I was about 12-years old when I first heard that phrase, “You can never really go home.” I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, thinking, “Whaddya’ mean never go home? I went to a camp last year and came home!”
When I finally left home at the ripe old age of 17 and subsequently returned a couple of years later, I understood. A lot had changed at home. Not realising at the time that I too had changed. Friends were no longer around to hang out. Some family had left for new adventures. My old bedroom was no longer mine; it had become a guest bedroom, and I had found myself in it.
It is unquestionably a rite of passage to leave home to make your own home elsewhere, and I would argue that it is another rite of passage to return home after that first absence. It is something that almost everybody experiences. And, it is something many people go through more than once. In my case, each time I returned something had changed.
We never return specifically to our home; we return to our parents’ house. As adults, most people, myself included, will always refer to the place we grew up as home.
“What are you doing for the holidays?”
“Oh, I’m going home.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“My home is in Saskatchewan.”
“Wow, you are far from home.”
All of these were parts of actual conversations I had as an adult. My home has not been in Saskatchewan since I was 17, and that is over 30 years ago.
We tend to get homesick for something that is no longer there. What we are nostalgic about is the memory of home. The big family get-togethers, the camping and fishing trips that start at 4:00 a.m., the friends you played hockey with on the street until you were called in for supper. Street hockey aside, these things are no longer available to me. (I don’t play street hockey anymore, but the option, given the right conditions, is still possible.) My mom has Alzheimer’s and has had to move into an assisted living place for seniors. So, as it turns out, I can never go home again, because the house, with the yard I once played in, has become someone else’s.
Despite all that, little has changed with my lexicon.
“Are you going home for Christmas?” asked by my colleagues.
“No, I’ll be going home next year.”
True, the yard is no longer available for backyard barbecues; our clothing no longer hangs on the laundry tree; and the garden, where, inexplicably, strawberries never made it to the kitchen, would no longer be a summertime ritual, but the memories are still alive and well.
Calling someplace home is perhaps best described in Robert Frost’s poem, “The Death of the Hired Man.” He wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”
— at least, that is the hope.