Going home is always a treat, made exceptionally sweet after nearly a year of being away.
Classes wrapped up on May 28th, after which students came for an hour each day to complete an exam at a time. June 2nd was their final exam: Mathematics! From that day forward, teachers continued to board the 6am bus, unload thirty minutes later near the city center, and reload at 14:45 for the homeward bound journey. What we did in between those hours became a static combination of watching movies, napping, or in my case: planning this summer’s trip. We continued this tradition daily until our contracts finished onJune 17th, at which point I hopped on a plane not twelve hours later.
The trip plan includes some solo excursions along with time spent alongside my favorite partner in crime: my big bro!
But before any European adventures could begin, there was a very important place to go: home.
With family scattered about the US and the world, to go home can be a confusing idea. My childhood home in the suburban outskirts of Southern Minneapolis was the first stop. At Dad’s house, the fields of corn had grown more than knee high by the Fourth of July. Driving down the newly paved road leading up to Dad’s, I was held aback by the waving crops and rippling waters appearing past each turn. Before turning into the drive, I had an obligatory break for families of geese waddling across the road. Without pushing on the gas, I stayed in place as two John Deere tractors scooted along the road right behind those geese.
Yes, this was home.
I turned left into Dad’s driveway and felt the car begin to rattle as the surface beneath its tires turned from smoothed tar to rough gravel.
Growing up in the country we got used to the road’s surface shaking our car so hard that as we drove, windows would dismantle from their spots, slipping down into hiding only to return with the help of a friendly mechanic. Tan was the most obvious choice in car color as it’s easier for the dust to blend in to. There would be no blending this time! The midnight black rental car was speckled with dusty stars by the time I had reached the crest of our little hill.
Right on the other side stood Hali and Dad. I stopped the car and got out. Hali jumped up without hesitation and I looked at dad. We exchanged glances and immediately a silent question passed between us: Does she remember?
We had huge smiles on our faces and hugged as Hali continued to jump and investigate her new guest. That old lady still has some spunk! She’d joined our family in 2004, the summer before my senior year of high school. “We” named her after a shade of pink than added a bit of flair: Princess Haleconia was to be her full name. Hali for short. Her favorite things in life are tennis balls and people that will throw tennis balls. She’s pretty easy to please if you’re either of those. Hard to please if not.
With apologies to family and friends, most often when a bout of homesickness sets in, it is typically triggered by a thought of her furry cuddles.
And luckily, she remembered those cuddles after a few minutes’ hesitation..
For the following week, I got to meet up with friends for brunches and dinners, coffee dates and kayaking trips on the peaceful waters of one of Minnesota’s more than 10,000 lakes. I sold the beautiful yellow car (“Myles”) and accompanied Dad to purchase a new car, content to know it would keep him safe in the cold, snowy winter months.
It’s interesting to go home to see how everything changes. Over the year, friends had celebrated marriages, given birth, become homeowners. Likewise, family members tied the know, had babies, and purchased new homes.
Yet they’re all still their same lovely selves, and welcomed me in with so much goodness.
Dad and I became couch buddies during the evening news- quickly reigniting a habit of tag-teaming crossword puzzles (he answers as many as possible, then I take over, and whatever is left blank we work on in upcoming days). His vegetable garden was sprouting up broccoli and beans as if it knew an extra mouth was in town to feed, and I became a huge fan of those green goodies; occasionally sneaking out to the field to pick some for myself as a mid-afternoon snack. We also bonded over sleep schedules: his made wonky by 4am work days, and mine just as irregular due to having recently crossed the high seas. 17:40 was my earliest bed time. Just as the local weather forecast played on the tube.
During twenty days on US soil, we celebrated high school graduations, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July. Family members reunited after many years apart. Friends whom had scattered around the Twin Cities for jobs and their own loved ones caught up and shared fond memories of days spent together and apart.
My time was split between Minnesota and Ohio to spend time with the best of both worlds. We stayed extremely active in the Buckeye State, and my Ohio family and I took turns wearing each other out with motorcycle rides, baseball games, coffee on the patio, dog walking, Matzo Ball Soup, Cards Against Humanity, luncheons, and a plethora of late nights at a local watering hole.
On a particularly go-get-em day, we woke up in the wee hours of the morning and set the GPS for New York. We aimed to see what we decidedly consider as one of the wonders of the world. It may not be one of the 7 Wonders of the World (we had a long debate about this, and finally Google sadly assured us that nope, it is not. We can always pretend tho!), but it sure is wondrous!
