I seem to keep running into this idea of childhood and my childhood this summer. This time it happened due to my summer vacation back to the state and city where I grew up and where my grandma still lives today: Nashville, Tennessee. Although I’ve spent a lot of my life in Austin, TX, some very important things happened to me in Tennessee: it’s where I learned to ride a bike, lost my first tooth, learned to read, wrote my first “short stories” (If “Once upon a time [some sentence about a fairy queen] and they lived happily ever after” counts), sold Girl Scout cookies, and let my imagination steer me at every turn. It’s where my family still lives, the people who really helped raise me. Even just preparing for the visit reminded me of McFlurry shakes for breakfast with my grandmother and Friday nights spent exploring the many toy chests at my great aunt’s house.
I haven’t thought seriously about these connections and my childhood past for many years. I didn’t have time to visit so the memories faded away into the burning hot Austin and Houston summers, the time when I would usually be road-tripping with my mom and sister back to Pabi’s house. When I arrived in the airport, I was immediately surprised by how much everything seemed foreign and yet delectably familiar at the same time. Wading through crowds of people, I didn’t recognize any faces. But when I rounded a corner close to the baggage claim, I knew this was the spot where the golf store used to be. The golf store my dad loved so much that he drove us out to the airport to visit it when I was five (that was in the pre-9/11 days when you could just visit an airport for shopping). It continued that way through much of the weekend: driving down unfamiliar big streets only to turn a corner and run head-first into a memory of riding the car with my parents home from elementary school or a Sunday night family dinner.
It was wonderful to be thrown back into the person I used to be. To remember the joy of being a child. I was almost jealous for my 6 year-old self, the one who could spend hours inventing imaginary games about pirates and kidnapped princesses in the backyard. No need for gadgets or even other people to aid me. As a playwright, I sometimes wish I could go back to harness all those fearless creations and play-act as if no one was watching once again.
But in other ways, the weekend showed me how much has changed in the past five years. Last time I visited, my great aunt didn’t live in a nursing home and my grandmother was still working. I noticed how much they had slowed down. Three days wasn’t enough time to really show them how much I loved and cared about them, wasn’t enough time to catch them up on everything that has happened in the past five years–the years when I graduated both high school and college.
Mostly, my family showed me how much I have changed and grown into the person I suppose I am meant to be. I stand taller now. In large family gatherings I’m still the quiet one taking all the conversation in–but I know how to make myself heard when I do have something to add. I have written plays. My mom and sister are especially proud that I have my own artistic sense of fashion now and they don’t have to drag me unwillingly through malls and department stores.
I can’t say that I’d sacrifice any of the progress I’ve made by journeying far away from Nashville and spending time away from my family, becoming an independent woman. And yet, as I left it behind again, I couldn’t help but already begin to miss hugs from my grandma and the smell of rain heavy on the green hills of Tennessee. Somehow, even if it’s only in spirit, I need to find a way to stay connected with my Southern roots.