I Just Wanna Go Home...
Sometimes I just wanna go home. In fact, I just updated my Facebook profile photos to reflect my home - a somewhat silly version of a remembrance, but one that reflects our time. I don't mean to sound like I need to escape where I am for somewhere else. Honestly, that's the last thing I want to do. I actually really like where I am right this minute, because although so much is in a chaotic state, so many other things are just exactly, perfectly right. But, I guess I'm searching for some sort of order and peace that is not with me right now.
I grew up in the mountains of southwest Virginia - a stunningly beautiful place. The Appalachians - the oldest mountain range in the world, worn down over centuries and filled with some of the most beautiful people in the world. Don't get me wrong, it has its ugly people just like anywhere else, but some of the most impactful experiences I've ever had occurred there -- good and bad. And for that, it will always be home, because it shaped who I am. I don't think I was always as appreciative of it as I am now - distance definitely makes the heart grow fonder.
My father came from a large and incredibly poor family with what is, to me, an equally incredible grounding in reality and hard work. His home was not in the middle of nowhere, but that mythical spot is somewhere nearby. My cousins and I would spend hours playing in the creek, running through the forest and torturing one another by hiding and scaring each other or throwing crawdads in each others' faces -- well, I was mostly the recipient of that unusual torture, because I was never brave enough to pick one up for fear of being pinched. Do I regret it? Not really - I'm the kind of guy who gets faint from getting his finger pricked at the doctor's, so why would I want to be pinched by a clawed, paleolithic holdover that lives in a dirty stream?
Most of us these days cannot imagine sleeping six to a bed, with snow blowing through cracks in your roof and having to do back breaking work from the time you can remember - to be so poor that you and your brothers only possessed one or two outfits a piece and to share your clothes so that it looked like you had more. To creep out to an outhouse in the middle of a blizzard. To face poverty and lean times and defeat them. My father and his siblings have all moved on to create lives for themselves that are so far removed from that little cabin in the woods that it is miraculous. My father was the first in his family to go to college and I can hardly imagine what that felt like. I grew up expecting to go to college - it was always within my reach and I feel somewhat handicapped by the level of privilege I've known because I think that struggle breeds strength and centers you into who you are and clearly shows you who you want to be.
Driving through the area where he spent his childhood is like going back in time. Winding mountain roads pass by ramshackle homes, some with junk piled to the side and a beaten up pickup parked in the driveway. As a child, I would look at those houses without really understanding how someone could live that way - I mean, where did they go to shop? A silly notion - it was a world where having the latest styles was a luxury and an unnecessary one at that. I really don't think they cared and life was probably a lot simpler for it - a lot less fashionable, but simpler nonetheless. What a beautiful thing it must be to not care.
But that simple life possesses a lot of beauty. One of the most exquisite examples of humanity I've ever witnessed happened during my grandfather's funeral there. Back home on Long Island, our funeral procession would have proceeded down one of the parkways or expressways, broken rudely by cars swerving in and out trying to get to Applebees in time for twofers, or to use their extra bucks at Kohls before they expired. In the mountains, our cars followed the hearse through wooded roadways, quietly, at a pace that seemed really appropriate for the occasion. And as we passed those dilapidated houses, the people in their yards put down their rakes, set down the grocery bags they were returning with, and bowed their heads and stood respectfully as we passed. With everything we've gained with our iPads and malls, that level of respect is something we've lost.
My mother came from an equally intriguing and inspirational background. They also weren't very wealthy, but they were proud. My mother's mother held a business degree before it was socially acceptable. My great grandmother had raised a family on her own after her husband passed at a young age. They were strong women and that became part of the fiber of my mother and her sisters and of my admiration of powerful women. Her father, although I never met him, sounds - from all the stories I've heard - as if he was the model of kindness and generosity. And, even though an additional child was probably the last thing they needed financially, my grandparents brought in several foster children and gave whatever they was needed to their neighbors and their community. My mother's only brother was murdered when I was a child and, even though I don't remember a lot of that time period, I remember a feeling of loss that was almost physical in its manifestation. But, they moved on - they kept going and, in the end, they forgave. My grandmother became ill not too long after and spent the rest of her life slowly deteriorating. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time caring for her during those years, and learning more about who she was as a human being, not just a grandmother. The strength, kindness and humor she maintained throughout it all is a huge gift to me and something I hold onto when I am faced with hard time.
My own childhood home contained it's own level of dysfunction, as all homes inhabited by a human family do, but I remember it very fondly. We lived high on a hill, surrounding by rolling fields and thick forests that were ours to explore for as far as the eye could see. My sister and I would disappear for hours into the wild, risking our lives, or at least our limbs, by jumping across gulleys, climbing trees and boldly running through thick areas of brush that could have easily been hiding some frightening mountain creature, or at least a frightened one. We would say "look, there's a water moccasin!" as we were dipping our feet into a rippling brook, not moving from our spots as the poisonous snake continued about its business. It was a closeness to nature that I haven't experienced since.
Mornings growing up were filled with the sound and smell of bacon frying in the kitchen, fights over the funnies section in the paper and the sound of cartoons coming from the big, wooden console television. Then the laziness of lying on the floor, watching Johnny Quest with a giant bowl of Frankenberry or Lucky Charms until it was time to do chores, which we split, but I always seemed to get everyone's least favorites - dusting and the bathrooms. So, I'd just throw on my Duran Duran tape (it was the 80s, not making fun) and dramatically lift items off the tables as I sprayed Pledge to the beat. And, when we were done, we got to go out to lunch and then shopping, which meant, for me, if I didn't drive everyone crazy, I got to the book store (my favorite) or to the toy aisle at the department store. In either case, my mother's patience would be tested as I walked around for what seemed like hours trying to find the exact thing I wanted to buy, as if it were the last purchase I would ever make.
I am truly blessed to have called this place, and these people, home. But honestly, these are descriptions of what I call "home", and, these are the people and places that made me...me...as I've written this, I realize that these are not the reasons I feel like going home. They are but nostalgia for a frame of mind. I don't need to go to a physical place, but to a new and cozy mental condition. I want the peace of it all, a peace that, perhaps, comes from having less responsibility and far more order. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were cooked for me. When I needed clothes, I was dragged to the store to get them, even though it was my least favorite activity ever - trying on clothes and then having to parade around while my mom checked the fit. I felt like I was on display, but either way, I didn't have a choice. And, maybe that's what home is all about. Someone else taking care of you so that you don't need to make a decision other than which TV dinner you're going to eat while watching Wonder Woman (hint: it was always Salisbury Steak and who knows what's in those things? It seemed most likely that it was made of sawdust, gristle and white glue, with that little side of apples that tasted like they were stewed in roses).
I guess what I'm looking for is answers. Being an adult kind of sucks sometimes. Why do I have to think about it when the toilet paper runs out? Nothing is more depressing than that stupid brown roll sitting there in the morning. You really have no choice except to use the looseleaf-paper-quality paper towels you bought for 49 cents to save money and then nurse your papercuts. Or, when you check the cupboards for something to eat, then remember you haven't gone shopping for 2 months and end up eating tomato paste out of a can with a tiny dessert spoon, because you also haven't done the dishes. Sure, sometimes it's fun to pretend you're a hobo in Sicily as you sit in the corner and lick dehydrated tomatoes out of a tin can, and yes, O Sole Mio seems appropriate to belt out, but it's not like home. I guess what I'm saying is I want to go somewhere where my ass isn't chafed and I don't get high blood pressure from sodium-rich foods. Yeah, I guess that's it. Home.