Last June, we went on an outing to the local Goodwill store, followed by dinner at Pizza Hut. Nothing all that exciting, believe me. In a small town, you entertain yourself in smaller ways I suppose.
As we left the house, my cousin said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all lived by each other and could do stuff like this all the time?”
That’s the thing. It wasn’t what we were doing. It was who we were doing it with. My daughter and I had made the long drive back to my hometown so we could spend time with family. The aunts, uncles and cousins I grew up with every day of my childhood. In those days, our lives were so intertwined, you never knocked on the door when you arrived at one another’s houses. The bank-issued calendar Mom had hanging on the wall in her kitchen always had the words “family gathering” written in permanent markers on holidays.
Eventually, my college years and then life in general took me away from that small Missouri town. All the way to the coastline of Lake Michigan. I haven’t lived in my hometown for twenty-plus years now. How is that even possible?
When I was younger and building a career, I didn’t give much thought to living far away from my family. Especially when I got married, my husband and I were busy starting our own life together; working full-time and settling in to our first home. It wasn’t until we had our daughter that I started longing for the people and things back home.
Except home had changed too. My mom no longer lives in the town where we grew up. My brothers moved away as well. Many of my cousins settled in the big city nearby because the job market was better. The reality is I can’t go home because in a thousand ways big and small that place doesn’t exist anymore. I know this.
However, at least once a year, usually in the summer, my daughter and I pack up the car and start driving southwest out of Michigan. We make the trek across a little corner of Indiana and on through Chicago (watching the clock to ensure we won’t be driving through during rush hour). At that point, I always heave a huge sigh of relief because I survived the construction and traffic of big city driving once again. A few hours later, we cross over the bridge at Hannibal, which takes you from Illinois into Missouri. A piece of my heart always settles as we cross over. Home. Although it’s a long trip, we usually arrive pretty rested because driving what is now a familiar route after all these years makes the miles go by faster and easier. Also, we gain an hour going there as we travel from the Eastern Time Zone to Central.
I can still struggle knowing my daughter won’t have everyday memories with my side of the family. From time to time, I allow myself to daydream about another childhood she could have had. It’s not one ounce better than the one she’s living now. Just a different one with another cast of characters.
She’s teaching me these characters still play a big role in her life though. For months now, she’s been asking about our trip to Missouri. She’s got her own list of things she wants to do when she gets there, because we always do them. They’ve become tradition for her. Many of the activities are the exact things I used to look forward to when I was a kid. A day at the amusement park. Swimming at the city pool. Playing at the park with the big rocket and the lion-shaped water fountain. Donuts at the new shop on Washington Street. Of course, a trip (or two) to the local Goodwill store. She asks if she’ll get to play with her cousins and if we’ll see my aunts and uncles.
What I have always tried to tell myself in my mind is starting to settle into my heart. The people I loved from my own childhood do play a part in hers. She may have an everyday life elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean she can’t build memories and traditions where I come from. Her world’s just a bigger place, that’s all.