When Going Home Feels Like Leaving Home
Families aren’t easy; nor do they have to be hard. My “first family” is as complicated, dysfunctional and screwed up as the next one, but by golly by durn, if it isn’t the best family I have. My mother might purse her lips at some of my liberal ways of thinking, but she will sit down (no she won’t; she’ll flutter around while I sit) and talk in depth about world events and how we’ve gotten to where we are, as well as what we might do to make it better. I’m not lying when I say my mother is one of the wisest women I’ve ever known. Pretty is AS pretty does.
My dad is a gruff old fart with an uncanny sense of humor who worked in a steel mill for a million years, retired and because the world is unfair and the law is never on the workers’ side works at Wal-Mart for a million years more. How a plant can file Chapter 13, sell to another company and cut its retirees off at the knees by dropping their pension plan is a concept beyond my ability to comprehend. Gregarious 81-year-olds should work at Wal-Mart because they enjoy their following at Register 10. (Seriously, the man has a fan club.) NOT because they have no pension. Of course Wal-Mart keeps him just under full time so they don’t have to give him benefits.
Be still my angry, thumping, inner redneck heart.
My sister is a single mom who is private, so I don’t say much about her. She’s gorgeous. We both used to be; she stayed that way. She’s got a dry, cutting sense of humor that can slice steak. She scares me.
Her daughter – her doppelganger – is my heart. She is my parents’ heart. She is my sister’s everything. That’s a lot for a teenager to carry, but she does it well.
Because my sister never left the hills of West Virginia, the four of them are a unit. When I come to visit, I disrupt it a little. When I feel dramatic, I disrupt it a lot. It’s like they’re all comfortable sitting in a pew at church and I come in and expect them to scoot over and make room for my ample rear end. They smile in welcome, then they have to scootch over, pick up their church bulletins, scoot their purses, stand up to let me through, then scrunch up a little bit because the fit is a little tighter than it was before I arrived.
The week that Man Child and I spent with my family, exploring just a little bit of my home state during his senior year spring break was one of the best trips “home” that I’ve ever had. There was room in the pew for us and like any good church service, we left feeling uplifted and loved.
Still, we left feeling unfinished. There was so much we didn’t do, didn’t see. We brought bikes to ride around the small town of Milton. It snowed. We didn’t bike. We didn’t go see where my mother was born. We didn’t visit graves. We didn’t climb around in my parents’ attic. We didn’t go to Blenko Glass. We didn’t see a lot of folk whom I love. My Aunt Pat. Aunt Janet. Jennifer. Shelley. Bari. Liza. Kim. People I’d told I’d stop by while we were up there. We didn’t go get ice cream with my niece.
We DID do so much, though. We did so much it’s taken me a month to write it down. We did see people. I saw my twin aunts. I love those girls and yes, they will always be girls to me. They’re only a couple of years older than I and they make me smile wider than most people do. They love dogs almost as much as I do. (Okay, maybe even more.) They have the most generous hearts of anybody I have ever known. Lisa is an artist. She and her husband are regularly featured in the local news for their holiday décor. Teresa is a cook. She’s her own Meals on Wheels. She literally feeds the town of Milton. If you get a wart removed, be sure that Teresa knows and you’ll get a slice or two of mouthwatering pound cake, my grandmother’s secret recipe. If you get a limb removed, you’ll probably get the whole cake.
We did all that we could do. We explored curvy roads. We ate our way through at least ten counties. We saw monsters and we saw men. We experienced history already made and history being made. We saw despair. We saw hope. We saw lawmakers, law breakers and law enforcers.
On our way out of town, after tearfully waving goodbye to my mother in her driveway, we stopped at Stewarts Hot Dogs. Spousal Unit declares Frost Top the best; I declare Stewarts and we always argue on the way out of Huntington as to where we will stop. When he’s not in the car, it’s no contest. The carhop came to the window and we ordered. A mini van pulled up and I’ll-be-durned if it wasn’t two people I always intend to see, but never really get to squeeze into the schedule.
Man Child and I jump out of the car to love on Rick Haye and Marilyn Testerman. Those incredible shots of Marshall athletes at games? The just after dusk photos of the Memorial fountain? Rick, and often Marilyn, took those photographs and they’ve been taking those photos for a few decades. Rick is the Photographic Services Manager at Marshall. The above photo is of the Marshall Memorial Fountain.
I used to work with Rick and Marilyn when they were wedding photographers (there’s a whole series of blogs I could write about that) and we reminisced about the time their daughter was born while Rick and I were shooting a wedding. Rick missed her birth by mere minutes and we ran into the hospital where officials of some sort stopped me and said, “Family only.”
I didn’t miss a beat. “I’m her sister.” We ran back and I saw my very first newborn baby. Oddly, nobody questioned how Marilyn and I could be sisters. She’s dark-headed, tall and round-faced. I’m not. I watched this couple with their newborn baby and I felt like something from the poorly-written Twilight trilogy. This baby is imprinted on me. That kind of community isn’t bought.
Rick and Marilyn are grandparents now. We caught up as best we could, before hot dogs arrived and I spilled Marilyn’s Diet Pepsi. They needed to know that some things never change, including my inherent lack of grace. We returned to Pollyanna, our hot dogs (yeah, definitely beans in the sauce – shame on you Stewarts!) and a six-hour drive back to Nashville.
I’ve been slightly depressed and a little lost since returning to home that isn’t quite home. I built up my West Virginia library. I’ve followed Hillbilly Hot Dogs, the World’s Only Mothman Museum, Maria’s Drive-In and Matewan’s “Depot Replica Museum and Welcome Center” on Facebook. They don’t seem to miss me.
Girl Child came home from college over Spring Break. She was happy to be home, to see her horse, to be fed, but she was restless. I understood. She loves Chicago. Nashville is home. I squeezed her and said, “Welcome to my world, honey. For the rest of your life, you will be torn between two places you love.”
When I first got that 1959 Tour-A-Home canned ham camper and named her Daisy, I really did imagine I would pull her behind my trusty Honda Pilot and write from places far and near. I imagined my computer open on my lap as I wrote next to a campfire, golden retriever by my feet, Spousal Unit strumming mandolin down by the river.
I believed I had to make those trips in order to have something to write about. I was wrong. I had forgotten that the stories are like Zen. Wherever you go there you are. Wherever you are, there the stories are also.
*Photo credit: Rick Haye