what happens when you try to go home again

We take one last trip of summer, pile twelve deep into a van. We drive through the streets of my childhood, streets I know by heart but can’t navigate on my own. I never drove them, still haven’t. We moved from Columbus, Indiana when I was only eleven and this is the first time my husband and children have seen where I grew up.

picture in a pictureThirty years ago, Dad built that fence on the right. I remember the day he drove the wood into the ground, made a three-sided line around our grass, the house closing up the square. That house holds every memory I have for the first decade of my life. Strangers live there now. Maybe in twenty-five years, the children in that small white house will drive by with their own van filled with people, hearts full, hands empty.

Maybe they will remember the alley out back where they ran barefoot, gravel hardening soft feet with every step, arms filled with Barbies, ears keen for the carnival sound of the ice cream truck, eyes filled with wonder.

Nothing was ever going to change.

Grandma would live forever.

Sisters would always share rooms.

Saturdays would always mean donuts.

Dad would always hold beers.

Home would always be Gladstone Avenue.

It hurts to go back and remember, mostly because we can’t re-create it. My heart begs my eyes to see again, but I can’t un-see what is now there. We have lived so many lives in this one lifetime since then.

Standing in that alley on Halloween night so many years ago, I couldn’t have imagined change would ever be good. But I was four, so what did I know? Life was hard then, not that I realized it at the time. I haven’t fully processed what it meant to me to see my childhood home through adult eyes, my own children  nearly as old as I was when we left, my husband holding my hand.

columbus indiana

We look at the same buildings and streets and fields. But what was see is completely different. It’s difficult to accept that these people who are now my people can never really understand my past.

I look over on the seat next to me, my sister’s eyes as wide as mine, Mom telling a story behind us, Dad pulling out photos from the 80s. And I can’t believe it, but for a moment time is suspended. These are my people, too. Maybe Mom once felt like I do right now, and maybe her mom before us. We grow and move and change and make new people who do the same. At least we hope so.

We need the whole mix of them, this community of people put together by God. And it hurts to know them sometimes, to let them know me. But this is family, community, and in many ways, a picture of the church. Some of them remember as well as I do, others remember better and the youngest ones just want to get back to the hotel so they can play.

Some things are not for everyone to know, some gifts and lessons are only for those who lived through it. I’m learning to accept that and maybe even be thankful for it.

The van pulls out of the neighborhood, someone mentions Starbucks. The kids are having a bubblegum blowing contest in the back.

I smile, full.


  1. says

    This made me get all teary-eyed. Because I know that feeling so well. We are about to move into my childhood home this week. Everything you wrote was so beautiful and true.

  2. says

    My sisters and I are planning to revisit all of the places that we lived growing up next summer (we lived in 8 different homes in PA). Your thoughts are so helpful as I prepare my heart for what this will mean for us. Thank you, Emily!

  3. says

    That was beautifully written. I still dream about the first house we lived in. It is in another state and so I only get to see it from time to time. It looks so different now, but the yard is kind of the same. It’s funny the memories those childhood homes have for us all. Thanks so much!

  4. says

    This made me teary. Things are never the way we left them are they? I looked through old scrapbooks last week on my birthday for a blog post and came across some old photos of the brother I never really knew because of divorce. He died over the weekend unexpectedly on the day we were celebrating my son’s 13th. And this post, well, it was perfect for me. Thank you.

  5. says

    This made me all teary, too…
    “Some things are not for everyone to know, some gifts and lessons are only for those who lived through it.”
    …this is so hard for me to grasp. I want to Teach my story, sometimes, instead of simply telling it.

  6. says

    This post is bittersweet for me, too. I’m entering into the “sandwich generation” – taking care of my own family and soon, moving my parents up to be with us. I long for the time of childhood, the town where I grew up, when I thought everything would always be as it was. Sigh. Growing up is tough.

  7. Sharon O says

    So true, one can never go back. The places are different. What once seemed to be a big house is now a tiny shack. What once was an adventurous cabin is now a rustic beat up stack of wood. Memories are meant to hold onto and keep however distorted they become. What matters now is the today. Our today. Our truth. For our children and their children.

  8. says

    Absolutely beautiful! My 20th high school reunion is in just a few short weeks. Although I don’t live too far away from the town I grew up in I can’t go back to my high school reunion. There were fun times and good memories as I grew up but there are many painful memories. Those painful memories bring back anxiety and stress I dealt with years ago. Going back I would have to relive them all over again and for me its best not to relive them. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    In His Calm – Mary

  9. says

    What a beautiful reflection, Emily. It’s so interesting the way a hometown or former home can affect us even years later. They tell part of our story but just a freeze frame of it.

