Identity, part 2: Going Home Again
The headstone at my grandparents’ grave bears witness to at least five generations of my family who lived and died in the same few cities north of Boston.
Having spent his whole personal and professional life in the same city, my dad knows everyone. Students who had him forty years ago in junior high hail him at restaurants. He went to high school with former mayors and my childhood soccer coach. He met his two best friends in first grade, and all three still live within a couple of miles of each other.
When I graduated from college, I did not even think about going home.
Never mind actually living with my parents. I wanted to see what else was out there: live in a different part of the country for maybe a couple of years and then settle within an hour or two drive from my hometown. I don’t consider myself adventurous or risk-taking or even brave. My gut told me that someplace new was the right choice.
Through my post-college years, I’ve discovered my inner West Coaster. Despite my deep and abiding love for my family, I feel like I belong to a place far away from where most of them live.
For a while I felt like I didn’t belong in my hometown. I didn’t fit in. I felt like a black sheep in my family. (Hormonal teen angst may have had something to do with this.) I chafed against the old familiar streets, houses, sights that were so much part of my early life.
In early adulthood, when I went home for a visit, I returned to the same house just like I returned to the same habits and behaviors I had worked hard to move on from. I became 8 again. Or 12. Or 16.
Now, having established my identity elsewhere, I have discovered that my fondness for my hometown increases as I get older. Each time I go home, part of me still feels like a little girl again. Especially with my extended family–and especially in the past six months for my two grandmothers’ funerals.
Except this time, that little girl cherishes the sense of belonging to family that has always been there, rooted deep beneath the blooming of individual identity and self-discovery. The little girl who adores her aunts and uncles, who is teased by her cousins and brother, who trades sarcasm with the best of them, who knows that her tribe started with them.
That little girl misses her Nana and Grandma, Grampy and Grandpa.
That little girl is also the woman who has heard the wheels of time shift: that my little girls and little boy are now the kids growing from the roots of this family, that we are the parents, and my parents and aunts and uncles are the grandparent generation.
When I visit the cemetery, I can see the line of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and on carved into concrete. My name will not be among them.
Instead, that place is in me. The person that I have become can go home again–not to stay, but to remember, and appreciate, and love the place for its part in who I am.