This week I’m driving to Hamilton, Ohio for a Kraft family reunion. I’m a child of the oldest Kraft boy, Bob, who had two brothers, Jack and Gordon. All three of them are gone now, but their children and their children’s children and their children’s children’s children will be gathering Saturday under a picnic shelter at a park where I attended day camp as a little girl. Back in those days, we had no need for family reunions. We saw one another regularly for picnics. But we are a family in diaspora now, scattered all over the country. So this reunion is a really big freaking deal. It’s the first one I can remember. Ever.
People who never move away from their hometown don’t quite understand how it feels for those of us who have moved away to return to the place which once was our home. They have something that I have grown to envy – a sense of place. They have the assurance that there is someplace in this world where they belong. I lost that somewhere along the way. I’m a homeless person; I’ve lived a nomadic lifestyle as an adult and there is no place I call home. It leaves me feeling restless. With retirement looming before me, it’s been on my mind quite a bit. I would love to end my days in a place I can call home, but I don’t know where that is.
I can’t remember when I was in Hamilton last. It’s been a lot of years. I tend to avoid it. There have been times when a simple trip to my hometown provided limitless fodder for me to chew on with my therapist. Why is it so hard for me? I’ve struggled to get my head around it. Nothing traumatic happened to me in my childhood, no more than childhood itself tends to be somewhat traumatic for all of us. In fact, I have fond memories of my life at 435 Edwards Avenue. But it was so long ago that sometimes I wonder if it was only something that I dreamt about. Whenever I return, it becomes one of those dreams where nothing is quite the way it should be. Some of this is because I have distorted the truth in my memory, and some of it is because it has literally changed. The railroad tracks that always held us up in the middle of town are gone. My shiny new elementary school looks like it should be condemned. The restaurant where I hung out with my friends has been replaced with a discount store. It’s disorienting because I wasn’t there to see the transition. So, when I go back to Hamilton, I feel a lot like Rip Van Winkle confronted by all the changes that happened while I was sleeping.
I’ve come to realize, though, that what bothers me the most, when I return to the place of my childhood, is not the way Hamilton has changed. It’s the way I have changed. I am no longer the skinny little kid who climbed the mulberry tree in the backyard. I’m not the girl who played her piccolo in the marching band at Taft High School. I’m not the young woman who necked with her boyfriend on the front porch. I’m an adult. I can stay out as late as I want now. I clean my room without being told. Hell, I even have money in a pension plan, for God’s sake. There are two amazing adults in the world who call me Mom. I stand in a pulpit and preach every Sunday to people who take me seriously and care about what I have to say. How does the person I’ve become fit into a place where she never lived? There is a disconnect that is hard to explain to people who never moved away. They became adults in the same place where they had been children. I didn’t do that. I left the place of my childhood and became an adult somewhere else. I’m not sure who I am when I’m in Hamilton, Ohio. And I suspect that’s why it’s so hard for me to go back.
Well, I’ve been working on this for a long time, and here’s what I think I’ve figured out. It’s not healthy to leave behind the person you once were so that you can become someone new. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Of course, it’s been unsettling. It has left me feeling unsure of who I am. Yes, I’ve grown through the years. I’ve experienced many transformative moments, large and small. I’m not a child anymore. But I didn’t just toss that child aside when I moved away from Hamilton. It’s been dishonest for me to pretend that I have. I brought her with me. She’s not just someone I used to be. She’s still very much a part of the person I am. And I can’t move away from myself. Not if I really want to be myself, my authentic self, my complete self. I can’t look at my life journey and say, that was then and this is now. Then is a part of now. There would be no person I am now without the person I was then. Yes, I’ve moved on from Hamilton, Ohio. But I carried the little girl from Hamilton with me. This weekend, I’m bringing her home.