    Are you going to submit the picture you took to Dear Photograph? I’ve been dying to participate!

  10. amanda says

    this is so beautiful, Emily. I just flew home for my grandfather’s funeral (without my kiddos) and as I sat with my mom and sister and aunt we talked about when my great-grandmother passed away – I was in 4th grade then, and now I have a 4th grader… and I couldn’t wrap my head around the shared experiences and the way families change and grow… but THIS, this post did it for me. Thank you! And I smile full too.

  11. says

    Oh, this has me all misty.

    I was a Navy brat during my childhood- we moved almost every year, and now many of those houses don’t even exist anymore- razed to the ground as the military downsized or found new needs. I won’t ever be able to go ‘home’ as you did…but….I love how you captured that feeling. It brought so many memories mise en place of thoughts I had at that young age, and how nothing was ever going to change (even though it was changing right around me and I’d have to make new friends) and how time seemed suspended.

    Just lovely, Emily.

  12. says

    I’m all teary-eyed at this, just like a lot of people will be, I’m sure. I think about who I was in my growing-up-home and sometimes wish I could go back for a little while and know the “problems” I had back then were going to work out just fine. Then I think about who I am now and where God has brought me and I’m thankful I’m not there anymore.

    But it’s fun revisiting memories of sweet times as children, isn’t it? I hope my son treasures his childhood memories the way I do mine!

  13. says

    And didn’t you wonder how it got so much smaller? How is it that the small homes of childhood once seemed so large?
    This is so touching Emily.

  14. says

    As usual, you put in to words so beautifully, thoughts I’ve had.

    Going “home” is weird. I did it about 10 years ago. Drove around a town I knew so well but had never driven – except on my bicycle. I visited my elementary school where my sixth grade language teacher is now the principal. He didn’t remember me because I “must have been a good kid”. Yep. That HUGE school with LONG hardwood floor hallways was tiny. A small brick building still standing strong 30+ years later.

    Thank you for your words, Emily.

  15. says

    Emily – I understand those memories. Several years ago I had the opportunity to move into my childhood home to care for my grandparents. It was to be a 3 month stay. My children were 3 & 6; I had lived in that home from ages 7-14. It was weird. My grandma passed away 2 weeks after we got there; my children & I were able to stay for 7 months and be part of my grandpa’s transition into life without grandma (after 60+ years of marriage) and he started kidney dialysis. I also was given the gift of a good relationship with my cousin & his wife, they lived across the field and it was almost like when we were kids – except we were the parents and our kids were playing together. It was overwhelming wonderful. Those months are still some of my children’s fondest memories. Last summer my kids & I went to visit the same cousin, his wife & kids, and the rest of his immediate family. We spent a month with family, life long relationships renewed between all the cousins. It is a strange feeling to re-visit the past and come to terms you can’t re-create it.

  16. says

    Oh my…I can feel that bitter sweet sadness. It never is the same to go home. Those memories far outweigh what we find in the present. I love what you did with that picture. Great idea!

  17. says

    Wow, the whole family went.

    It’s hard when memories don’t match reality. But it’s great when the reality of now is better than the memory of then.

  18. says

    We never really outgrow our childhood homes, do we?

    I think I’m very blessed in that my husband and I have known each other since grade school. We have many shared memories of teachers, friends, and local hangouts. I know what he sounded like as a child, the home he grew up in, and the purple wig he wore in fifth grade. I don’t know that I’ve treasured these memories the way I should. As always, you have me thinking big thoughts:)

  19. says

    Holey moley, this is beautiful writing. And that picture? Worth every one of those 15 tries. I was just thinking the other day that I’d like to find the house we lived in when I was 4-11. Never took my kids back to that one. And my husband and I feel a frequent need to cruise by the house where we spent most of our child-rearing years. The memories are rich and real and somehow, driving by touches deep places. Thanks for letting us see into one of your deep spaces, Emily.

  20. says

    Emily, thanks for sharing. Traveling around the States/ world for school, loving and living fully in each place, makes me feel like I have left pieces of my heart all over the globe. I feel the tug again tonight: I leave NC for school in IN tomorrow. Also, I think you would love Sara Groves’ “This House”: it’s like the audio version of this post to me.

  21. Jeannie S says

    Love the photos Emily and of course the words. Yes, no one really knows us the way we were, except Him. It’s hard to grasp and hard to let go…but He has made everything beautiful in its tme. Blessings………

  22. says

    *sigh* I remembered the place of my childhood and those memories. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle given to you by life and once you put these memories back together, they will definitely build the entire picture of your past to present. But the sad thing is, there are places where we cannot go back anymore to relive the memories we have there once.

