Saturday, December 21, 2013

Homecoming

“Home” is a special word.  For me, it will always and forever conjure up images of my parents’ house in Wisconsin…the braided run and leather sofa in the living room, the lilac bush in the backyard.  My bedroom that stands as a time capsule of my life, small relics from my travels being added to its shelves as I grow older.  The warm yellow light of the kitchen and the 50s style kitchen table wedged in against the wall. 

But as I get older and find myself living in different places, my definition of “home” is also expanding.  For the two years that I lived in Puerto Rico, I called the yellow house in Guayama “home.”  For some reason, I thought that when I moved off of the island, it would stop being home.  But I was wrong.

This holiday season, I made a pit-stop (a 4 day pit-stop) in Puerto Rico before coming home to Wisconsin.  And though I didn’t step foot into the yellow house while I was there, it was undeniable that just being on the island, I was “home.”  It felt a bit like I’d never left.  The moment I stepped out the front door on my first morning there, the December breeze—filled with humidity, warmth, and the faint scent of flowers—caressed my skin.  The sounds on our street—of the occasional rooster crowing, a dog barking, and the bass of reggaeton booming out of some of the passing cars—were all familiar to me. 

When I stopped in to the school over lunch time on Friday, I was attack-hugged by students and spent the entire 45 minute lunch period surrounded by a ring of my former kids, talking about Guatemala, and The Hunger Games, and their new classes and current lives.  I know my kids and I had a strong relationship last year, yet a small part of me worried that when I came back, no one would be excited to see me.  But I left the building with my heart full to bursting. 

That first evening, I joined my friends on the beach for a bonfire, laughter, s’mores, and coquito (my favorite Puerto Rican holiday drink).  The next morning, Saturday, we drove to a beautiful beach and spent the day there, then stayed the night in Old San Juan.  We ate dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, stayed in the hotel where we “always” stay in OSJ, and while out salsa dancing that night, I even ran into someone I met the last time I was in the city, back in May!  The whole weekend was just like so many I had last year.  I was home, and it was as if I’d never been gone. 






My time to leave came just a little too quickly, and it was with a bit of reluctance that I bid the bright blue skies adieu and boarded the plane to go to my other home.



But as we came down through the clouds over Wisconsin, it was clear that, while Wisconsin winter may not be as beautiful from the air as the Caribbean is, the land is still mine.  I felt a fierce sense of pride looking upon the trees dotting the hillsides and the farm houses interspersed in the fields. 

When I left the plane, my mom was waiting for me.  After a big hug, she exclaimed, “It feels like it’s been forever.  You look good!  You’re still blond.”  (Yes, Mom…did we expect that to change??) 
We picked up my bags, and then, though it was only 3pm, we went out for Chinese food because I was starving, and then to a movie.  By the time that was finished, darkness had fallen, and we drove through our town’s Rotary Lights, where Riverside Park is lit up with over 2 million Christmas lights.  Mom opened her window so we could see more clearly, blasted the heat at me so I wouldn’t be cold, and we bopped along to the music outside and giggled like little girls. 





It feels good to be home.  I am loved.  I’m being babied (my mother did my laundry for me two days ago…for the first time since probably 5th grade).  And we’re getting ready for Christmas.  At home my first two days back, Mom and I worked on concocting the sweets—the same ones we make each year—fudge, salted nut rolls, nut goody bars, and her famous chocolate chip cookies.  On Monday, Mom and Liz and I will go to my grandma’s where we’ll bake the rest of the Christmas cookies.  Meanwhile, the Christmas village and the nativity scene were put up in the dining room when Liz got here to help, we’re studying the recipe for Swedish meatballs and calculating how many packets of lefse to buy for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and we’re all conspiring about who is buy which gifts for whom.   Christmas preparations are underway, and there’s no place I’d rather be than home.  


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