I have not seen the house where I grew up for over six years. Truth be told, I have not been in any rush to head back to my hometown. I certainly miss my parents and wish I could see them more often, but going back to Martinsville is not something that has been high on my agenda for some time.
So it was with some surprise that I listened to a voicemail from my mother two days ago. My mom was moving out of the house (my parents separated several years back) and the home phone was being disconnected. In truth, this should only have caused a moment or two of reminiscence and nothing more. Instead, my mind raced back to days long gone by, and I was immersed in thoughts of a place that I may never see again. I found myself thinking of evenings playing pinochle and listening to Benny Goodman in my grandfather's basement room. He dressed nattily and was ever the gentleman. He liked tennis and anchovies on his pizza. He smelled of something like Old Spice and was very wise. I miss him.
Thinking of home has always been a rather mixed bag for me. I have, for the most part, very positive memories of life growing up in my small town. Living in Northern California for six years has not completely robbed me of my southern accent, something I appreciate more as I get older. I miss having real seasons; San Francisco is marked by either rain (winter), fog (summer), or clear skies and moderate temperatures (the rest of the year). Virginia, thankfully, experiences four truly distinct seasons. I especially miss spring and fall. The Foxfield Races at my alma mater were rites of spring and passage. The crisp fall nights spent in the pressbox at Lancer Field (alas, my high school has since become a middle school), watching the larger than life (at least at that time) spectacle of high school football is still quite vivid. I met many special people I was lucky to call friends there.
Since my parents split however, I have been less inclined to visit. My sister lives here in the Bay Area (a fact that I take for granted) so I've never felt alone, which is an emotion that a great many people who move to San Francisco have dealt with in some form or fashion. The roots of my father's side of the family are in Martinsville and so he has always been content to spend the totality of his days among his kin. In stark contrast to my father's rural roots, my mother is a Bronx girl through and through. Spending the better part of her adult life in the relative seclusion of southside Virginia was probably not what she had envisioned for herself.
It's here that I should say something about my parents. I love them both deeply. My mother and I are frank and mostly open which each other and I treasure our exchanges, be they by phone or e-mail. She has a subversive wit and a sharp mind. She can be comfortable with almost anyone and yet she greatly appreciates her personal time. She is a voracious reader and sometimes she sings when she thinks nobody is around. Her voice can sound so mournful, like a gospel singer at a wake. She would often sing the words from James Ingram's "Just Once": "I did my best, but I guess my best wasn't good enough...". Thinking about her singing now makes me understand my appreciation for songs that are both wistful and melancholy.
I have a complicated relationship with my father, and I suspect that the complications lie mostly with me. He is loving and deeply religious. Family is truly important to him. He wants only the best for me and my sister. He preaches personal responsibility and having your word truly mean something. However, my father also possess a hair trigger temper and can be domineering when the need arises. More than a few times when my mom and dad got into fights I was caught between wanting to step in and end the hostilities or run as far away from my father's screams as possible.
There are things you just know innately in life and at some point I just knew that my parents were not fated to be together forever. I think they mostly stuck together through college for me, but they separated shortly after I moved to the west coast. In the end, it's probably best for everyone. My father has a new girlfriend, and while I still can't bring myself to call his home for fear that she might answer, I suppose I am happy that he's happy. My mother, now liberated from the albatross that was our house, is free to roam and I suspect she will. I hope she entertains more seriously the idea of moving to DC to be near her sister or of moving here, to be near her children.
I suppose one day I will drive the slow and winding country roads back to see my old house. I suspect that it will not have changed much, but even if it has, the memories made there will always be our own. Perhaps I'll stop and ring the doorbell. Most likely though I'll drive by slowly, take it all in one last time, and then be on my way...back to wherever it is that I call home.