Who Says You Can’t Go Home?
When you leave for college, there is something they don’t tell you, or maybe something that in your youth and naivete that you just don’t understand yet. You can never really, truly go home again. By “home” I don’t mean that you can’t go back to the city where you were raised, perhaps even to the very brick and mortar building where you spent so many of your days for the first 18 years of life. You can visit the schools you attended, the church where you were baptized, your favorite restaurants and shops, as long as they are still in existence. But, the spirit of the place you once knew is forever changed. At least that has been my experience.
When I left Huntsville, I think a large piece of me didn’t accept the finality, even if somewhere in my spirit, I knew I would not be moving back–at least not for a long, long time, if ever. Even before meeting Luke, the job market in the Rocket City, tech town of all tech towns, was not conducive to my chosen field of integrated marketing communications or journalism. I wanted bigger, better things, or what I perceived to be bigger and better. I mainly wanted change.
Here are some of my favorite memories from my last year of high school, my last year at “home” as I knew it.
As I look back at these photos, I see such precious memories as well as moments that will never be recaptured in quite the same way. And, how I so took it for granted then! For one thing, I will never be the teenager with so few responsibilities, breezing through life in Greenlawn Plantation with all of the opportunity I could have ever wanted just at my fingertips. I didn’t know then what “humble beginnings” meant. I underestimated my father’s years and years of hard work to get our family to a stage of life where we had all of our hearts’ desires and more in terms of material possessions. However, I also did not understand the concept of a happy family. I don’t say this without regard for my parents, who did the very best they could. I truly believe that. But our nuclear family of 4 had broken up long before I left to get married and go out on my own; their divorce truly cemented the fact that “home” would be forever changed.
My Dad still lives in Greenlawn, in the same house. But, everything is different now. We will never again celebrate Christmas within those four walls, with Mom, Dad and Ethan, just the 4 of us. The spirit of the house is completely changed. In an effort to be fair during the separation and final proceedings, my parents divided their worldly possessions in half. Literally. Where there were sets of two decorative plates, two candlesticks, two matching dishes, he got one and so did she. My Dad, never much for decorating, hasn’t changed much since Mom left. It still makes me sad to see those singular objects sitting around the house, and in my mind’s eye, I see the missing piece, the matched set that once was that now is empty.
There is much debate over whether it’s easier to divorce when your kids are younger or older. I think either way is going to be really, really rough. In our case, we were more mature, granted. Older. But our way of life that had been settled for over 22 years, our family traditions, our holiday celebrations, everything we knew suddenly evaporated. That was hard to reconcile, especially early on. Sure, things hadn’t been peaches and cream for a long time; they never are when a relationship ultimately culminates in divorce. And, I don’t blame my parents at all for their decision. I think they are both happier people now than they were several years ago, and that makes me so, so happy. In some ways, I wish they would have done it earlier and I think we might all have been happier without the tension, the disagreements, the Elephant in the Room, always lurking but never fully put to rest. And that is that they are both great people, but they were never great together. But, perhaps selfishly, I treasure that they did “stay together for the kids.” We have so many memories, so many experiences we would not have had. I have the foundation of their love, and it was not split down the middle. Both of them did, and still do, love Ethan and I more than life. And, that was a blessing I would not change for the world.
I miss my perception of our once fun family dynamic, Christmas Eves spent going to the movies and listening to Christmas music while opening gifts. I would bake a homemade cake (usually one that took hours to prepare,) and we would go out to eat and then come home and sort through the presents. Afterward, we might watch a Christmas movie, or more likely, I would curl up on the loveseat (my very favorite seat in the house) with a good book and a mug of hot tea, and the rest of the family would watch a movie. Our gas log fireplace heated the room and provided a beautiful ambiance for a winter’s eve in Alabama (never snowy outside of course.)
No, I haven’t been home for the holidays in many years, and I won’t be home for them ever again in one sense. But, even if my parents were still together, it would be different now. For one, I am older. I have Luke. I am grateful he got to celebrate one Christmas with our family “The Way It Was.” He came in on Christmas Day and we hosted the extended family for Christmas Dinner the following day in our formal dining room. Mom got the china out, and we even had the old kids’ table in the kitchen, though the four cousins were long past the age of being considered “kids.”
And for the first time in recent memory, it snowed, and Luke and I got to tromp around outside in my attempt at a romantic walk and make snow angels. Granny was still there, and we took a photo with her, all of us cousins, and I had made her fudge recipe since she was past the point of cooking then. She gave us all gifts from Cracker Barrel that year and I remember she mixed up mine and Ashley’s and we discreetly switched them so as not to hurt her feelings. Granny has passed away now, along with all of my other grandparents except Omi, and I am so grateful for the time I have left with her.
