“You Can’t Go Home Again?” Sure You Can!

What to make of my annual trek home – dear to me as always, to visit my brother and others so dear to my life’s journey. But what else to make of my pilgrimage? Two evenings ago I got back from my annual trek home to northern Indiana – Bremen, a town of about 3,500, originally settled by German farm families. This time, instead of flying to Cincinnati and renting a car to drive the rest of the way, I decided to enjoy driving all 750-plus miles, convincing myself (again) that getting there is half the fun! So I made up my mind to only drive five hours or so a day, and then have afternoons to relax, get some exercise, have a nice dinner, read, etc. Thus I was on the road three nights and four days, going and coming.

The first night I stayed at the General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg, West Virginia (see my recent blog about the town and Inn); the second night out I stayed in a downtown Marriott in Charleston, West Virginia – having a reunion with Keith and Tim, the bellman and bartender I’ve known for years. It had been a while since I had seen both of them, but we picked right up where we left off a couple of years ago, and Tim knew exactly what I wanted after a hard two-hour drive that afternoon (you guessed it – a nice glass of champagne). The third night I stayed again at a Marriott at the Cincinnati airport (actually in Hebron, Kentucky), and had another reunion with Tim (yes, another Tim), one of the managers at the front desk, again a friendly guy whom I (and we) had gotten to know over the years. Saw my good friend Karen for dinner that evening, and then I was on to Indiana the next morning, around Indianapolis, making it to Plymouth (near Bremen) around noon. Lunch again at the old familiar Brass Rail restaurant.

If you look back through my blogs, you’ll see that for some years I’ve stayed at Swan Lake golf resort near Plymouth. The lead photo shows the entrance driveway sign, and the second photo below displays the hotel entrance. That evening my brother Joe, his wife Marty, and my niece Brenda came over to Swan Lake and we had a great reunion dinner. (I also have a nephew, Gary, who couldn’t be there that evening.) But this is it. This is my immediate family, the remnant that was left after our mom and dad, and another nephew Scott, died. I have some cousins somewhere, lost track of in time, and a newly discovered “second cousin, once removed” found through an internet search. Marty has lots of extended relatives, but again, in terms of my own immediate family, this is it.

Let me describe a few highlights of the visit and then turn to the deeper meaning of Home to us humans who are always on the search for that safe and familiar place that resides in our hearts – whether our actual childhood homes were idyllic or not.

I spent Saturday in part recovering from the time on the road, and then had a great lunch with my oldest childhood friend Kay. As always, our conversation picked up where we left off a year ago, filled with “Do you remember when” we did this and that … got into my dad’s liquor cabinet, had a slumber party at my house when guys we knew from school sat out front in their cars, honking horns … the usual memories of teenage years … old boyfriends and what has become of them, and so on. Half jokingly we said that most of the childhood friends we grew up with were either divorced or dead! A bit of an exaggeration, but still it began to seem like it was true as we remembered this one and that one.

The next day, Sunday, Joe, Marty and I drove out to a campground where Brenda keeps an RV during summers, having lots of friends in this vacation community on the edge of town. The next photo below shows Brenda sitting outside her new RV – with all the comforts of home. Then the three of us drove up to a lake about a half-hour from Bremen and had lunch at The Frog. Now I have to tell you that this is always a high point of my visit. It’s a great place, right on the water, filled with interesting characters and great food. (The next three photos show the entrance to the restaurant, an inside shot of the dining room, and the view from our table window.)

After I left Joe and Marty’s home that afternoon, I decided to take a few detours, and shoot some photos of places that held deep memories for me. About two blocks from their house stood my childhood home, the house that my parents built when I was in the fourth grade and we had just moved to Bremen. The house originally was painted “barn red” but now is a nondescript gray and white. (Next photo) When I was growing up, the house seemed grand. Now it looks modest, a smallish ranch – but still filled with memories of my growing up years. A couple of blocks from the childhood home is a cluster of condos where my parents wound up near the end of their lives … with many years and moves in between. The sign leading to the condos, in a section called “Grandview” for some reason, is shown in the next photo, followed by the actual condo where they lived for a few years until dad died and mom had to be placed in a care facility because of dementia. Finally, I couldn’t be back in Bremen without visiting my parents’ graves in a mausoleum on the edge of town. That evening there was a final, happy dinner with my family. Then off I went, tracing the same path with the same overnight stops, back to Richmond.

Well, what to make of this annual trek home – obviously to see my brother and the others – dear to me as always. But what else to make of my pilgrimage? Frederick Buechner wrote an essay a number of years ago titled, “The Longing for Home,” which I have in a collection of his sermons titled Secrets in the Dark (2006). In it, he says:

The word home summons up a place – more specifically a house within that place – that you have rich and complex feelings about, a place where you feel, or did feel once, uniquely at home, which is to say a place where you feel you belong and that in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment. To think about home eventually leads you to think back to your childhood home, the place where your life started, the place that off and on throughout your life you keep going back to, if only in dreams and memories, and that is apt to determine the kind of place, perhaps a place inside yourself, that you spend the rest of your life searching for even if you are not aware that you are searching. (p. 221)
And at the table on this visit and on those times before, memories of our parents and others who are no longer with us – as Wendell Berry puts it so beautifully in one of his poems – in some real sense they are still with us. “At our dinners together, the dead enter and pass among us in living love and in memory …”  (“Leavings,” 2010, Sabbaths, VIII, p. 41)

And so I go back, year after year, to revisit my home of the past, as well as my Home that still resides in my heart. And I am grateful for the memories.