There’s no place like home.
Like Dorothy, I share this sentiment, though I use the term “home” loosely. My parents moved out of my childhood home 12 years ago and I’ve never forgiven them. (My Dad refused to exhume our pets graves and move them to the new house at my request. That’s the least he could do for our loyal companions. I learned a lot about my father that day). The new owners have caught me on their property several times, grieving.
Details aside, when I return to the stomping grounds of my youth, my guard goes down and I breathe a bit easier. This place is familiar. I feel safe here. The scariest thing seems to be the number of mullets on the average trip to the local Walmart. (High count this trip: 13).
When night falls in Northern Oklahoma, the darkness that descends is unlike anything you can chase down in Dallas or the surrounding sprawl. The stars *pop*. Sitting on my parents front porch with a cup of joe, swallowed by big, leafy trees alive with fireflies and the purr of frogs, I feel at peace…in spite of mosquitoes the size of flying monkeys.
Inside the house is a story at the other end of the rainbow.
My parents are getting older and can’t hear each other very well, let alone us, even with the use of their high tech hearing aids. There are six TV’s in the house (SIX!!) between the two of them. At least three or four of these TV’s is on and cranked at any given time, in direct competition with two people who can’t hear the requests being yelled at each other from different rooms. Even without a baby, you have a decibel level that rivals a techno club at 2 a.m.
The second I walk in the door, my mother is on me like a munchkin on a lollipop. Getting that first bathroom break challenges even those of us who take pride in being elusive. There’s a knock at the bathroom door almost as soon as it closes. “Jamie? What are you doing? Can you open the door? I have a first edition book by Aristotle I want to show you.” Right. Now. Does she actually read Aristotle? I’m not sure. But it’s a first edition Aristotle, folks. That is one OLD book! It might be worth something on Antiques Roadshow. (Which they were on last fall).
The laundry list of births, deaths, diseases and random facts winds along like the yellow brick road:
“Do you remember Mrs. Whatsitwhosit? She worked at the fabric store in Eastland Center – Will Rogers Fabric, they had them in Tulsa, too…they went out of business – in the 70’s. Her granddaughter, Thelma Whatsitwhosit, sings with me in choir. She has such n’ such disease, which covers her in red spots that look like the one on the back of Lola’s head. She had to have surgery because the spots moved to her organs…Lola’s spot probably isn’t the same thing.”*
“Oh, look! A roly poly. I had a roly poly in my ear once. My mother took me to the doctor and he said ‘you have a roly poly in your ear’ and got out the tweezers. (Random segue) And that’s a striped geranium!”*
“I saw this bowl. It looks like you! There’s green in it. You like green.”*
“Did you see my gray hoodie? Isn’t it neat?”*
My head implodes.
The bowl conversation is when the gifting begins. (This is my husband’s favorite part, as he thinks we have enough crap and we always end up hauling more home). Last time, my parents managed to unload a boatload of my childhood toys from the attic on us. Our car leaned to one side. Brian shook my Dad’s hand as we were leaving and said, “You won this time, Bob.”
I think my Dad secretly enjoys his brief respite when my sister and I arrive and the focus shifts away from him. I see him in flits – filling up the birdbath, lounging in his hammock. He moves like a shadow; silently, undetected.
Now that I, too, am a mom, I think I’m beginning to understand. The love our mother has for us builds up to bursting over the preceding months in anticipation of our return to the nest. The need to fill us in on every detail of what has happened since we last were home is being documented in her super-computer mom brain. Suddenly it’s “My daughters are home! My daughters are home!” and it’s like catching up to a train that already left the depot. It doesn’t matter what’s being said – she just wants to talk. About her neat gray hoodie, about roly polys, about Mrs. Whatsitwhosit and scary diseases that I can worry about Lola having.
When they moved out of the house I grew up in, I rebelled. My mom tried to convince me that it wasn’t the house that was home, it was the people. Their things would be the same, and we’d have more room when we visited. Nice try, lady. Uprooting my memories and spinning it to sound appealing was a cheap trick I wasn’t buying. It was as if they felt they had the right to sell the home they bought, paid taxes on, fixed up, and outgrew. To that I say “pshaw”. My playhouse, 4750 1/2, was on the property. I deserved a vote!
When my original objections had no effect, I tried one last stab at convincing them not to move. I told my mother I wasn’t going to visit anymore. It wouldn’t be my home. (I’m nothing if not dramatic). My Dad let me know, quietly, that this made my mom cry. Nothing like a parental guilt trip to snap you back into shape.
So, I caved. I still “come home”, like clockwork, twice a year. Don’t get me wrong. I have a special place in my heart for my hometown. I love cruising around and visiting the old haunts. I love the zaniness of my family, I love the traditions, I love the memories and I love the food. I love it for about three days. Then, I am utterly and completely defeated – and about five pounds heavier.
That’s when I click my heels three times and repeat Dorothy’s mantra – and return to the peace and relative quiet of my own home.
*Snippets of actual conversations