Home is an intricate word. I call it “intricate,” because it’s more than one place, more of a “who” than a “what.”
My first home-the one of childhood-is Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Such an intriguingly ridiculous place, and I mean that in the best and worst sense. Regardless of where I go, what I do, and who I become, this place will be home with the strange accents, slower pace, honest-to-goodness culture, and small-town vibes. It is part of me, and I am proud to be from this baby city brimming with life and eagerness to put itself on the map through art, music, and writing. When I’m here I breathe tradition, sensibility, kindness, sincerity, appreciation, and family. Also, I drive much slower.
My second home-the one I chose-is Denver, Colorado. Almost six years ago, I packed my possessions (which consisted mostly of picture frames, books, hooded sweatshirts, and CD) into the minivan and drove halfway across the country to a tiny, Christian university in the middle of Suburbia. Strangely, even then, I knew that I would never return. It took me two years to verbalize, and my parents realized earlier, but I guess the only explanation is that I’m that girl who had to move clear across the nation to find herself, to get out of the awkward rut between girlhood and womanhood, to be the person I was made to be (or too afraid to see amid comfortable familiarity). Fortunately, I met incredible people from the beginning, and now I have a second family of people who dare to love me despite knowing my worst and no blood or adoptive mandate to do so.
Maybe it’s just where I’m at or the holidays, but during this visit, I have played the “What If” game a lot, considering the person I would be if I never left. Because I moved so far away for college, I’ve managed to lose touch with almost all my high school friends, so I might run into only one or two old friends at the local coffee shop or bar once during a trip, since small-town favorites stay the same. But this time, I’ve run into a lot more people. Granted, half the town gathered to welcome home Bon Iver for the first time in three years, so I saw oodles of old classmates and friends at the show (well worth the awkwardness).
I won’t go into the details of what life would look like if I never left, mostly because I’ll never know, but I will say that I am glad I got brave and moved. Would staying have been terrible? Absolutely not. I’m a firm believer that good can come out of anything, and, in this case, it would’ve been a nice life… but a very different one. Regardless, this trip home has cemented that-despite my [almost] two degrees, professional title, improved fashion sense, new-found faith, more vegetable-intense diet, and moderate/sometimes treading liberal political outlook-I’m a Midwest girl at heart who loves her family slightly too much and can’t resist a Leinenkugel on tap. When I’m in Colorado, I forget how much I miss the “normal” aspects of being a family such as eating dinner together, running errands, baking with my niece, laughing with my siblings, hearing my grandparents’ stories, talking late into the night with my parents, and decorating the Christmas tree (who I named Ronald).
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I hope it’s at home-whatever that means to you-surrounded by love, joy, and peace in an honest-to-goodness, straight-up Wisconsin-style celebration of what matter most.