By Corey Heller
This originally appeared in 2008 at An American Between Worlds.
I grew up in the foothills of northern California and have always had mixed feelings about the place. It is a small town and I grew up in a small house on two acres surrounded by oaks, manzanita, deer and quiet – lots of peace and quiet.
To reach our house, you’d drive three miles out of town and then down a bumpy, dirt road. We were surrounded by hundreds of crickets who’d chirp all night, but I’d only notice when folks from the city mentioned how loud they were. There were random rattlesnakes, meandering bears and many a bold deer who would eat vegetables from our garden despite the tall fence.
We could walk all night if we wanted to, just by the light of a full moon, and summers were spent plunging into the satisfying waters of the Yuba River.
I loved those days spent outdoors exploring my wild and expansive back yard. Yet, I often found myself dreaming of the long, flat, wide, straight streets of cities; those seemingly straightforward, uncomplicated, matter-of-fact, predetermined benefits of man-made environments.
In my hometown, the trees and mountains gave me a sense of protection and warmth yet they could also make me feel trapped and isolated. The natural, unkempt surroundings of the forest at times filled my heart with comfort and protection while at other times caused me to feel breathless and claustrophobic.
Returning with Children
It is summer 2008 and as I write this, I am here again in my childhood home with my husband and children. We are visiting my mother and brother who still live here. As with each visit, I sit in the same rooms and walk along the same paths as I did as a child. I lay on the grass in the front yard and notice that the trees have grown. Many things have changed.
Yet, what surprises me the most is not the way in which things are so very different from when I was a child. Instead, it is the way in which my own childhood memories are slowly being reshaped through the eyes of my own children. The way I remember my days as a child slowly begins to interweave itself with the daily romps and giggles of my children. It is as if I am seeing my own childhood from a brand new vantage point and experiencing it through a whole new perspective.
As I sit on the side deck, I breathe in the dry, familiar air and watch my children dart back and forth across the front yard. I find myself reliving my past through their laughter and overwhelming joy.
Isn’t that me sitting in the sandbox under the swaying oak trees letting sand flow through my outstretched palms? Am I not the one collecting moss and branches to create miniature worlds of my own making?
Magically I slowly forget those things which aggravated me as a child and instead realize that I am savoring the bits which brought me the most satisfaction and happiness. I know there are downsides to growing up out here in the countryside, yet I easily push them aside as I witness the utter joy on my children’s faces. They fiercly dedicate themselves to nothing but pure, unadulterated play from morning until night. And as I watch them explore my childhood backyard with a familiar wonderment, fascination and excitement, my own memories of this place begin to blend and mix with theirs.
Our world seems so simple here. We step back just far enough to see things with a clarity that I fail to grasp when back home in Seattle. There we rarely take the breaks we so desperately need to let our soul dangle. There is always a long list of “duties” which ultimately encapsulate us even more than the tall oaks and wide mountains ever did – traps of our own making. The cement sidewalk isn’t as inviting as I imagined it as a child. What I wouldn’t give to have a little dust between my toes!
Despite the solid sidewalks and expansive streets of my city home, it is out here in the wilds of Northern California that I find myself able to breathe again. The undefined, unrefined wilderness of my childhood backyard provides an openness that I had somehow forgotten until my children embraced it with their wide-eyed wonderment and delight.
As my family and I walk west toward Gypsy Falls on well-trodden, dirt paths worn by human and animal alike, I am in awe of how high the trees have grown and how tall the mountains seem to have become. They peer down at me with their familiar gaze. But instead of feeling trapped and isolated from the rest of the world, I am enveloped by the warmth and comfort of friends welcoming me back home.
What have been your experiences visiting your childhood home with your children? For those who have moved to another country, this may have an especially strong impact. Have your memories of “back home” changed after getting married and starting your own family?