Going home: Meditations on growing up, from the place we grew up in
Managing Mosaic Editor
MIDDLETOWN, Del.—A lot of my going away to college is just my selective remembering. I am, of course, referring to how I remember my home.
I spent most of my late childhood and adolescence in Middletown, Del., a town that borders what locals would call “Lower Slower Delaware” and the northern section of the state. I was five minutes from the Maryland border, thirty minutes from the nearest mall. For fun, I went to Walmart and rode children’s bicycles around until an employee threatened to kick me and my friends out. Sometimes, I trespassed cornfields for the sake of trespassing something.
It was a sad existence, a little bit of a lame one and an angsty one (I did my service as an emo kid; I am not being dramatic when I state that I could have single-handedly supported the nearest Hot Topic). However, once one, two, even three months elapsed in college, the sleepy streets of Middletown became something I craved. In my mind, memories get distorted. I become the cool girl I wish that I were in high school rather than the deeply flawed human that I was.
I mistake everything, a rose colored tint falls on all my memories. Trespassing a cornfield and nearly getting kicked out of Walmart become acts of teenage debauchery, rather than acts of boredom. I glorify my music taste and destructive choices, in my mind I become tortured and genius and literary, rather than the insecure, pretentious girl I was. I carefully forget that I sat alone at lunch my senior year of high school. I forget that I didn’t have a car and was a horrible driver, I never really went anywhere cool. I forget that I finished high school with two, solid friends; I forget that if I want to pay a visit to one of them, I have to go to a graveyard. I forget my adolescent instability; I forget how it affected relationships. I forget the most true, melodramatic statement I have ever told someone: “I feel like everyone in Delaware knows how to be a human, except me.”
Going home is realizing I have imagined something that does not exist. Going back home is realizing that even though I have spent most of my life there, it doesn’t have to be my home if I don’t want it to be.
NEWARK, Del.— Growing up, I was a huge nerd and basically looked the part. I had the stereotypical mushroom haircut my mother forced upon me as an innocent, naive child. Later on, I had glasses and braces, as well as pimples to complete the ensemble. The final touch was just a book in my hand.
I was a strange kid to say the least. One of my favorite things to read was a textbook, science in particular. I wasn’t in touch with nature and preferred to learn about it from the comfort of my living room sofa. However, my parents had other plans for me.
To get my lazy ass to move once in awhile, my parents would drag me anywhere and everywhere. Surprisingly, the place I would look forward to visiting most was the temple. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not religious, whatsoever. My parents were relatively religious and often forced me, at least at the beginning, to interact with other human beings.
There, I made lots of new friends who I could celebrate my culture with and talk about things I couldn’t really discuss with my other friends. I learned to love the comforting smell of samosas and jalebi, while damaging my ears from the ever-present shrieks of children, as they ran across the temple.
Although I loved spending time with friends, my family was equally as important, constantly caring and guarding over me. I’m an only child, so I received plenty of attention growing up. My parents ensured I was never hungry, constantly making delicious treats and dishes in the house.
My favorite item to make with my mom was brownies. Although I usually bake brownies from scratch now, when I was little, my mom and I would just make them using the Ghirardelli brownie mix. My mom would add some walnuts to the mix and let me lick the spoon coated in that sweet, chocolaty mix. The best part was that the fragrant, overpowering smell of brownies would pervade throughout our house, making the day just a bit more sweet.
Going home, I look forward to baking with my mom or catching up with old friends, becoming a kid once again and forgetting the hardships that come along with college life. Sometimes, it’s okay to turn back the clock.
MANVEL, Texas— Growing up in a very rural area meant, obviously, absolutely hating being from a very rural area. I hated driving 20 minutes to the nearest grocery store. I hated the train whistles in the middle of the night and the regional airport behind my house that woke me up early Saturday mornings. I especially hated my neighbor’s rooster that always meandered into my front yard.
For most of my childhood, the town of Manvel and the closest “city,” Alvin, were a bunch of cow pastures. In fact, until Manvel High School opened in 2006, we prided ourselves on the fact that there were no elevators within the city limits.
A stereotypical small town, tipping the scales at 220 people per square mile (compared to Newark’s 3,635), we loved our high school sports teams, the Houston Rodeo, George Strait, and the hometown hero, Nolan Ryan.
However, starting with the opening of Manvel High School, the metropolis of Houston, just 20 miles north, began to creep in. Suddenly, our small town neighbor to the north, Pearland, became the second-fastest growing city in Texas. The Town Center and Shadow Creek subdivision opened, bringing over 20,000 new residents between 2000 and 2010 to the area.
Now me being 2000 miles away in Delaware, I helplessly watch my town be swallowed by an ever-expanding urban center. New housing developments are announced and built with reckless abandon.
So what does it mean for me to go home these days? Gut wrenching sadness.
