What Home Is

I’m sitting on my bed in New York, snacking from a bag of homemade Chex mix that traveled with me this morning on a plane from Portland, Oregon. This is bringing me great joy.

For the first time since I moved to New York over two years ago, I went home for Thanksgiving. I’d been home other times, of course, but this was the first time in a few years that I spent Thanksgiving in Portland. I was lucky to get a good chunk of time there, too – flew out Tuesday morning and came back Sunday afternoon.

One thing that’s surprised me about living in New York is how infrequently I get homesick. Or rather, how infrequently I get Portland-sick. I miss my family, but we talk all the time, and since my sister is also in the area for school, they come to New York at least a couple times a year. We’ve also gotten together in “neutral” places, like a trip to Florida last summer. So while I miss a lot of things about Portland – friends from college who live there, extended family, Fred MeyerPowell’s – I find myself able to go a long time without physically being there, because so much of what represents “home” to me can be found elsewhere.

This was my first trip to Portland since last Christmas, and I think I was wearing my almost-a-year-away-from-home badge with some degree of pride. I secretly wanted to see if I could make it a year. And I know I could have done it, but what’s the point? The opportunity to go home was there, and I wouldn’t have jumped at it if there hadn’t been some part of me that longed to be in the actual place.

These little thoughts about home have been bouncing in my mind since Tuesday. What is home, really? A place? The people in the place? A combination of the two and several other elements? When I landed at PDX on Tuesday, my first stop was my old high school, where my mom is still a teacher. A landmark for me in Portland – but the school changed locations in January. I loved chatting with my favorite teacher and cross-country coach, but we weren’t in any of the classrooms I used to sit in. It didn’t matter, of course. But it was different.

And about a year after I moved to New York, my parents moved within the Portland area. They’re not far from the old house at all – my sister who’s still at home didn’t change schools – but there’s not the same sense of nostalgia. I’m not going to Portland so I can sleep in my old room, you know? My whole frame of reference for driving has changed, too. Again – none of this really matters. Home is still home. Portland is still Portland. But I was reminded this week of how things are always in flux.

It’s the physical places that are in flux, though. Not the people I spend time with. My parents and little sister are the same people, as are my best friends from college. It was a joy to see those girls. I think there’s a relaxed air to the Thanksgiving holiday that doesn’t exist at Christmastime, where there are more events to attend, gifts to buy, places to be. At Thanksgiving, we can just hang out.

I know there isn’t a formula calculating the perfect number of times one should visit home. There are so many factors. But I know this visit was perfect, and perfectly timed. I saw so many amazing people, made two trips to Powell’s (scored a gloriously retro used copy of this for $2), tried new (to me) restaurants and sang at the top of my lungs while driving up and down I-5 (though I discovered that in two years of basically never driving, I’ve lost my parallel parking prowess).

There’s something I love about landing at JFK and knowing I’m home. Not home in the “this is where I was born” sense, but in the “this is where I am supposed to be right now” sense. So here I am. Eating snacks from home and thinking about what home really is. I think the last few days have given me a pretty good idea.

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