A kind coworker was trying to make the evening shift at Chick-fil-A fun the other night and he asked everyone if they could have just one thing for Christmas, what that might be. He wants a special chain saw, and as I listened to my younger colleagues state their preferences of fancy gifts and toys, I reflected on the one thing I really want. Materially, I want a new mattress of course. Ours has seen better days, and I think Luke is going to spoil us by getting us the memory foam one with adjustable base that is way too expensive, really, but I’ve had my eye on it for a long time. But, what is the one thing–if I could have anything– that I would want for Christmas? It’s not to go back to the old days. My life is everything and nothing like I ever imagined it to be, yet I would not change a thing.
My one Christmas wish is just time with family.
Those long ago days meant so much to me, not because of the place I lived, but because of the relationships that were built there. I mourn those that are gone forever, like my parents’ marriage, my grandparents, but I also miss the way things were. I miss when I made more of an effort to keep in touch with high school friends, and days gone by when my friend Kate and I would spend a Friday night jamming out to Taylor Swift in her cheerful, yellow bug, heading for the Rave and whatever movies might be playing. I miss talks with my brother on our morning drives to school and our visits to Sonic and to get ice cream. I miss our annual shopping trips to buy gifts for all of our loved ones, and our attempts to save money from our summer jobs to get our parents something they really would treasure.
Marriage in the Army (arguably TO the Army) has prevented Luke and I from physically going “home” for Christmas for the last four years, and it will prevent it again this year. Even if we could go “home” there is always the choice now of Huntsville or my in laws’ home in NC. They live too far apart to see both families in the same brief holiday break. If we do go to Huntsville, there are two or three branches to visit separately, so time is of the essence and always far too brief split into fractions of the whole. So, with limited finances and even more limited leave from our respective jobs, I’ve had to find a new Spirit of the holidays–the Luke and Amanda Bradshaw spirit, which will define our home for years to come. I’ve become master chef, decorator, wife, hostess–all those things my mom and grandmothers did for so many years now fall squarely on me. I enjoy it, I think I’m pretty OK at it, but when I hear of all of our Army friends going “home” for the holidays, I still feel a sense of nostalgia, of sadness, of longing for the holidays that made up my childhood. Dinners in Granny and Granddaddy’s sunroom, his off color gifts, her delicious fried chicken and mashed potatoes. My other grandmother’s German dinners, or traditional ham dinner depending on the year or occasion, and my firefighter Pap-pa watching TV with us on the couch or taking us down to the station to see the truck. I miss their historic home on Ward Avenue, a place I loved, cherished and spent some of my very best childhood days. A tornado demolished much of the house a few years ago, and my grandmother had it very beautifully remodeled, but that was also the end of an era. I will never again sleep in the big bed with her in the front bedroom and listen to the trains go by. The friends that I hung out with, cheered on the Trojans basketball team with and went to bonfires with have all moved on too. Some moved back and some didn’t. Some are married, and a few even have kids! So even if I were to move back, the essence of home would never be the same again. You could physically put all of those people in the same room, and it would still be different. Life changes people, time changes people. I, too, have changed.
I am grateful for the relationships we build in our community, for “Friendsgiving” like the one we will have this Sunday at the home a generous friend from church! My contribution will be my Aunt Lisa’s famous sweet potato casserole–my very favorite Thanksgiving dish. (Some things never change.) I am also thankful that our families make efforts to visit us wherever we live now, since Uncle Sam can make getting away impossible. Needs of the Army and all that! This year, my Dad and Grandmother are coming out for Thanksgiving, and we are sure to have a feast, again just the four of us, just a different unit of four. We will play Rook, and drink apple cider and go for walks together. And it will be Thanksgiving as I know it now–not quite as it was, but wonderful just the same.
I love my husband more than anyone on Earth and cherish our new traditions, so I certainly would never, ever, ever want to go back. But, I still struggle to relinquish a certain part of what the holidays look like now versus then. I don’t want to recreate what was but to move forward in what “is;” with my brother moving to Arkansas in January to start his first adult job with Wal Mart Corporate, the end of an era is officially solidified.Even when we do go “home,” he may be missing from the table based on his work schedule and other commitments. Our future holidays will likely be spent bouncing from place to place, wanting to see everyone but failing. And then, hopefully there will be little ones, and we will get to play Santa, and I will FINALLY learn where exactly he hides all those gifts each year and how he keeps those reindeer so darn quiet!
They say you can’t really ever go “home,” and yet, I argue that you still can. You have changed and so have all of your relatives. No, you can never go home to a stagnant place or stagnant people; the world did not stop turning on its axis as my arrogance half expected it would when I packed my houndstooth suitcase for Tuscaloosa nearly 8 years ago. My childhood bedroom has long since been converted to something resembling a guest room, and the boxes of my trophies and closet with castaway clothes that would never fit me in a million years now are all that remains of my life there. But, the love remains the same. The love that I have for my extended family is timeless, as I know is theirs for me. So, I cherish the time I do get with them, in whatever form that takes. It may just be a text message checking in, a quick phone call, or on those rare occasions a visit. I am going back for my brother’s college graduation in a few weeks, and am eagerly making plans to see whomever I can (friends and family alike) during the days I am in town. Home may have changed its form over the years, but in the end, home is where the heart is after all. ❤