Since the olive harvest last November, I haven’t had the opportunity to do any traveling. (What raising a rascal of a puppy will do to your schedule!) So, I’m pretty excited to be getting on an airplane next week to head back across the pond. On the roster are the usual suspects: a quick stopover in Paris, and then onto Tuscany for a couple of weeks. There’s maintenance to be done at the farmhouse, photos to be taken, and, of course, some croissants to be eaten along the way!
In my family, almost as much anticipation goes into determining our route as deciding on the context of the trip itself. My dad being a retired airline pilot, we fly standby, and it’s a more than familiar sight to watch my parents scour every possible route to a destination as flights fill up and seats disappear. Where do we connect stateside? Salt Lake City? Detroit? Cincinnati? Newark? Committing to a connection too early is the travel equivalent of putting all our eggs in one basket. Until you experience standby travel yourself, it’s difficult to understand the maddening disappointment that often characterizes the arrangement. That, however, is another story.
For this trip, we decided on Minneapolis. I know the airport like the back of my hand, and for the better part of 19 years, I called the suburbs of the Twin Cities my home. Yet, I know that when I’ll briefly pass through that once familiar place, I’ll can’t help but wonder why the local atmosphere doesn’t seem to fold around me in quite the same way. I’ve felt it before; that sneaking suspicion that you know too much about a place to simply be a traveller. I’ve felt it in other cities too; Madison, Miami, and New York, but nothing quite works its way into your memory like a place you were born and bred.
A lot of realizations about Minnesota have settled in my mind in the five years since I’ve moved away. It was a wonderful place to grow up. My free time was filled with winter mornings knee-deep in freshly fallen snow, fall afternoons playing in the leaves, and summer nights around the fire pit in our backyard, all strung together with a bit of imagination. What I remember most fondly was beautifully ordinary. The early days and years blended together in the security of it all.
But as expected, I grew up, life got more complicated, and the cynicism that often invades one’s teen years drove a wedge between me and the very place I came from. I wanted out, and I got it. Each year after high school pushed me further and further away, and then, in the summer after my sophomore year of college, my family left for good. I’ve cast a wide perimeter between myself and Minnesota since then. I think I can count the number of times I’ve returned on two hands, often only lingering for a day or two at a time.
In less than a week, I’ll connect through MSP Airport, definitely just a stranger passing through. I’ll tell myself that a year in Miami, and half another in Phoenix, have obliterated my tolerance for cold weather. And when I realize that isn’t sufficient, I’ll take note of all I’ve seen and done in my absence as proof that the girl who once belonged there couldn’t possibly any longer. But as the plane lands, I’ll catch myself relishing the relief that I’ve returned home. I’m sure that in a few years the reflex will fade, but for now, it’s wrenched open a door I’ve done a very good job of keeping shut. I must have had a reason for creating this mental distance from my childhood home, but now, the upkeep is nothing more than an old, tired habit.
Of course, it all seems silly, thinking I could escape a place where I spent an overwhelming majority of my life thus far. I do find some comfort in that I spent a long time saying goodbye. I can thank Minnesota for many things; years of lake sunsets, raspberry shakes from the Peppermint Twist, long walks around Lake Calhoun, (perhaps regrettably) my oddball Nordic sense of humor, a good game of hockey, friends, and family. I can assure you that the list goes on.
So, what do we call these places we once knew so well and left behind? They’re no longer home, but they’re not quite a destination either. I suspect they linger somewhere in the middle without a specific word to define them. They’re outlined by memory, and colored with nostalgia. They shape us, and know us better than we think. And when we return, if even so briefly or infrequently, there’s always that subtle tug on your heart, as if to say, “Remember me? I certainly remember you.”
I know this feeling will take hold the second the captain announces the descent into Minneapolis. Yet, I also know how quickly it will fade. A memory or two will slip across my mind. I’ll smile, and then, I’ll continue on my journey.