I’m home for the holidays.
It’s funny. In the past five and a half years, I’ve lived in two different cities in two different countries. No matter how well I’ve blended in- often, quite successfully- I’ve identified to all askers that I’m from New Hampshire. I’m a New Hampshirite, a New England girl, where when we wear flannel and hiking boots no one’s sexuality gets referenced. Where we know the difference between a snowstorm and a blizzard (hint: one comes with high winds). Where losing power for a week is a part of life and where growing your own produce in the summer is pretty common. Where there’s hardly a spring, just six weeks of mud and lilacs. This place is the backbone of my cultural identity.
I promised in the title of this post that I wouldn’t mention a certain author, or the book he wrote that has become over-referenced. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. It’s on my mind every time I come home- back to New Hampshire, that is- especially when I’m only home for a brief period of time. Since I finished my undergrad, most of my visits home have been brief.
As I write this, I’m sitting at a desk in my bedroom that we bought unfinished when I was fourteen and that I varnished myself. The chair is purple, with purple tuelle dangling off the seat, because when I claimed this room as MY ROOM when I was nine I decorated it in a purple ballet theme. The bed behind me is the same one I’ve slept in, in various arrangements, since I was three, and this house has belonged to my family since it was built in 1984. This place is more my home than any other on the planet. I say this even though I’ve paid rent on three different apartments and refer to my current one as “home” in many contexts. Even though believing this New Hampshire house to be my true home means that I’m never really at home in the places I’m living.
Truth be told, the area I grew up in has felt less and less home-like as the years go by and I spend less time here. Every time I go to run an errand my mom asks if I remember how to get to my destination. There are new chain stores popping up in my tiny little town, a fact which I find frustrating and inappropriate. I keep expecting amenities that are common in cities but rare in small towns- just the other night, I spent half an hour wandering around in Portsmouth trying to remember where its two ATMs are located. And most of my high school friends are only here briefly, able to meet up once or maybe twice but mostly preoccupied with family time. All the fantasies I’ve had about moving back here and finding it as I left it in 2004- which I know are ridiculous- are slowly eroding as time goes on. Each time, something is different, and increasingly, coming home has felt like traveling to a strange location.
At the same time, though, for these two weeks that I’m here, certain things do feel familiar and good. My sister and I will be playing flute music for the Christmas Eve Masses as usual, arranged by the same choir director as always, and the Bagelry still makes the best bagels I’ve ever tasted- even compared to those in New York City. The woods we live in are as thick and wild as ever, the birds in our yard competing with the squirrels for the birdseed we put out for them, and it’s still silent and peaceful at night. It makes it harder to think about the fact that Nick and I have started renting a beautiful apartment in Niederkirchen, Germany, and when I move I’ll start making that our new home-away-from-home. Next year, I don’t know if we’ll have the time or money to come home for Christmas- which would be the first Christmas I’ve ever had away from my family. The thought of needing to feel enough at home in Germany to celebrate Christmas- for me, a holiday about home and community and family- makes me sad and more than a little anxious about taking yet another step away from New Hampshire.
In the meantime, though, I’m home. I’ve braved a snowstorm and horrible travel to get here, and it’s worth it because now I’m with my family, in our home, in my evolving little town. Today- these two weeks, really- all of the changes and strange-ness-es of my hometown aren’t important and don’t affect the fact that, everything else aside, this is where I belong for now. Readers, I hope that wherever you find yourselves for this holiday season- however you celebrate it, if you choose to do so- you’re lucky enough to be with the people and/or the places that make you feel at home. And I hope that, wherever your travels take you, you’re always able to find your way back to that place or those people.