As a former military brat, I’ve lived in a number of areas, but two places in particular were places I considered “home.”
For a period of about three years, until I was nearly 4, my family shared a home with my father’s parents in Ludlow, Massachusetts. My family – my dad, my mom, and my four siblings – lived downstairs. My grandma and grandpa lived above. We had a few acres of land, enough for my grandfather to grow corn, berries, cucumbers, etc.
My memories of our time spent living there are very few. I have more memories of when we would visit every summer for the five years after my dad was transferred to D.C. We would spend several weeks each summer visiting my grandparents’ house. They had moved downstairs after our departure and they rented out the upstairs apartment.
I can recall running freely around the property, to the home across the street, to the house down the street with the people who had an above-ground pool. I recall picking strawberries and blueberries and corn. I can see us all sitting out around the big table for meals. I can see us swinging on the porch swing. I can see us swinging on the cheap structure with two regular swings and the type of swing where you sat across from each other.
The area had a rural feel to it, an agricultural feel, but one with a strong Yankee influence. Perhaps “puritanical” is the word I’m struggling to find to describe it. Everyone seemed to work hard for what they could get. And the kids – especially my sister and I – had to help out quite a bit in the preparation of the meals and the clean up following it. I doubt my mother got much rest. Ditto my grandma.
The other “home” for me is Northern Virginia. I lived there for two stretches: the early elementary school years and then the high school years. My high school was in Burke. And the area was just an explosion of growth. But, at that time, I could get in a car and drive down the curvy back roads of the county with my friends. We were escaping something. At the time, I’m not sure what it was we were running from, but I understand it now. We were running away from growing up, from moving on, from parting.
I’d probably have a very hard time navigating the streets of Burke and its surrounding towns nowadays. I’ve not been back to my old haunts in many, many years. When I went for my last extended visit – more than, say, a day or so – it was a dozen years after I’d left, and I was at a loss to feel any sense of recognition to what I had once had. The stars I’d been able to see on summer nights? Completely obscured by the lights of progress. The fireflies I’d chased? I could see a twinkle or two. The mosquitoes found me. They always do. And the humidity as well.
I now live in a town not unlike the town I spent my high school years in. Its growth spurts likely matched the spurts my old town matched. I imagine there are people of my age who were leaving this town at the same time I was leaving Burke. I imagine them returning and looking around and feeling only slight recognition.
Since leaving those two childhood homes, I’ve had a taste of city living. I don’t live far from San Francisco, a city I lived in for more than six years. I live now in neither town nor country, but in a hybrid, a mutant of the two. I guess it makes sense for me, raised nowhere in particular, to now live in such a place. I’m happy here, although I’d like to take some of the best parts of the past – the fresh berries and the fireflies, to name two – and give my children a taste of them.