COMING HOME AT LAST


When the plane touched down in Rochester, New York, where I spent my childhood, I expected I would view the city with considerable interest, since I had not been back for 45 years.  I didn’t expect that my immediate view would be blurred, because I was immediately teary-eyed.  That surprised me, for while I certainly cry, I usually have some warning.  I deplaned, telling both the flight attendant and the pilot that this was my first time here in 45 years.  They smiled.  I walked through the airport, far, far different from the last time I had been here, arriving at the rental car counter.  As I was getting checked in, I told the young man it was my first visit here since 1968.

“Welcome home,” he said.

I lost it.  No, it wasn’t just teary-eyed, I started crying, the kind of crying where you simply cannot talk and your face is soaked.  It didn’t last long, but the emotion caught me totally by surprise.  As I write this, I am teary.

I lived in Rochester from shortly after my birth in Berkeley, California, until 1963, when I left, to finish my last three years of high school in Wilmington, Delaware.  Other than working a summer at Eastman Kodak in 1968, where I hardly ever explored, I had not set foot in the city, or even New York, for that matter.  I finished high school in Wilmington, and I had a lot more friends there, but when I returned to Wilmington 42 years later, I did not have those emotions.  I was curious, but I did not cry.

Driving out of town, for that evening, I wanted to see our summer place on the Finger Lakes, I saw names I had not thought about for years–5 and 20 (a well known road my pediatrician told my mother I should play on, which would solve some of her problems), Rush, Henrietta, Conesus, Canandaigua, Lima, Livonia, and Honeoye, the last the lake where we had our cottage.  I was about 6 miles from Honeoye before anything looked familiar.  Even West Lake Road was different.  The numbering system had changed, and only the fact that I went past the cemetery on my right told me I was on the right road.  “California Ranch,” a peninsula, was now “Ranch Road.”  I went by “Poplar Road”, which I remembered immediately as being the last road before the one to our cottage.

Had you asked me any time in the last 40 years where Poplar Road was, I would not have been able to answer.  But I knew it immediately when I saw it.

The cottage was basically the same, but the trees, the new cottages, the whole area was different.  The owner was kind enough to let me in, and I was standing in a room where my feet had trod when I was a young boy, not an old man.

That evening, on the dinner menu, “Texas hot dogs” were advertised.  I hadn’t heard the term in decades.  Rochester is home to red and white hot dogs.  I can still hear the waiters at “Don and Bob’s”, which now exists at Sea Breeze: “Two texas, three white!”  When we left Rochester, that was the end of white hot dogs and Genesee Beer.

The next several days, I visited Cleveland to see my 49th national park, and drove around Lake Ontario to a camp reunion and to visit a good friend in Ottawa. This was a true “Remembrance Trip.” I returned to Rochester from the east, drove down Elmwood Avenue, and again saw street names I hadn’t thought of in decades.  I arrived at 12 Corners, immediately recognized it and the three schools I had attended through the 9th grade.  I was speechless, but I was done with the tears.  I saw the schools, turned down the street I lived on, and saw the house where I grew up.  It looked good.  So did the window from my room.  I looked at the sidewalk and the driveway, where a half century earlier, even almost two-thirds of a century earlier, my feet walked.  It was good.  I needed to see my house.  I was through with the tears now.

I drove to the hotel near the airport, on Chili, which I immediately knew was pronounced CHI lie, not CHILL e, where I was flying out the next day.  I told the counter clerks that it was my first time back in 45 years.  They smiled.  I tried to say that it was the first time I had seen my house and my school in a half century, but I couldn’t speak.

I started to cry.  I absolutely could not get a word out for five minutes.  They smiled and nodded.  I was astounded at my emotions.  For years, I always considered a home town is where somebody currently lives.  That is, after all, literally your home town.

But I had been wrong the whole time.  I have a hometown.  It was so obvious that it perhaps never occurred to me.  It was, and always will be, Rochester, New York.  Had I listened to my heart and eyes, I never would have doubted it.  The brain is smart, but the heart and eyes know things the brain can’t understand.  The mind of the child takes in things that the adult brain simply can’t comprehend.  My heart and eyes knew I was home.

I took the trip, because I wanted to see where I grew up one more time.  I did that.

I just didn’t know that after all these years, I was finally going home, and how important this would be.  I went to school in Rochester for many years.  I learned a great deal in Rochester.  But this beautiful city had one more lesson to teach me, 45 years later.

 

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One Response to “COMING HOME AT LAST”

  1. zohre Says:

    Dear Mike welcome back to your home.

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