I grew up in a beautiful, quaint, little town in Northern California. After I left home, I found myself missing the trees. There is something about living in a forest that sort of takes your breath away and when you breathe in, you can taste the pine. It smells of home. Although there is an abundance of green in northern California, it isn’t until you are about an hour from my little hometown that you feel surrounded. Last week, I went back for the first time in over seven years. It was on that drive, about an hour from Burney, that I was flooded with memories from my childhood. It was the road my dad taught me how to drive. The lookout point where I’d go to make out with my high school sweetheart. The route my mom and I took some weekends to go shopping in the city. The road I drove away on when I decided to leave home. I could feel my family with me and it excited me. It was familiar.
Driving into town was so much different. The community has changed so much and many of the businesses have closed or have been replaced. I kept waiting to feel something BIG but mostly it was lackluster. I called my brother on the way home and explained how I felt but he wasn’t surprised. Our family was gone. Although Burney holds so many tender memories for me, it is no longer home. Almost everyone I know has moved on and the town is simply a blurb in my life.
Please don’t be mistaken. I LOVED that town. I had an amazing childhood with parents who loved my brother and me. I had great friends and I worked hard in school and sports. I truly loved my life. I feel blessed to have grown up in a small community where I felt safe and loved. I spent my childhood playing outside until dark and then reading books until I fell asleep. I learned the value of a strong work ethic and held my share of responsibility. I watched my parents struggle financially and in their marriage. I fought endlessly with my brother. I made close friends and spent weekends staying up all night talking about life. I spent hours on the school bus traveling to volleyball tournaments and basketball games. Most afternoons I could be found at practice or at a school related function. I served my community. I worked as a lifeguard in our tiny little town. I learned to love myself unconditionally and be confident with who I am. I developed a relationship with God and we truly became best friends. I said goodbye to my dad as he left for months for work and ran to him when he came home. I watched my mom suffer from depression and insecurities but continue to hold it together. I used writing and sports as outlets to deal with the tough stuff. I played cops and robbers and then house with my brother. I helped my dad quit smoking at least a dozen times. I danced in the living room with him and brother as the 49ers scored a touchdown and stood on the couch to yell at the stupid kicker who missed a game changing field goal. I struggled with being overweight and was picked on for it. I listened to my dad sing Otis Redding and Elvis Presley songs and talk about his big brother who died in Vietnam. I walked to my grandma’s house to help her pick out fish for her giant tank and listened to her stories about her husband who died when I was little. I learned how to throw a football through a tire. I caught frogs with the neighborhood kids in the pond across from my house. I read to little kids at the library. I watched my best friend fall apart when her dad died. I felt a pang of guilt when I took a sip of alcohol at a party after my dad told me he trusted me. I had my first kiss. I fell in love. I learned to always be honest and real. I learned that family is absolutely everything.
So naturally, I thought that I would be bombarded with emotions as I spent time in my hometown but I didn’t feel much of anything. Sure, I felt sadness because my parents are gone and I wondered what it would be like if they were still here and still lived in our little house on Cypress. But I was okay. I knew that I had a wonderful husband waiting for me in our home and I have a lifetime to make more memories. I realized that although this place was magical to me as a child, it is no longer home and that’s okay.
The hardest part was driving by my old house. My dad took so much pride in our yard and we spent many hours on the weekend weeding, planting flowers, and watering. I can still hear him whistling as he’d water the trees by hand each night. Sadly, the house is now abandoned and run down. The rose bushes have dried up and weeds run wild. My bedroom window where my high school boyfriend would come tell me goodnight is covered in overgrown plants and weeds. The paint has chipped off and the roof looks like it is about to fall in. The carport that I watched my dad put up is now dented and damaged. How strange to see something that was once strong and full of love look so broken. The house reminded me of my dad, my big, strong, stubborn dad after cancer took away his strength.
That was hard. And I cried as I drove through town and thought about all of the what-ifs. And then I stopped myself and thanked God for the childhood I was given. For two parents who loved their children more than anything else. For a big brother who always protected me and continues to be my idol. For the love I felt, the friendships I made, and the memories that can never be taken away from me. And I drove out of the beautiful, little forest and back to my new home.