Monday, April 03, 2006

Home is where the boarding pass says

My father and his wife came to visit this weekend. They live in the Northeast, in a small town - okay, outside a small town - two hours from the nearest airport. We don't see them enough, and when they do come visit, he adheres strictly to the old Southern doctrine that both fish and houseguests start to smell after three days. Our visit usually feel rushed and a bit forced, especially in contrast to my mother-in-law's visits, which are more like mini-colonizations. But that's another blog post.

In any case, my dad grew up in yet another small town, a little over 100 miles from where I live. This weekend we went back to visit. We stopped by the house his parents built, where they raised their four sons and then lived until they died. The woman who lives there now (who used to live just down the street) invited us in to look around, apologizing for the mess, which apparently meant there was a speck of dust somewhere. It was eerie to wander through the rooms again where I'd spent so much time on visits growing up. We went through the breakfast room where we played pre-Atari bowling video games, past the space for the ping-pong table (house rules that if the ball touched the support pole in the basement, it was still playable), through the bedroom where we discovered my dad's old notebooks in which he scored every Red Sox game on the radio when he was growing up, when his admiration for Ted Williams was cemented.

My grandparents were both born in that town and both died in that town. We went past the house where my dad was born, which was less than three blocks from his parents' first house, across the street from the church they helped found and down the hill from the elementary school. Their furniture store was two blocks away and the house they built was less than a mile in the other direction. My grandfather died in his 90's from injuries received in a car accident at an intersection in the same part of town. My grandmother died of heart failure less than three weeks later - no one was surprised, and the same friend who sang "I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone" at Pop's funeral sang it again at hers.

My grandfather dropped out of school around 8th grade. My grandmother went to college but left after a year because she was homesick. Their sons all went on to earn PhDs, then they all moved away. My grandmother never got over that. Even as a kid, I thought it was strange and that she should have expected her sons to grow up and grow apart from her. Now that my husband and I are flying distance from all of our family and I've had to explain to my daughter that her grandmother doesn't live on an airplane, I think I get where my grandmother was coming from. She was provincial and fairly narrow, but that made it natural for her to understand something that too many people don't appreciate now. Visiting for three days just isn't the same.

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