One of the nice things about moving away from the place where you grew up is getting a chance, every now and then, to travel back there for a visit. For a number of reasons, a week spent with family and old friends can do a world of good for your spirit.
First, unless you are some kind of sociopath or just one of the world's biggest assholes, everyone "back home" is happy to see you. You get warm smiles, rib-cracking hugs, and plenty of "Gee, it's great to see you," moments everywhere you go. If you're lucky, you get to spend some time with people you have known and loved --and who have known and loved you-- catching up on the good stuff in your lives. Having just had lunch yesterday with one such friend (who is turning 40 today, and I wish him well), I can confirm that Facebook is a pale substitute for face time with old friends. Nothing quite compares to lift you experience when you see your best self reflected in the teary eyes of a sibling or when an old friend reminds you that you that despite the years, you really haven't changed a bit, not where it counts, anyway. Sadly, most of us aren't as forthcoming with heartfelt appreciation and affirmation of the folks we see day-in and day-out. Maybe we should try that out more often.
The second big benefit to a hometown visit is getting to eat food you just can't get in the place you live now. Even in the day of Internet commerce and same-day shipping, you can't really experience the joy of a freshly baked pizza or Italian hoagie in Seattle, say, or Omaha. And no matter how good the chicken parmigiana is at your local Italian joint, it will never compare to the landmark feast of saucy, cheesy goodness served up by your family's "celebration" restaurant. I've already managed to savor those goodies, and I still have a few more "must-haves" on my list before we leave town. There will be plenty of time for restraint and salad next week; today is about proper fish sandwiches and pierogies.
Another fun bit is roaming the streets and back roads of your childhood stomping grounds, seeing what has changed and, more likely in certain parts of the world, what has not. Here on "Planet Yinz," as my old pal Craig Whyel calls it, most of the change is brought about by Mother Nature in the way of encroaching vines and rust. But there's a beauty in this decay, like the deep furrows of a life well-lived on an old Eastern European woman's face or the intricate tatters of sunlight through ancient cotton lace curtains. Other changes, the ebb and flow of business, industry, commerce, offer alternating stings from both boarded storefronts and sprawling shopping centers.It's always hard to tell whether the place is declining or recovering, but it is most certainly still here.
Today we'll do some more wandering, some more eating, and spend the evening laughing and drinking and talking with some of the best people I have ever known. At the end of the night, my heart will swell with the desire to take them all back home with me when I go.