Sunday, May 4, 2008

On Going Home

If "home" is defined as "where my bunnies are" (anyone who knew me when I was 4 will get that), then Home is Cambridge. But where my parents are and where my grandparents are come pretty close, too. I've made two business trips to the U.S. in the last two months, one that included a trip to my parents' house in Texas and the other a trip to the family homestead in Wisconsin. Either of these trips could have been hard, like my trip last year, but I did what I could to simply enjoy every moment of each trip and savor the time with family.

But before I get all mooky and introspective, let's talk about what I found strange.

U.S. money is strange to me. Once upon a time I worked the register in a grocery store; I could do a till count as fast as the next person. But British money is all different sizes and hefts, so after being away from the U.S. dollars for a while, they feel strange in my hands.

People in the U.S. do not have washing machines in their kitchens! What a concept! As a corollary, I did two loads of laundry at my parents' house before 10 a.m. one day. That would take me six hours in England. (Although it's more fun doing laundry at Grandma's: Put it down the chute and it comes back up clean. Magic!)

People in the U.S. drive on the wrong side of the road. That statement will not give comfort to the people whose cars I drove on both trips. I have learned how to switch back and forth, but my default is going to be whatever I experienced last. I never did look to the left when crossing a street in Chicago. Fortunately, I escaped disaster.

And then there are the food things -- Chicago pizza, a good hot dog, Mexican food, barbeque, cheese curds, etc. I also didn't realize how much I missed a proper dill pickle. There's nothing more embarrassing than being at Big Important Meeting You Flew 4,000 Miles to Attend, biting into a cold, crisp dill spear during said meeting, uttering an audible, foodgasmic "Mmmm," and having your boss, who, naturally, is sitting right next to you, raise his eyebrows at you and ask, "Good pickle?"

As for the family visits, they were just great. In February, I savored time with my mom and dad as we went for a long drive or roamed about town. I listened to stories from Auntie M. and Grandpa R. about our family lineage. I got to see Maid of Honor's classroom and spend time with her gorgeous daughter. Last week, I dropped in on a family gathering to see cousins I haven't seen in 7 years, and my Grandma E., who I haven't seen since our wedding. I marveled at how grown up Cousin J. is, and went shopping with Auntie G. I went to coffee with Grandpa R. and sat next to one of my dad's high school teachers who told me I looked just like my dad. Grandma G. and I talked books, she showed me her photo albums from her England trips, and she ironed a shirt for my benefit so I could watch and learn how an expert does it.

I smiled at the flat farmland of Walworth County, Wisconsin, realizing it's not so different from England -- and that's probably why I feel so at home in Cambridge. It's hard to leave, but it's also really great to visit, whether it's Texas, Wisconsin, or anywhere. It's been nearly 5 years since I've visited Wisconsin and 20 years since I moved away from it, but no matter how old I get, Wisconsin will always be where I'm from.

The oldest of the Cousins Without Sisters.

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