I live in Portugal. An ocean away from my native country, customs and language. After a year, I was weary of not knowing anything – or that’s how I felt. I had acute sensations of separation, isolation and loneliness. I wanted the ease that familiarity brings – language, people, places. Time for a trip home.
I haven’t lived in my hometown for 38 years. But, until 2011, I never lived more than two hours away. In 2012, Wayne and I moved to Denver, my parents were now in a care facility, and the family home had been sold. My visits from Denver still followed a familiar ritual. One night with sister, Gwen, visit the folks at their facility, transfer to sister Karen, with a smattering of short visits elsewhere. In 2016, we moved to Portugal. Both my parents have since died, Gwen has moved to Florida and Karen has downsized into a different home. Things had changed radically since my last visit home.
My trip’s official purpose was two-fold. I had some administrative items and shopping to take care of and the balance of time was for visits to friends and family. As I mapped out my agenda, I realized that most items in my habitual routine were gone. No visits to Mom and Dad, Gwen doesn’t live there anymore, I don’t know where Karen lives. It was confusing to sort out my schedule.
My friend, Jane, whom I’ve known since age 5, picked me up at the Newark airport and took me back to her place. This is a 3-hour drive (one way), so it rates more than just “favor” points. Jane lives on a heritage farm (circa 1850) in Sunbury, Pa. Her maternal aunt had lived there and Jane visited often as a child. She had always loved the house and the farm. When her aunt passed away, Jane was able to buy it and has lived there with her husband, Mike, for a couple of decades. I love visiting there; it whispers of the past. There’s a sunroom off the back of the kitchen that overlooks their pond and a mountain behind them. It’s a haven, a respite. I woke up early the next morning (5-hour time difference), took my coffee outside and soaked in the magnificent show of stars! It’s been a long time since I’ve been in that remote a location at 4:30am. The quiet, and I don’t mean silence because the country is anything but silent, was comforting. We had a great girlfriend visit (Mike was out of town) chatting and raiding the local fabric store. My chauffeur then delivered me to Mechanicsburg – about 1½ hours away.
One of my stops was with friends Ann and Chris in their wonderful RV. They have lived in their house in the woods for a couple of decades, and I helped them move in. If push came to shove (we would have to shove a few things), a guest could stay in their house. A few years ago, though, they bought a super duper mega Winnebago for their month-long vacations. They now also use it as their guest house. It’s got it all – bedroom, bathroom/kitchen water hookup, fridge, reclining chairs, electric and wifi. The only price they charge is the ten-minute drive back up their driveway; and the payoff is worth it!
I had wanted to take a hike in the woods with these two, but somewhere around 5pm of evening two, my body had decided to contract a helluva cold (I blame the flight). By the time I reached them, I was a slobbering, snottering, slithery mess. Chris promptly issued me sweat pants and shirt, a full tub of Vicks Vaporub and a generous supply of Mucilax. Also, plenty of alcohol! They are goooood hosts. In between my 4 hour naps and 10 hour sleeps, we were still able to visit a little and recount old times.
After I singlehandedly supported the facial tissue industry with my sinus drainage and gut-coughing, Ann and Chris carted me to Lititz for my next stop. This was a re-think of staying with Karen and her husband, Bob. Although their new place is quite spacious, it has no spare bedroom and my big sister wanted me nearby. As I write this, I am touched by that. They put me up in a nearby hotel, allowing me to swim and have some time to myself. I am blessed. So, Karen and I did girlie sister stuff, a cocktail lunch, shopping thrift stores and a couple of bank/PennDot errands. Our older brother, Warren, came up from DC one afternoon, too.
And then it was time to deliver me to the Lancaster train station and my journey home to Wayne and to Portugal. Of course, first we had a farm breakfast including scrapple! We were plenty early for the train, so Karen stayed, waited with me and watched over me in a big sister kind of way, then stood to wave as we pulled out. I felt like I was in a movie scene. The train connections at Philadelphia and Newark, were the expected saga, the flight was long and uneventful. After customs and a cab ride, I arrived into the arms of Wayne and home in Setúbal.
It was a good visit and yet I stayed in a bit of a funk for a while because my visit “home” was unlike any of my previous hundreds of visits home. I know I’m not the first to feel this disorientation. It’s just that it’s new to me. I was never much of a person to feel homesick no matter how far or how long I traveled. Then again, I knew that home was always preserved for me, waiting for me to stop by. The changes in that reality are disconcerting. Rhythms and rituals are no longer possible – replaced by loss and newness. What I remind myself of is all the people who make up my sense of going home. They have known me for decades, we’ve experienced so much together, and we love each other despite all that! They are still there for me – for now. I am profoundly aware of how this too can change. I am stumbling and bumbling through this phase of my life. While trying to adjust to change, to aging, to losing people and things, I reach out for new…friends, skills, experiences and places. I do my best to live for today, allowing joy into my heart and reflecting it back to the people I touch.
I’m at home in my heart and it turns out I never left.