Coming Home

I came home three times in two weeks to three different towns in two provinces. My five month academic tour of Europe finished with a run of busses, trains, and one transatlantic flight that took me from London, England, through Amsterdam and Chicago, and deposited me stiff and sleep deprived into my mother and sister’s arms at the arrival gate of the London Ontario airport. Their house was still decorated in reds and greens with lights and snowflakes hanging from the tree and banister. They had pushed Christmas back a month to give me a Christmas at home. I’ve only ever visited their house, they moved to London while I was at university but the closet full of my clothing, shelves full of my books, and the way their arms wrap around me when I walk in the door make it more than just the primary address listed on my government documents. Saving the Christmas decorations meant that I was coming home for the holidays, not just stopping in for a visit on my way back across the continent.
Despite the welcome, the house is theirs. I’ve never lived there, only visited, and it’s my home because of them, their welcome, and their love. Over the last few years I’ve left a trail of open doors around the world, a pleasant side effect of my time spent making friends from and travelling around the world. The world is full of people willing to share their homes but their generosity doesn’t mean a split the title; thir willingness to share doesn’t make their space my own. With family it’s different. That’s why a house that I’ve never really lived in in London Ontario can welcome me home.
A few days after getting into London my father picked me up and I rode shotgun north to our hometown. He doesn’t live there anymore but does business there and I took advantage of his schedule to visit the soil I grew in. We made it north through the blowing snow, alongside the farm fields and cedar bush countryside, speckled with small towns and wind turbines. My home town, Owen Sound, sits in a valley where three rivers finally disappear into Georgian Bay and my heart still speeds up when we crest the last hill and that water comes into view. I don’t have a house there anymore but the town is still full of childhood friends, former employers, and the kind of coffee shops where the baristas know my name. We were there for less than 36 hours but I got to spend the night at the local pub with the some of the people I’ve loved best from my adolescence. We drank beer and shot pool in a barroom with towels under the doors to keep out the draft and propane heaters to pump heat that the ancient radiators should have. We traded stories and plans for the immediate future. A few friends are working in town, some finishing apprenticeships, some work for local companies, one teaching yoga. A friend I’ve known since first grade gave me the first paper invitation to his wedding. I spent most of my life in that town, and the ride to my uncle’s house after last call reinforced that a lot of my life, or rather the people who make it what it is, is there.
Two days after leaving my home town a friend’s truck was carrying my bags and I up the hill towards the community that I’ve lived in since September 2010. Quest is a small university on a hill but it got bigger in the 5 months I was away. In a ploy to surprise my friends and to see how the addition of the school’s largest incoming class has changed the dynamic, I didn’t tell anyone I was coming back. I spent the first six hours on campus sitting in public spaces, helping to edit the journalism class’s end of block magazine and reveling in the reactions and embraces of old friends. This is my final semester at Quest after four years. I know the best corners for solitude and socializing in every building on the campus; I’ve stayed up all night in classrooms and built sheds, harvested vegetables from the garden and watched meteor showers from the soccer field. I’ve spent enough time in the place to feel some ownership for it but, more importantly, I’ve spent enough time with the people to feel comfortable in their company; to feel welcomed, recognized, and safe. Just like London, it’s not familiarity that makes it home; it’s the people.

this is a photo from first year but you get the idea.
this is a photo from first year but you get the idea.

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