I miss those god awful cow pastures and hay fields that we’ve traded in for cookie-cutter two-bedroom houses and their half-acre backyards. I miss knowing my neighbors and my mayor and my school board.
Each time I return home, I try to shut out the new buildings and billboards that clutter the skyline. I go back to my neighborhood where everyone lives on several acres and I’m always sure to pull over and give sugar cubes to the neighbors’ horses.
Going home means going back to a very fragile bubble where Orion looks over you at night. But going home is also noticing that Orion gets a little fainter every few months from the new light pollution.
Going home means a newfound love for the train whistles in the middle of the night and the regional airport that wakes me up on Saturday mornings.
I still hate my neighbor’s rooster, though.
HOCKESSIN, Del.— Although this is my first year commuting (now, as a junior), I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never been “away” from home since I started college at Delaware. After all, Hockessin is only a 17-minute drive away.
I always thought this was to my disadvantage, as college is supposed to be a place where you “go off to;” where a completely new environment births novel and formative experiences in a way that staying within a 10 mile radius of your parent’s house simply can’t.
Naturally, this isn’t always the case. But the expectations and preconceptions involved with being in-state and being this close in particular, changes the dynamic of how I understand home and my sense of home.
In that, I don’t “go home” from college because I never left home. And now that I’m commuting, this blurs the line even further. Ultimately, “home” ends up becoming this extended space that encompasses pretty much all parts of New Castle County, from Newark to Wilmington, that I’ve become so familiar with, and where I’ve lived out my entire life.
So, in some ways, home becomes something I want to get away from. A place to depart from, exchanging “home” for some abstraction of novelty or exploration which I’ve convinced myself I can only find elsewhere. In high school, I became possessed by a kind of idealism and wanderlust that has since, maybe, been tamed down to a strong desire to just make a new home in a new place. (Rather than the initial impulse towards total nomadism, which I eventually ruled out as extreme, impractical, and incompatible with my basic enjoyments of reliable sources for food, water and shelter.)
However, with that being said, Hockessin will never not be my home, or, at least, a home. I’ve lived-in these spaces for so long now that none of those attachments could be undone. The cafes, libraries, backroads, parks, classrooms; these are all home, in one way or another.
There is something to be said about the familiarity of home that just anchors you in a way that few things can. When all the constant motion and variables of life begin to disorient and overwhelm, I can rely that the places I call home will be unchanging. In that, at the end of the day, I can come home, stumble to my room, and collapse, in total exhaustion, into the warmth of my own bed.
MILFORD, Del.— Sometimes going back home really sucks for me.
To be clear, I’ve never been one of the militant anti-staying-in-Delaware Delawareans who end every sentence with “there’s nothing to do here, bro.” At worst, my opinion is overwhelmingly neutral. Sure, it’s not the most exciting place to live, Milford especially, but there are worse places. Like Seaford, Delaware.
When I feel trepidation at returning home it’s always tied to a more existential dread of growing further detached from a place I used to know like the back of my hand. I’ve felt it grow more intense over the last year, a particular dissociation from the fact that this was my home.
Almost paradoxically, this detachment has been replaced by a greater awareness of the littlest things. The way the shadows lazily reach across our small backyard as the sun sets into a deep pink hue. The low hum of cars drifting through the neighborhood before the disruptive sounds are once more swallowed up into stillness. The fact that my dad has one single, solitary position in which he does puzzles on his iPad and he hasn’t changed it in at least four years.
Where once was a feeling of the here and now, a sense of being rooted in one place, sure of where I’m headed and what I’ve done, is now a feeling of overwhelming uncertainty and fear, of doubts and constant comparisons.
Going home is a reminder of that. It’s a window back in time to how it used to be. The eager, wide-eyed excitement and the sense of wholeness. All I ever knew was in one small town and all I ever dreamed of was on a path laid down at my feet. In between the shadows in the yard, the creaks of the floorboards, the slow patter of rain hitting my bedroom window, there’s the way I used to feel.
I guess I’m just trying to find that feeling again.
VALPARAISO, Ind.— Going home normally means drinking in the apartments that my parents told me to avoid as a kid that my friends now live in.
Cam A. Johnson
SMYRNA, Del.— Considering I didn’t go away for college and am only about an hour drive away from my house, I would say I’m “home” all the time.
As an individual from Smyrna which is considered the “country” to some Delawareans I often view home as a safe spot (now in my adult years). When I was younger I enjoyed waking up to hear my siblings making noise and my mom coming in from a late night shift at work. These were the moments that I enjoyed and they made me feel that everything was alright in the world.
Once I turned six something drastic happened in my life that caused home to feel sort of empty and at 12 I experienced tragedy again that altered home even more. However, with my family now significantly smaller than it was I still had my mom who made home feel whole again.
