Soon I will be going home for a bit. Of course, home is never exactly the home it once was. My mother has lived without my father in the house for long enough for it to feel normal on a day-to-day basis, I’d imagine. For me, though, because I don’t go home all that often, his absence still hangs over the house. For instance: The Southern Gentleman is planning to grill some sort of carnivorous delight, and somehow this is feels like a strange handing-down of barbecue tongs from my late father to him. As though now, SG holds a solemn duty as keeper of the grill. Nobody has used that grill in years, and I don’t know why I am putting so much weight on a grill, but do you see what I mean? A stupid grill reminds me of my father. Now imagine a whole house full of tiny reminders like that.
I honestly don’t mean to turn this into a “My Dad Died And I’m Clearly Having A Very Hard Time With It” site, but he’s usually what comes to mind when I have time to write about things other than perfume and what kind of glassware is used at Restaurant X (for the princely sum of four cents a word! My burgeoning travel writing career is proving lucrative already).
My whole point was this. Going back to Michigan is a little strange now, because it isn’t the same Michigan I knew. Places change, people change. Landmarks I know well are a little (or a lot) different. I’m stunned by the sort of unremarkable thing that seems noteworthy only when you haven’t been somewhere in years. “My god, there’s a Taco Bell in South Haven now,” I’ll say with great wonder in my voice, as though this is a discovery akin to the holy grail. Speaking of which, the video store where we rented Monty Python for the soccer team is no more, or maybe it just has a different name. Whatever it is, it’s strange to remember a place as it was ten or fifteen years ago, then come across its new state of being. It kick-starts reflection on time and change to the visitor, while it’s banal to the locals who got over Taco Bell’s grand opening years ago. While you’re busy dramatically contemplating the distance of youth, they just want a chalupa.
One of the things that brings me genuine joy, though, happens when teenagers in South Haven toss disdainful glances my way. To understand this, you have to know that to the teenage townie, tourists are subhuman snobs. They’ll see the Illinois plates on my car rental, correctly gauge my age to be twice theirs (ancient!), and — if I’m lucky — make a snide comment just loud enough for me to hear. You’d think this would annoy me, but in all honesty, these teenagers make me so happy. Their adolescence is behind and yet parallel to mine, because some of what they do on a hot and boring Saturday night is exactly what I did on a hot and boring Saturday night.