Hometown Girl

The old saying, ‘you can’t go home again’ has some truth to it, as we know.  However we choose to define home, the place where we ‘grew up’   –  whether physically or metaphorically –  we all know that we can’t go back and expect things to be the same, just as they were. Our mind plays tricks on us ; we often remember things as larger than they really were, selectively omit certain details and attach specific feelings to smells and sights.  But, perhaps, we can go home if we understand that we will find a new version, with new layers that add to our memory and the richness of all that we have received from that zip code specifically imprinted upon us.

I grew up in a small town and even as a kid, knew that I would need to stretch my wings in a locale not edged with orchards and one little main street. I’m convinced that came from my parents, who had lived and experienced so much of the world before settling in what became our home town.  Dad had left home at the age of 13, putting  himself through school, jobs; ultimately serving as an Army Colonel in the South Pacific during WWII. The cabinets in our family home contain boxes upon boxes of his military photos, many of which capture him in uniform, touring Sydney, AU and out in the bush of aboriginal New Guinea seated with the natives – and their lack of attire. Post-war, he became a self-made man as the only optometrist in our small town.

Having grown up in Seattle and then San Francisco, Mom was a city girl. And though barely 5 feet tall, she could finagle the worst traffic in San Francisco with the grace of a ballerina and the mouth of a locker-room jock.  She could bully her way into just about any parking spot she had her eye on and then stroll into I. Magnin with no one the wiser; she had exquisite taste in shopping and a culinary gift that clearly has not carried on with me.  And a heart softer and kinder than I can explain in words.

manhattan

McDonald Manhattan: 2 parts bourbon, 1 part sweet vermouth, splash of bitters. On the rocks.

In our home, dinners were often a formal affair, with the table set beautifully with all elements of the proper stemware, silverware and dinnerware. Our mother took great pride in presenting a meal that not only earned her the chops as wonderful chef, but her presentation was always perfect. In her mind, it had to look as tantalizing as it would taste. She would undoubtedly agonize over the details, often wearing herself out and then serving herself last; a true hostess.  Ours was a home where napkins were placed on our laps, cocktails were often served during the 5 – o – clock hour, with hors d’ oeuvres in actual serving dishes, in the formal living room. Ours was a home with a set of every day dishes, a set of ‘nice dishes’, and a set of china.  Ours was a home where people were always welcome, but by golly the house better be clean, all the way down to the baseboards.

We said goodbye to mom nearly 16 years ago, and my father, now 92, still lives in our family home along with my brother, who is beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most patient men I have ever known. He cares for our dad, with the assistance of a part-time care provider, Gloria. Last week was John’s birthday and my son and I hit the road and made the three-hour trek south for the celebration.  The childhood teasing he subjected me to does not merit my mercy, but I will conveniently omit his age [you are welcome John]. But, let it be known that he is my OLDER brother!

bonjon4

Arriving at my childhood home, and walking into the kitchen, I could not help but notice that the table – the very same dining room table – was set impeccably.  The decor, though decidedly a departure from what my mother would choose, was so well thought out, down to the last detail, and so perfectly created with my brother in mind. Gloria – the mastermind behind this party – had brought items from her home to create a setting fit for the celebration. For family celebrations, my mother would prepare a leg of lamb that as a 12 yr old I knew was special; and Cornish game hens that still make my mouth water when I remember them; and countless other dishes made to perfection. To the same height, Gloria prepared a feast true to her family; two recipes of fantastically homemade enchiladas, beans, rice, salad and more. “Juan” made the salsa and guacamole.  On tap were beer, wine, tequila and drinks for the kids.

My nephew, now 21 and soon to graduate from college, played soccer with my 9 yr old in the backyard, the way that I used to entertain my nephew when he was the only little kid in the room.  Friends from our childhood joined us for the evening and stories ranged from reminiscing of the old days, to forging new ground with sharing about the loss of our parents, and a spouse far too early in life, family dramas and old secrets, our parents’ marriages and world travels.  We exchanged these stories with a fluency only spoken by those who have come up through the same ranks, inexplicably knowing we belong to each other, because our parents had forged the the bonds for us an entire generation ago.  Photos were posted to Facebook and viewed on our phones while sitting 3 feet away from each other, in a living room where as kids we played and hung out, and would never fathom the advent of social networking or smart phones. Shots of tequila were consumed, and with my mother’s every day dishes put aside, we continued to drink and play Mexican Bingo. I quickly became unpopular as I called out “el lotteria’ over and over again. The cards were somehow stacked in my favor; which meant, that everyone else had to drink. While others could walk home, or were home, I had an early drive back the next morning. I needed those wins!

I sat and marveled at this new version of home, my home. My brother’s home. My mother’s dishes serving a beautiful meal that was never part of her repertoire, raucous laughter and banter from an unlikely group that spanned the ages from 9 to 92 and everything in between.  Our childhood friends, and folks I had never met, but hope I see again, all sharing the same dining room table where I had sat as a child. English, Spanish, and probably some Spanglish mixed in.  At one point, I looked over and  my dad was mixing a martini; 10 minutes later in the same spot, my brother was attempting to learn to dance the Salsa, in spite of a knee refusing to let him forget his age,  in the same kitchen where so many of our memories are safely held. And before I know it, my father has produced his trusty harmonica and proves that though his mind is a bit fuzzy most days, his lungs work just fine.