As a preteen, I began to realize that Smyrna was a small ass town in a small state and I become bored of the same old routine. I felt that I was living in a ghost town surrounded by old painful memories and I wanted to escape. Also, I knew everyone in my town and everyone knew each other’s business which I began to find annoying. I was determined to leave my safe haven and entered a brand new school at 14 where I knew absolutely no one (it was the best thing I’ve ever done). Sometimes starting over is the best thing that can ever happen to you.
Once I graduated high school I began to resent the fact that I stayed in state for college but now that I am 20 years old, I realize that I love my small state and I have made some of my best friendships that I’m certain will continue after graduation. Home has become a place that I cherish deeply and coming home to see my mom and my dog Lorelei after a shitty week at school really makes me happy.
While I am still surrounded by ghosts it is no longer a sense of dread that I feel, but instead appreciation and respect for my hometown. Even though my family only consists of about two people and a dog I am extremely grateful.
Smyrna thank you for being my home for the last 20 years, I love you.
OAK PARK, Ill.— Every time I step off the plane at O’Hare International Airport, it’s like I can finally breathe. My lungs fill with the sickly-sweet smell of Garrett’s popcorn and the sour scent of urine that we just can’t seem to ditch. My ears vibrate from the pathetic chugging of rickety trains that creep along the Eisenhower. My legs tremble from the stampede of people that swirl through the terminals, people who hail from every state, country, and continent.
When I go home, I feel happy.
My town, Oak Park, is the first village to the west of the Greatest City in the World (Greatest City in the world = Chicago). Oak Park is a cross-breed of city and suburb, a jumble of fast-paced technology, white picket fences, skyrises and town halls.
Going home is the best feeling in the world. It’s like a huge, squishy hug from your grandmother in downstate Illinois. It’s like a smooth, cold ice cream cone from the South Side Secret, Hole in the wall. It’s everything.
I grew up loving my town; I actually plotted my campaign to be Mayor at the ripe age of 14. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am so happy I did.
Leaving meant that I could finally see the cracks of the facade my town is plastered in.
The yard signs that plead, “Hate has no home here,” are a pathetic solution to the list of names in the weekly police blotter of those shot dead. The referendums that gorge themselves on public funds for new pools and larger TVs empty the pockets of those who have nothing more to give and nowhere to go.
When I go home, I am reminded that there is still so much we need to fix, which is exactly why I left. That’s why we are all here (I presume), studying and striving towards a degree we hope will make a difference in a world that so desperately needs a helping hand.
Going home is the warm-fuzzies of childhood, but it’s also the shock of renewed urgency that sends me right back here to Delaware in hopes of learning just enough to make a difference.
HOCKESSIN, Del.— The first time I went home this year, I cried because it “smells like fall.” I never knew I could be such an emotional pansy until that moment.
My parents responded that it was fall, too, at the University of Delaware, a school not even 10 miles away from my home.
But the thing about college is that it doesn’t smell like that. It smells of a musty old dorm room that will not smell any better no matter how much febreze you spray. It smells of the grilled cheese they’re serving in the dining hall that makes you think to yourself before you pick it up, “How could anybody mess up a grilled cheese?” But then you pick up the grilled cheese and you realize that it is, in fact, possible to mess up a grilled cheese.
In my lengthy two months of experience, I’ve concluded that the best way to describe college is “sensory overload.” You’re smelling a ton of things at once. You’re meeting many people simultaneously. You’re eating something at the dining hall that is a combination of too many ethnic cuisines.
For that reason, the smell of a burgeoning autumn really affected me in that moment.
Sometimes it is fun to smell a bunch of things at once. Like at a baseball game, for instance. You’re smelling cotton candy and peanuts and ice cream in one of those baseball-hat-shaped cups. Or Bath and Body Works. There’s all these scents like Blossoming Coconut and Fruitful Diva and Pumpkin Vanilla Cherry Elderflower Angel Food Cake. The enjoyable mix of all these obscure scents wafts onto you as you walk through the Christiana Mall, trying to buy a secret santa gift for your friend that you don’t know enough about to buy anything personal.
But other times, you just want to smell one thing. You want to burn one candle. You want one sniff of the package of Oreos in the pantry that your parents specifically bought for your return. And that’s what makes the scent of autumn and going home so lovely for me.
Managing News Editor
BROOKLYN, N.Y.— New Yorkers talk about New York incessantly — a character flaw, we’re aware.
I love my neighborhood, which hasn’t been totally razed by the looming threat of gentrification yet, although if you walk twelve blocks west it’s a bit of a different story. There, they have food co-ops and bars that double as flower shops. A slice of pizza is $4. Ridiculous things like that.
I have 99-cent stores, a laundromat and the Q train all around the corner from where I live. In high school, I’d snag a dollar coffee from one of three delis all running on the same block before taking an hour-long commute to school.
