I did not grow up in the town where I am now a teacher, but Homecoming always makes me smile. One, I am reminded of those Homecoming weekends of my youth, filled with soccer and football games, bonfires, and “remember whens” with friends. I remember catching up with coaches who pushed us hard, teachers who made a difference, and yummy home cooked meals at Mom and Dad’s. But now, as a teacher, in a district where I’m actually old enough for former students to have babies almost old enough to be in my high school classroom, Homecoming is a little different.
Homecoming today meant coaching little kids soccer in the morning, followed by watching big kid soccer in the afternoon. Homecoming was buying winter hats for the entire family from this year’s freshmen class because a.) it was cold and b.) I love my ninth graders. Homecoming was giving each of my kids $5.00 and watching them run around with their friends participating in each of the class’ fundraising games etc and knowing they would not be lost. Homecoming for my school means being able to also see friends, colleagues, parents, and former students from Lisbon where I taught before life brought me to Lin-Wood. Homecoming today meant seeing former students Dusty, Jeremy (or Biscuit as I knew him) and Tabby Dodge from precisely 100 years ago, when I was 26 and took a leap of faith to move here to the mountains from the seacoast for a love that didn’t exactly work out, yet for a place that I’ve grown to love with all my heart. Tabby had invited me to her brother’s homecoming party over in Lisbon later in the day to celebrate a visit home for him and his lovely wife Lauren. Dusty was the first the student to be friendly to me the morning students arrived for a new year at Lisbon Regional School, along with his best friend side kick Kristy Laleme. I loved that they included me in his homecoming party, and I love that they trudged all the way to Lin-Wood for the game, especially since I would not be able to make it to his party. Dusty is 32 years old; I must have been 15 when I was his English teacher. But I do remember being very sad the day he told me he was applying to the Virginia Military Institute because I felt like he was too sensitive and compassionate and poetic to be a soldier. He told me those were the same reasons our American military needed individuals like him to serve our country. I wonder what his homecoming feels like in his head and in his heart having spent so much time away from his family— away fighting for our country– away from all that is pumpkin spice, apple goodness, and rural fall splendor with family and friends.
Over the years, he’s written me letters and emails about baking pies for the local church but that didn’t really help him to meet any ladies younger than 70 who were impressed with his baking abilities. He doesn’t say too much about the different tours he has had to do in very dangerous places around our world. But in the letter he sent me where he told me about his wife to be, I could not have been more proud to know that he waited until he found a partner who was worth all those apple pies for the church years later. And his sister Tabby was one of my original Girls of Summer, before I had any personal responsibilities like kids or a husband or anything beyond wanting girls in my classroom to feel bold and brave and beautiful in their own skin. Today Homecoming was hugging those two and feeling them really hug me back.
We visit with newbie college freshmen and sophomores and those recent graduates who chose to stay in our tourism towns and work or have babies of their own. They are glad to see us and to reassure us that they are good– or they are not actually. Still young and somewhat bewildered by being back at Homecoming and not always having words for the questions I pepper with them, I love the hugs from former kiddos while some of my current ones (or their parents) avoid my eye contact altogether. Funny how that happens. On my daughter’s soccer team, there are a few players whose parents I had in school. While this makes me feel old on some level, I love this full circle feeling of coming home, knowing someone as a teenager and then as a parent and friend.
Homecoming is a return to home. I never imagined I would live in a place long enough which would feel more like home than my own hometown. But that’s what growing up is, a developing of a root system which allows us to flee far and wide while still able to access the water and soil and nutrients of our past. I’m excited for our kiddos to have this kind of home to return to as they grow up and their boundaries exceed the playground or sidelines of their youth. We don’t have to leave home to appreciate a good homecoming, but we do need to really invest in those roots.