You can never go home again — except when you actually, really can.
This doesn’t happen. At least, I don’t think it’s supposed to.
That’s a shot up there of my old elementary school. I had planned this month’s edition around going back there. It’s been nearly 25 years since I had been in the building, and it seemed like a good bookend for my life.
You see, I left this school, went to middle school, then high school, then college. I knew that’s what I was going to do. After that, a job, a life, and a family was just going to happen. Somehow.
I’m 35 years old, and I’ve really only now gotten into that groove. I’ve been married for a number of years, though not in a terribly orthodox way. We do things differently than you would expect. I moved well far away from the only home I had known that first decade and a half of my life, up here where — and I’m not joking — we’ve had about eight feet of snow so far in just three weeks. I didn’t expect to have to wait until my mid-30s to really get a career going.
These eras of ours never do quite turn out like the storybook. And that’s okay.
So belatedly I’m ending this era. I called my old school a couple of weeks back when I was in town visiting. You don’t just show up at an elementary school in the United States and start taking pictures. When I was still a student there, maybe, but not now.
They weren’t too sure even when I did call. Who was I? Why did I want to do this? Could I wait a week or two? They took my information and said they’d get back to me.
Another woman called back about an hour later. Not a problem! Just come by and say hello, and make sure not to disturb any conversations (it was parent-teacher conference day).
Oh, and if I wanted to come by and see my childhood home, that was fine too.
The woman with whom I was speaking recognized my name. She recognized the name of the people from whom she bought her home, the one where she and her husband raised three children. And, somehow, she sensed what it meant to me.
The week before, when I told relevant people about my itinerary, I mentioned that I wanted to take photos at the school and, if I had the courage, I was going to stop by my childhood home because I wanted a photo of the address number. Now, that wasn’t going to be a problem.
I lived the first seventeen years of my life in the same home. It was very stable, a very safe community, really just a lovely place to live. I lived in more than a dozen places in the few years after that, and I felt lost for a very long time. I had held hopes in the past of buying the house should it go on the market again, but I left that area before I got full-time employment.
I came up here. I got the house that really is mine.
I didn’t plan to go inside. I just rang the doorbell to let the owners know I was there and I was going to take the picture I wanted.
I was asked if I wanted to come in. I was not ready for that question.
I did go in. What was so remarkable was how little the house had changed. I could have walked around it blind-folded. Sure, the paint and carpet in the living room was different, the flooring in the front hallway was different. But like you can see above, it’s the same front door, with the same pattern I deeply knew and yet couldn’t remember well enough to draw myself. I have it again.
Then, I entered the kitchen. It was eerily the same. Different paint and different floor, but the same counter, the same sink, the same faux-brick wall (see below), and even the same oven and refrigerator. It was stunning. It’s the most at peace I’ve felt in longer than I can remember.
The deck I helped build when I was 8? Still there. The basketball hoop I learned to shoot 3-pointers on? Still there, the same one. Even the gate that kept in the tiny, weird little dog I had growing up, the strange animal we all loved, it was still the same.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the owners. I’m trying to pick out just the right gift to send them as thanks, because they’ve improved the house, updated it where it needs, but haven’t touched its soul. It’s the same home, and it’s brought another generation of children through. I am more grateful for that day than any other I can remember in so long.
When I box up their gift, I’ll know where to send it.
Words and photos by Kevin Hodur. Previously calling suburban Chicago and Portland home, Kevin now lives and works as a writer on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Catch more editions of The Road Rarely Traveled next month!