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What I Learned From Homecoming

It seems we're all so much more aware that although what was going on "way back when" in this particular place is what bound us together then, it's the continuing relationships with these particular people that brings us back now.
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People have long asked, "Can you go home again?" in literature, music, poetry, and movies. Which then begs the question, "Where IS home?"

Is it the place that launches us into the world? Is it the place we celebrate our triumphs and the soft place we land after our defeats? Is it where we welcome friends and family to join us in this thing called "life?" Is it a happy place, or one filled with dread? Is it supported by traditions? Is it always in flux? Is it an actual physical place? Is it the way we, ourselves, imbue a point in time with our love and caring, despite the physical surroundings?

Some of my friends call the town where they were born "home." Others, where their parents currently live. I can understand that; but for me, "home" really is "where my heart is." In this case, with Z and T and our furry family members, and that is currently in Chicagoland.

I LOVE Chicago. For this Michigan-born-and-raised girl, it is the ultimate in Midwestern culture: the people, the food, the arts and music, the architecture, the landscape -- the water, especially. It has most everything I want and need, in the atmosphere I am most comfortable. This is where we returned to the Midwest after living out East for seven years; where my son has grown up and gone through school; where we've adopted all three current pets. This is where T, Z and I made our first home together... when I talk about "going home" from somewhere else, this is where I mean.

But I must admit that part of me feels *something* akin to "home" when we go back to Michigan. Whether it's visiting Z's godparents, driving Up North to visit T's parents, or going back to our alma mater, Central Michigan University, like we did recently for Homecoming, I do have strong feelings for my home state.

I always loved Michigan, mostly because of the Great Lakes. I grew up on Lake Huron, and later in my teens "adopted" Lake Michigan when I discovered the Traverse City area and the Leelanau Peninsula. I love that the state comes in "two parts," the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula, and that those are shaped like a running rabbit and mitten, respectively. I love that the parts are joined by the "Mighty Mac" (the Mackinac Bridge, which by the way, is pronounced "MACK-in-awe") right over where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet in the swirling Straits of Mackinac. I love all the islands in the Lakes, especially Mackinac Island -- an incredibly kitschy tourist place, unless you know where to go and see and enjoy the absolute beauty of this gem. I love my memories of canoeing the AuSable River with friends every Memorial Day weekend. I love the seemingly endless forests, especially in autumn (nerdy fact: Michigan has the most varieties of deciduous trees in the U.S. so it has the most variety of fall color). Even during the long, cold winters, I was captivated. All four seasons are very distinct in these most unique peninsulas. And I love it still.

In short: I'm still a Michigander at heart.

Even when I still lived there, my own apartment was "home" -- not my dad's house. I suppose the only time I talked about "going home" otherwise was in college when I'd "go home" for winter break, or for a long weekend.

How funny that now going back to college is "coming home," at least for this one autumn weekend each year. Football and tailgating; walking the campus; catching up with friends.

But when did we cross over into "catching up" instead of traipsing down memory lane? We're all there to take part in traditions, but we don't do "remember when" so much anymore. It seems we're all so much more aware that although what was going on "way back when" in this particular place is what bound us together then, it's the continuing relationships with these particular people that brings us back now.

Come to think of it, a lot of our trips have become more about the people than "where" we go. Take my hometown for instance: I don't go back there to see the town; I go back for friends and extended family. It's been over 23 years since I've lived there, and although I have a deep appreciation for the friendships and the educational and cultural opportunities I was able to take advantage of, I don't feel any pull to live there again, nor do I feel wistful when driving around. I've found "my place" for now and don't see myself going back other than to visit people close to us, an occasional high school reunion, and once in a while, school homecomings.

This isn't to say I won't ever go back to live in Michigan. I would love to someday call the northwestern shore of the mitten "home." But that's a decision for farther down the road. In the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy our different "homecomings" each time we make the drive on I-94 out of Chicagoland for points east and north in the Great Lakes State. But it's always good to come home.