There is a small grandfather clock at my parents’ house that chimes on the half-hour and hour. It’s quiet enough not to wake you from a sound sleep but loud enough to hear clearly on the second floor if you’re just drifting off. It was one of the most constant sounds of my childhood. When my son heard it the other day, he asked why a church bell was ringing in the house.
Hearing him say that made me think about the fact that this sound, which happens in the background of much of my life, is unknown to him. It made me wonder what sounds he might remember as indicative of his own childhood, thirty years down the line. And then I thought of all of the things that happen when you move away and return “home” for only a week or so, here and there, after months or years away from the place you grew up. You are truly of another city, another country perhaps, at that point. The rhythm and flow of your life are maybe (hopefully?) totally different. And yet there you are, temporarily plunged back into the way it used to be.
Some people seem to revert to the children they were when they enter their parents’ homes, shedding their current skins to reinhabit a younger version of themselves. Others remain committed to the adults they have become, talking with their parents as equals and covering ground that many are never up to discussing with the people who raised them (anecdotes about your sex life, for example – eek!). I tend to fall somewhere in between. I suppose this is why I always feel a sense of comfort, of welcome, when I come stay at my parents’ house, but also a bit of awkwardness at being back where I grew up, where I spent time as a kid and a teenager just hanging around, and then many years leaving and returning before I actually, finally left.
As happy as I am with my current city, my own home, I get a glimpse sometimes of how strange it would be – and will be – when I don’t have this particular home to come back to. It isn’t the home where I grew up because we moved a couple of times, but it is the place I called home the longest, and my parents have now lived here for about 20 years. One day, I won’t come here and see my sons fall asleep in my old bedroom, I won’t hang out in the strangely shaped backyard keeping an eye out for their crotchety neighbor, I won’t hear that clock chiming from bed. I’ll just be all grown up, waiting for whatever comes next.