Report from the home front as I write is that the party may have been too much for our Dad; yesterday he had a martini at 3:30 and a bowl of cereal at 5:30. Who needs rules when you are 92!?

It seems plausible to say that it’s true, you can’t really go home again. Everything changes. We change. Physically and otherwise. The streets change, the landscape changes.  It will never be the same as it was, and it really shouldn’t be.

But, after this last visit, I find myself realizing that maybe we can go home, if we can accept that things have changed, that we are different, and when we understand that what we remember will always be with us, a part of who we are.  Perhaps the key is letting ourselves allow our memories to welcome new ones – new stories, new people, new recipes – in layers, like the perfect birthday cake?

Happy Birthday John...you are Juan in a Million!

Happy Birthday John…you are Juan in a Million!

So that, combined, with each layer resting upon the next,  as if held together by the most perfect frosting  – all the delicious life we savor during the years; the joys, losses, comforts, people, perspectives – is the “home”  that we can return to whenever we need to.

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16 thoughts on “Hometown Girl

  1. I’m agreeing with what all of these other, and oh so wise, commenters have said: this is my favourite, Bon! I can feel the love just radiating off the computer screen from here, and it made my morning! xo.

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  2. Brilliant, touching, and wow! I loved every detail and description and could easily imagine the sights and sounds of the McDonald home, and not without a smile..a huge one! Your Dad looks absolutely fab…92? You have some good genes there kiddo! Your brother sounds a kindred soul to me, so wonderful when our siblings become our friends, and Gloria is a treasure indeed! It’s a wonderful life BonBon…these moments are great reminders of just how much. love you…xoxo

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  3. Thanks all for the b-day wishes. Bonnie, you have struck a blog gold mine of kindred spirit friends.

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  4. Ok, this time I mean it – I think this one is my favorite (please disregard all prior comments which begin similarly). Your description of the weekend was so evocative, I could hear the laughter, feel the delight and almost taste the tequila. I could see you looking through the window into the backyard as the tradition of play has been passed on to your son and nephew. Your mom’s dishes, and a new recipe gracing them. It is true that we can’t go home again, but as long as there is a family – however configured – you are home. xoxo

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    • Ok, you can mean it…and thank you!! I am so glad that the night was felt through my words, that was my hope and intent, along with honoring what I know as home. I can recall sitting there and looking back over the years and yet also be totally in the moment {I think blogging changes the way we think, to some extent, yes?} and seeing my home, and family, in a whole new light. I am glad you could sense that… xoxox me

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  5. Thanks, this was lovely to read. I spent the first 17 years of my life on a farm, five miles from the nearest small town. We’ve been back to see it a couple of times since my parents shifted away. The visits have been bittersweet as they back lots of childhood memories, while at the same time much has changed, not always for the better, and there is a feeling of regret that none of us took on the farm and kept it in the family.
    You make a good point that its not so much about the place but the relationships and those continue, grow and change through the years. Its great if those bonds strengthen as yours have.
    Wishing your brother a very happy birthday. 🙂

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  6. Bonnie, your dad is amazing (92? WOW!)

    I loved taking this trip back through memory lane with you. What a life and what a beautiful family you have 😀

    Happy Birthday, John!

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  7. Well….I had to listen to your dad play his song a couple of times. My grandpa used to play and so of course….this brought back memories & made me tear up. (he does not look 92, btw!) A touching post, dear Bon bon. Thanks for sharing your home with us….. hugs ♥
    Happy Birthday John! Keep dancing!

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  8. awww, Bonnie, this is just absolutely beautiful. I cried virtually all of the way through…for your evocative descriptions, for your love of family, for your beautiful memories (both old and freshly minted). Returning home *is* a strange thing….I was recently back home in my little town in IL for my 30th high school reunion, and it was *wild* — so much had changed and yet so much remained the same. Life is funny that way, no?

    Your post is also a lovely companion piece to Mimi’s blog of a few days ago. http://waitingforthekarmatruck.com/2013/01/24/coming-full-circle-sort-of/

    You are both wise, kind, funny, warm, incredible women and I feel blessed to have each of you in my world. May every journey home leave you wrapped in such warmth….

    “There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits.” –Robert Southey

    Hugs, Lori

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  9. I’d rather you had posted my age than that pic of me with a shot in hand. That was one great party and I’m still basking in the glow of having such great family and friends (and new amigos) to celebrate with. Gloria and I are already scheming on having a St. Patrick’s Day party. You gave me some food for thought regarding not being able to ever go home again. And here I am back “home,” same bedroom across the hall from snoring dad’s room. For now it is home (though not the same), where I care for the man that once supported me. Oh, Susannah, don’t you cry for me. For I can still dance a step despite my wounded knee. Tequila!

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