“You can’t go home again.”
People have told me this my whole life. I hear it all over the place. I suspect pretty much everyone has said this to someone else or to themselves at some point or another. I’ve said it to myself many times, over the years. It’s one of those sayings that seems to fit a lot of different circumstances. It sounds like wisdom. It has the ring of truth to it. And so, it’s easy for people to trot it out when they don’t have anything better to say. Or when they don’t know what to say.
But I don’t think the enormity of this saying — the heavy and real truth behind it — ever hit me until this summer’s trip to Texas. This summer, though, I have found myself thinking about this more than ever. And I have felt the weight of the truth behind what seems to be such a simple statement. You can’t go home again. Because “home” — that place that lives in your childhood memories — isn’t there any longer. Things change. People change. People die. You change. If I’m not the person I was when I was 9 or 10 or 16, how can I expect “home” to be static and unchanging? Funny how I never thought about it that way until this year. Actually, I guess I never thought much about it at all.
We went to visit my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house in Victoria. This was my first time visiting their house since my Aunt Pat’s death. I knew it was important to my mom for us to go. And it was important to my Uncle Ray, too. And to my sweet cousin, who was so excited for us to come. But … I really didn’t want to go. It’s probably selfish of me, but I didn’t want to face that house without my aunt in it. I didn’t want to face my feelings and my grief. I didn’t want to feel the reality of her being gone from our lives — from my life. My Aunt Pat was creative and talented, and she poured so much love and energy into her house. Everything in that house is a reflection of her. Everything is just the same as it was when I was a kid and we would visit. Everything … except my sweet and beautiful aunt isn’t there. Her presence is everywhere, but she is not. And so, the house is completely the same but completely different, all at the same time.
I have many happy memories from her house. My parents moved away from my childhood home when I was in college, so, in a way, my aunt and uncle’s house stands in that place in my mind. Because it’s still there. Because it’s still the same home. Because every stick of furniture and every painting on the walls is the same, even if it feels a little bit empty and hollow now.
I found myself standing in the back room of the house, which had been my Aunt Pat’s sewing room. I have so many memories of just that room. She used to sew all my clothes, and I remember looking over patterns and materials and endless sessions of trying things on and being told not to wiggle so I didn’t get stuck with a pin. Well, they seemed endless back then. I would give almost anything now to have Aunt Pat fuss at me for being too wiggly. I spent hours in that room as a child and teenager when we visited. She had shelves and shelves and shelves of books, including a whole shelf that had books I could read. My favorite was Beautiful Joe. I must have read that book a hundred times over the years. I read it pretty much every time we visited them. It lives with me now, a sweet and incredibly sentimental gift from my cousin. My Aunt Pat had a beautiful wooden cabinet, which she had painted with different types of mushrooms. Inside this cabinet were many treasures, including a set of 6 miniature ceramic horses. I was fascinated with those little horses. I loved them, and I spent hours as a child sitting in front of that cabinet, dreaming up different stories in my head — always with a herd of white horses thundering through the plot line. The cabinet lives with my cousin now, but the little white horses live with me: one of the last gifts my Aunt Pat sent to me, the year before she died. On my daughter’s first Christmas, I fed her in that back room, sitting in the comfortable chair she had covered with sunny yellow fabric.
My Uncle Ray found me standing in the room, looking around at all the things that were the same and the things that had changed. I was lost in my memories. “It’s a bit different, isn’t it?” he asked me. I nodded, because I couldn’t trust my voice. How can it be that a room is the same, the memories are the same, but none of it seems alive any longer? I don’t know, but my Aunt Pat was the life and spirit of that room. It doesn’t feel the same any longer.
It was a hard visit. But it was also good, in a way. It was good to hug my Uncle Ray and my cousin. It was good to visit and tell stories and laugh. Above all, my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house always seemed to me like a house full of joy, love, laughter, and good memories. And that part is the same. Maybe, in a small way, you can go home again. Even when everything has changed.