  23. says

    “Some things are not for everyone to know, some gifts and lessons are only for those who lived through it.”

    Oh, isn’t this the truth! My family and I have lived through some pretty spectacular and crazy things in the last seven years or so. While I love to tell the stories of what He has done for us, sometimes I think no one will ever know quite like we do. And the knowing? It makes my heart full – so, so very full.

  24. 17 Perth says

    This just made my day. I feel full too because I can relate completely. Thank you so much for posting. Beautifully written. Beautiful photos. Thank you.

  25. says

    Beautiful post and such a cool photo at the top! I totally relate to what you are saying about how there are all these pieces of one another that we will never fully know and that people will never know about us. Sometimes it makes me sad to think about it, but it’s also pretty amazing that God made us all with so very many layers that He is the only one that can fully know us.

  26. says

    “It hurts to go back and remember, mostly because we can’t re-create it.” This hits me in the core. I have been so sad lately because I miss the things in my past so much. It’s funny that such wonderful things create pain when we are older because we can’t let go of that part of our lives, nor can we return to it. “Some things are not for everyone to know, some gifts and lessons are only for those who lived through it. I’m learning to accept that and maybe even be thankful for it.” This is an area where I struggle…I so desperately want my husband and kids to know exactly where I’m coming from, to know the joy and happiness I grew up with. But they can never have it the same, because they have their own experiences. Even if I did the exact same thing with my kids that my parents did with me, they won’t see it the same way because they will interpret it in their own way. Perhaps, as you word so beautifully, Emily, I need to see the wonderful memories of my past as gifts that were meant only for me and just be thankful to have them in my memory. This will be difficult, but I will try.

  27. says

    One reason I appreciate my brother so much, now that we’re adults, is that we share the same childhood. I only have one or two scattered memories that don’t include him in the mix. That’s such a precious thing. The past isn’t something we can go back too, but it’s definitely shaped the people we are today!

  28. says

    Nice. To touch the past, remember things as they were, only they never really were that way at all. How we remember them is tainted with emotional prejudice and distortions. Touch, learn, release, and move on.


  29. says

    Love this. I went back to my childhood home recently and took my kids with me. I’m very nostalgic for those innocent days. I love what you said about community and family and the church. Something to think over today.

  30. Nancy Vreeland says

    I read your story about going home, and boy can I relate. We lived in a small home in northern New Jersey. Ours was a traditional family Mom, Dad, my sister and I. Our neighbors across a small non-traveled street were like family. We did everything together. We swam in the summer, ice skated at the lake in the winter. Oh, did I mention take rides in the old Wily’s Jeep bouncing along, singing and talking with your two best girlfriends in the whole world and their dad at the wheel? How could life get any better than that.
    Well life changes. We grow up, have families of our own, raise our children. Some stay in that little town, but for me
    God placed a desire in my heart to move to Pennsylvania. So at 47 years old, my son raised and an adult, I did.
    It is a most wonderful place, full of simple, kind farm people who work the land and love the Lord. The beauty of the farms, the majesty of seeing an Eagle on the Yellow Breeches Creek and most of all knowing that God does give you the desires of your heart is more than this country girl from New Jersey could ask
    I went home to New Jersey often over the past 5 years. Daddy passed away and is in Heaven. Mom sold our little home and lives with big sister in a not so big city still in New Jersey. I visit her as often as I can and leave saddened, yet happy all at the same time. Happy to see mom at 81 bright and doing well, enjoying her new home with my sister.
    I have driven by our old home many times, and have stopped in to see our dear, frineds and neighbors. It is hard to see the old place. I remember the smell of the leaves on the ground on tree lined streets on Halloween. That eerie sound when the trees have shed their coats and the neighborhood echoes with the sounds of the night. I remember so many Christmas mornings being together in our little living room. Opening presents and racing across the street to see what the other girls recieved for Christmas. Their mom and dad welcoming us like their own, so happy to see us.
    I will never forget the smell of mom’s Lilac’s across the whole back yard blooming in May, announcing Mom’s birthday and the endless boquets of Purple and white throughout the house. The Lilacs are still there at the house, hopefully appreciated by the new family as we did throught the years. Their sweet aroma can lift any spirit, and bring with it all the newness of change, in a wonderful, light, hopeful kind of way. I wonder if that is why my mom loved them so much? Did she know in all her motherly widsom that life was about change. That God is his wisdom always with us, changing us, moving us ever closer to Himself through the years gracing our lives through even something a s simple as a Lilac…

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