a longing for it that you can only know if you’ve lived away for a real length of time. We romanticize where we’re from and talk about it with an appreciation we didn’t have for it when we lived there.
The last time I went back to Nebraska I hadn’t been back in two years. I knew I had changed, internally and externally, in ways that weren’t obvious to me. I live with myself every day; I don’t see the daily alterations. But those differences would be obvious to my family the moment I stepped onto the farm. People keep you in their minds how you last left them and expect that same person to return, no matter how much time has gone by.
Their comments on your appearance can be unnerving, cause for no small amount of insecurity.
“The last time I saw you, you were still an innocent young man,” my Grandpa said last year. “Now look at you.” And of course there are always the “they must not be feeding you too well over there,” comments from the older women in my family.
I try to explain that I’m skinny because I exercise every day and eat well, but then I just end up sounding defensive.
Beyond the comments, I’m never quite ready for the emotional complexity of going home. To be in the presence of my father as a young man who is on his own, and has been for some time, is fraught with challenges. I constantly compare my life to what he had accomplished by the time he was my age. When we talk I evaluate his tone to determine if he is addressing me with respect, as an equal, a fellow man, or still as the son that needs guidance. My mother is a wonderful woman and makes me feel as though she cherishes every moment she has with me. We get along fine.
In my family, siblings are the toughest to handle. We’re direct in our evaluations of one another, full of teasing and competitive jabs. I usually know what they think of me and how I’ve been spending my time within the first 10 minutes of being home. We don’t waste any time getting on each other’s nerves.
The great joy comes in seeing old friends. Most of us, as we leave our 20s behind, are trying to stay young and out of debt. Some of us are better at certain areas than others. Now, it’s one of the great pleasures in my life to visit good friends after months or years without seeing them. There is usually ample drinking and gossip. A few good stories and old jokes. But what I love the most is hearing what everyone is doing with their lives. Their risks. Their failures. Their successes. Some are lawyers, some are professional poker players, some went bankrupt before they were 30, some are still out in the wind. Almost all of them surprise me.
My hometown of Scottsbluff, Nebraska doesn’t change too much. The population has hovered at around 14,000 people for decades. In this I’m lucky—there’s little chance of strip malls and chain stores coming in and paving over everything. Wal-Mart decimated Main Street (actually called Broadway in my town), but that happened years ago and the character of the town made it through mostly unscathed.
No, when I go home, almost all of the buildings and businesses are there where I remember them, and with them a raft of memories to float on. I don’t go in for sentimentality all that often, but it’s good to know that if I ever forget my childhood or adolescence all I have to do is go home, get in a car, and drive around. Every part of town has a memory. Every street has a story.
There’s the lake where we spent our summers kneeboarding. There’s the sugar factory that exploded one night during a party, leading us to come moments away from looting a liquor store. There’s the little house on Avenue B where I lost my belt after a sweet Mexican girl took advantage of me in the basement when I was 15. There’s the park where I got in my first real fight out by the softball fields.
All these places have names I’ll never forget, even though I don’t go home too often now. Not as much as I would like. I try for once a year, more if I have the time or can afford it. But I can go back to any of these houses, these streets, whenever I want. I just have to sit still long enough to do it. It’s good to remember where you come from; it’s part of getting where you’re going.