One of the hardest parts about making a new life in Kansas for me has been missing so much of my old life in Wisconsin. In my early years as a Kansan, I longed for things here to feel more like home. Over time my appreciation for Kansas has grown, and it has begun to feel like home to me. I didn’t realize until recently that the trade-off for this connection and comfort to my new home state was made possible by drifting further from my old one.
Since I left for college more than 15 years ago, I always managed to make a handful of trips home each year. With COVID, my visits were limited, and the time between felt somehow longer.
Over the Fourth of July holiday, I returned to my childhood home for a visit. As I drove into town around midnight, I felt tired from the 12-hour trek, but I kept blinking my eyes because everything seemed strange.
Things felt smaller — the buildings, the distance between streets. Trees and other vegetation seemed bigger, like they were swallowing up the road. The pavement seemed to be faded and cracked in a way I had never noticed before. Barns and sheds I swear were in good shape the last time I drove by are falling down.
For a few days, it was like having a surreal dream in which I knew the places, people and sites around me but they were all somehow slightly foreign to me.
On my trip home, I was thinking about why things had felt so different and a light bulb went off in my head. The place where I grew up was no longer mine.
The nostalgia of our childhoods is powerful. These places grew us, and it can devastating to lose the physical connection to them. A person can know that the home of a long-gone, beloved relative has been demolished and still have their heart skip a beat when they see the reality replacing the faded memory. Alumni can be aware of a school merger changing the name, mascots and colors but not realize how bizarre it will feel to see a new team playing on the same field they once occupied.
It was a bittersweet recognition I am an outsider in my hometown. My parents’ home will always be my childhood home, but it is no longer my home. The town is full of people and places that evoke fond memories and have a special place in my heart, but I am no longer a part of their community.
When we no longer own these places, it can be hard for our hearts to let go because there was too much life played out in these spaces.
My realization actually gave me comfort because it reminded me how fortunate I am to have found a new home that I love. Letting my mental allegiance shift from my childhood hometown to my forever hometown has create the room in my life to make a full commitment to the life I am living here in Kansas.
To make the most of my new home, I am going to do my best to be present and cherish everyday moments with people that make me feel at home. Take pictures of the special things I want to remember for years to come. And depart your everyday places with a grateful heart because it could be your last visit, and there really is no place like home.