In order to visit Niagara Falls from an optimal angle, we crossed over the New York border into Canada. We slowly approached through giddy crowds snapping too many photos for their enormous SD cards. As we sauntered closer, we too tried to capture that quintessential “money shot.” Occasional pauses allowed us to feel the mist lightly press upon our faces and take in the sweet smell of flowers planted in open spaces nearby. Nearing the falls’ open mouthed gap, my perspective changed to one of “Yes that’s beautiful. But was it worth the day’s journey? to “…. ——— ….” No words. From up close, water rushed over the cliffside, appearing as a thick sheet of teal glass. Roaring caused by a steady crash of millions of gallons of water beating upon million of gallons of water echoed constantly, resonating in a billowing roar. Below we watched eager tourists tout plastic jackets aboard the “ Maid of the Mist” ship, passing close enough to the main Horseshoe Falls for the water to wipe visitors clean all of the salty sweat that had accumulated on their brow this hot summer’s day.
Above, after we felt it was time to allow others our viewpoint so that they may also delight in this spectacle, we slowly turned and walked a short distance to another one of Canada’s famous landmarks: Tim Hortons.
Oh the smell of roasted coffee, how I love thee. Tim Hortons is to Canadians what Caribou is to Minnesotans. So though I myself don’t crave it like some of my friendly Canadian chums, I do understand what a hit it is to those “Eh”-sayers. We went in, purchased a bag of coffee beans, and headed over to Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant for lunch. An unannounced entertainment act joined fellow diners on the patio: a woman whose striped pants stretched over seven feet from ground to hip as she staggered amongst guests on stilts made for the circus. As if we handed seen enough that day!
The time passed quickly, and each morning I woke up so content to know that after nine months of FaceTime, I could finally walk into the next room and see Mom in person. We all drove back to Minnesota together and there we were able to enjoy the planet’s most spectacular holiday:The Fourth of July! Family tradition allows us to celebrate this holiday in the tiny lakeside neighborhood where Grandma’s childhood cabin is located and where now, her brother and his wife call home. Each year family members try their best to make it to the same place on Lake Minnetonka, and this year was one of the most successful of all years past. Neighborhood members bring the community together with a multitude of games from back in the day. Generations join forces to embark in a themed parade, play games of egg toss, and race around the large wooded park heel-toe-heel-toe. There are even games organized specifically for women to let out pent aggression: ‘kick the shoe’ (exactly as it sounds: women get to kick a shoe as far as it will go) and ’hit the dummy’ (an underhand throw allows ladies to toss a wooden bowling pin and try to hit a life-size stuffed doll right in the pants.) For all those times she wishes she could’ve.
After a morning of games, all are left hungry and therefore, all are fed. Traditional dinner comes in the form of fried chicken, brownies, potato chips, and fresh watermelon. Full on fine foods, the neighborhood families disperse to wade in the waters, jump on an in-lake floating trampoline, or go for a cruise to see some of Lake Minnetonka’s finest homes (ahem… Palaces). Those who opt to stay on land get to delight in volleyball games where a little family rivalry goes a long way.
Sun worn and suntanned, we ate dinner on the patio to the tune of friendly street side fireworks, then returned to the boat as the sun set. Eighteen of us divided into two boats: a speedboat and a pontoon, and I got to hang out with the cool kids on the pontoon while they tested my scare-ability by lighting fireworks into the lake. Yes, even under water they do ‘pop’ quite loudly! We stayed on the lake and were able to see firework displays from virtually every angle. Upwards of twenty different shows could be seen at varying proximities. When the last of the larger shows was wrapping up, we turned around and made a beeline for home. High winds created rough waters that when lit by faint boat lights, created images reminiscent of The Old Man and the Sea in front of our very own eyes. Once we hit shore, we all gave goodbye hugs. “See you next year” we sang in unison. Traditions are hard to let go, and this is one of the best there is.
A few days later, after a family picnic, a nice dinner out, and a day of packing and planning, I boarded a plane to the country I’d first dreamed of visiting during University days: Espana! Revitalized, rejoiced, rejuvenated… maybe even reinvented… time with family left each bit of me saturated with love and happiness, and a strength to meet all roads which lies ahead.