Coming Home and Unpacking the Memories

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The last two days of The Great American Field Trip was like the last day of school carnival, graduation and rainy day recess all rolled into one.

I half-heartedly suggested Helen Keller’s autobiography on CD.  And by the reaction of everyone, I realized it was like a teacher assigning homework the day before break.  I suggested hiking in Arizona, but there was only one thing on everyone’s mind – we were 10 hours from home, and excitement was mounting.

I tried to gather some enthusiasm for the desert scenery.  As a last ditch effort, I attempted to make the tumbleweed that rolled by an educational moment, but I had already lost them. In many ways, I knew the trip was already over. The mental energy had already shifted.

I knew my audience well and it was time to let go.  I broke all the rules. The kids watched Jimmy Neutron and Tom and Jerry DVDs we bought at Wal-Mart.  I let Janey buy some teeny bopper magazines.  We ate at McDonald’s.

For three months, every day had offered a new perspective, a new adventure. But these last couple days were about driving towards the familiar.

My kids had never been gone long enough to miss home.  It’s a lucky feeling. We are so fortunate to have been able to take this trip and luckier still to have a home to come back to. Home is more than our house. In a larger sense, it is belonging to a community. The familiar grocery store, and favorite restaurants, parks and beaches. Knowing how to get places. And, most of all, home is the group of friends and family we were eager to hug.

The emptiness that homeless people must feel began to take on even sadder implications in stark contrast to what awaited us with each passing mile.

Janey had a plan and prepped everyone for it – when we turned on our street, we would all say in unison, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” until we pulled into our driveway. It was the best way to finish.

Pulling into our driveway was a triumphant feeling wrapped in a bit of disbelief. Screams. Hollers. Car doors flying open. Legs running to the front door.

All the planning and research and dreaming and was now replaced with memories.

Now that we are home, many have asked me, “How was your trip?”  Or,  “How does it feel to be home?” Or, “What was your favorite place?”

I can only imagine the strange look on my face as I fumble to string together a coherent sentence. My mind races through the explosion of mental pictures, memories, and emotions that stir behind my tired eyes.

Stretches of roads: flat roads, windy roads, hilly roads, farm roads, two lane roads, toll roads, and city roads.

Flashes of corn fields, redwood trees, monuments, bison, rivers, museums.  Rocket ships, covered wagons, cannons, cotton fields, sand dunes.

Faces. Voices.

Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese in Georgia and Alabama, the crab soup in Virginia, bison burgers in South Dakota.

Conversations, observations, realizations, adaptations, ruminations, frustrations and navigations.

Closeness, togetherness, waywardness, happiness.

Discovering, touching, playing, learning, working, listening, doing.

It was all my favorite.


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