When I think of where I live, I hear the Q and B trains chugging along and how I couldn’t sleep on campus for the first few nights because the atmosphere by Redding was simply too quiet.
I think about going into the city, spending late nights in parks or at Union Square, wasting time walking around. I think of street food, and culture, and Dominican bakeries. I think of how being home makes me feel like I have energy thrumming just under my skin; how seeing that stark grey skyline does kind of make me feel something.
But “going home,” to my mother and I, always meant going to the Philippines. It’s how she referred to the day-long travel from JFK to Hong Kong to Manila.
I had the privilege of being able to go to Roxas City nearly every year. It became a necessity in 2011, when my grandfather fell ill and passed away.
My aunt started throwing birthday parties for my grandmother, affectionately called “Nanay” (“mother” in Tagalog), all the way until 94. She became the reason why the entire family got together, some from California, Canada and Manila.
All I really looked forward to for a while was July, when my entire Filipino family got to hang out and just catch up. Seeing bad movies on the weekends and going to the beach, playing with my cousins’ babies and gossiping off to the side about all the family drama, jokingly tagged “Keeping Up With The Mendozas.”
It’s almost ironic that as a biracial woman, I consider myself as having two clear homes. I usually find myself in moments of quiet wishing I were there, sitting in my grandmother’s home and chatting with her while we eat mango. Even watching bad Filipino soap operas every night.
I miss her, and I miss “going home.”
Kerline (Kayleen) Aures
Photographer and Illustrator
MILFORD, Del.— Home is a mixed bag.
On those, now rare, occasions when I am able to free myself from the shackles of this school and go back home it’s always with mixed feelings.
Always I, and everyone else whose left and are still there, complain about how slow the town is. It’s a more rural town, with its trees and trails and the occasional cow that flees for escape. Yes, this is a thing, if you look up Milford, Delaware on YouTube you will find a video of escaped cows. Yet I am glad for it because it allows for a reprieve from the stresses of everything, and a moment to breathe.
Always I complain about how going down the street people come up to me, commenting on how they have seen me walking everywhere. I’m a poor girl with no car so yes, this is a forced habit. Yet now I’m kind of grateful for that in a weird way. In that small town, where everyone knew most everyone, I was Kayleen the walker. Kayleen the girl that carried an excessive butt ton of books. Kayleen the girl that friggin’ loves all you can eat buffets, and food in general. Kayleen the reader. Kayleen the speed walker. I’m grateful for the fact that I grew up in a place that saw me more for the things I did rather than the color of my skin.
And on those occasions where I stay overnight and other Haitian people are having a celebratory party, whether it be for someone’s graduation, birthday, or just because up until the unholy hours of three in the morning I’d complain. Now I miss things like that, the liveliness of other Haitian people in the streets or just around. Playing the music that brings me back to my childhood and gets me boppin’ even though I can’t dance and bring shame upon that stereotype.
Home is a mixed bag because the more I’m away, the more I realize how much of a home it is to me. Yet the path I’m on leads me to never call that place home again. Is this adulting?
N/A—I spent the longest part of my childhood in Bundang, a district in Seoul’s metropolitan area. My mom calls me the “walking history” of Bundang because I essentially grew up with the city. It was an up-and-coming area during our time of residence and today, has established itself as one of the most populous and reputable places in South Korea. I frankly don’t remember much of my time there though, except that I went to a Montessori kindergarten and took Gymboree Play & Music classes. Before I had a chance to develop deep enough of a connection with the city, my family and I moved to a different district, then to different countries by the time I turned seven. For some reason, I still called Bundang my home regardless, whether it be in a casual conversation or a Common Apps application (cue sickening flashback).
We took a trip to South Korea this past summer. This was our first time back since we settled in the U.S. eight years ago. I apparently drove us into Bundang, which would’ve been unimaginable to the kindergartener me who always used to get car sick while obsessively reading Greek Mythology comics in the back seat. And I intentionally use “apparently,” because I wouldn’t even have known that we were in Bundang until the GPS announced so.
I barely recognized the city’s cramped atmosphere, and its current residents gave me intrigued looks whenever I talked to my sister in English while walking around. My parents had to point out the AK Plaza mall for me to vaguely remember being dragged there as a kid. The traffic and the recklessness that this brought out of Bundang drivers also bothered the hell out of me and to be honest, I’ve had better experiences driving in Manhattan.
I think Bundang and I have both drastically changed in our own ways. This trip has made me feel more distant than ever from the city I’ve always called “home.” I still have strong Korean roots, and all my relatives are back in the country. I can’t be thankful enough for my times in Korea and for how my childhood in Bundang likely has had some influence on shaping me into this sleep-deprived senior frantically finishing her graduate school applications (I sound sarcastic but I genuinely am grateful). But till I get some stroke of desire to revisit the place of my growth, I don’t think I can confidently call Bundang my hometown anymore.