Kathleen Murphy column: It's the little things that welcome you home
People always say you can't go home again. I'm not certain how I feel about that statement. I'm not entirely sure I even believe it's true. Regardless, I have been gallantly trying to prove it wrong since 2012, when I moved back to Duluth after an absence of over two decades.
That is a long time to be gone. Moreover, when I left I had only my 18-year-old self to worry about, my prized possessions a pair of Converse high tops and a signed set of Sam Cook hardcover books. I knew how to live simply.
My return was a little more chaotic. By 2012, I found myself in possession of not only a semi truck full of furniture and other things I really didn't need, but also a husband and five teenagers. The teenagers, it should be said, were southeast Michigan raised, and were questioning their parents' rationale of moving to northern Minnesota just as the chill of autumn was settling in. The following three winters, for the record, did not improve their opinions on the matter.
Since I still had family in Minnesota, I had visited Duluth often over the decades. During these visits, I'd always found Duluth familiar and cozy. Like coming home. Moving back should have been easy.
It was not. In fact, I found the entire re-entry a bit unsettling. Like I had fallen asleep 20-plus years ago and was just now waking up, Sleeping Beauty style. Everything that I thought was the same was just ever so different in almost indiscernible ways.
I puzzled over where the Whole Foods went to — hadn't it been next to Chester Creek? — then found it a few blocks away. I could not understand why I had no memory of a neighborhood called Lincoln Park. I have attended numerous potlucks and picnics, but have yet to see fruit suspended in Jell-O. Even the dreaded but ubiquitous carrots in green Jell-O has yet to make an appearance.
The changes made me feel a little out of touch with my hometown. I could no longer park facing the wrong way on the street, a practice that was for some reason common in the 1980s but earned tickets now. Lawns seem better cared for. Quaint little things I had always thought of as quintessential Duluth were now frowned upon.
Of course, I also experienced the joy of re-encountering Duluth quirks from my youth that I had forgotten about. Those odd little rock outcrops that stick out of people's lawns all over the hillside. The harbor foghorn bellowing in the middle of warm spring nights and nestling into my dreams. Neighborhood bears.
It's been almost seven years, and I am firmly and happily entrenched back in Duluth life. But the question still remains: Can you go home again?
Here's the thing: If you were to ask my children that question, I am sure they'd tell you no. They have settled comfortably into Duluth. They might feel a sense of nostalgia for the small Michigan town where they were raised — and they will always and forever be Detroit Tigers fans — but they feel it is no longer a place they belong.
I don't feel that way. Duluth is my place. I spent my high school years eager to leave and see the world, then the next two decades trying to return. I may not have returned to the home I remember, but I am making a home in the place I belong. So can you go home again? Sort of. It depends on your ability to accept — or better yet, embrace — the idea of change.
But it is best not to forget that change becomes instantly more palatable when served with a side of fruit suspended in Jell-O.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance journalist who lives and writes in Duluth.