The sun is almost blinding as I drive north on Lakeshore Drive. With the bright rays reflecting off both Lake Huron, to my right, and the bright white snow, all around me, I squint through my cheap, CVS sunglasses, looking for the number in the 9800's to appear on one of the mailboxes to my right. As the numbers get higher, I see that I am in the 9600's, and know that I'm close. It is right around then, the 9600's, where I start to get butterflies in my stomach.
At that moment, it occurs to me that this is the stretch of road that my parents must have been driving when they brought me home from the hospital for the first time. What were they thinking/feeling? Does every new parent have the same thoughts or feelings on their first drive home? I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe that moment to me, and as the mailboxes get up in the 9700's, I make a mental note to ask my parents about that first drive home the next time I see them.
I pull into the circle driveway, where the snow has been freshly plowed, and from where I pull in, I'm able to see just pass the house and over the picturesque lakefront. I don't think I ever remember my family talking about living on a lakefront, though I, personally, only lived there just over a year. I ring the doorbell, and Saleena comes to see what stranger is at the front door.
"Hi. My name is Greg. This may be weird, but I actually lived in this house around 1979-80. Earlier this year, I got married"
Saleena chimed in, "Oh, that's nice. Congratulations"
I continue. "Thanks. So, anyway, before my wife and I have our first Christmas together, I wanted to stop for a minute at each of the homes where I've ever lived, just to reflect, I guess. I hope that's ok...I'll be out of here in a minute or two"
Saleena lit up. "My husband and I got married in July ourselves, and we moved in here right after we got married. It's definitely an old house, but we like it."
"Well, congratulations to you and your husband as well! Have an amazing Christmas season!"
"You too. Merry Christmas."
With that, the tour around Michigan had begun. In my life, I've lived at 12 different physical addresses total, with 7 of those being in my home state. I've been interested in the concept of "home" as this Christmas is approaching, the first Christmas my wife and I will have as a married couple. So since my interest was piqued, I thought a good way to get insight would be to physically visit the 6 places in Michigan that I had called home up until this year.
The first home was where I met Saleena, and where I lived, in Jeddo, Michigan, for my first 12-ish months. The second spot was a bit of a drive from Jeddo, on the south side of Cass City, MI. From age 1 to age 4-ish, my parents and I lived in a mobile home park, a park that had a sign that said "Huntsville" in the front. I pulled in after my 64 mile drive through the thumb of the state, from Jeddo, and while I don't have many memories, per se, from my toddler years, the entire place looked vaguely familiar.
I don't recall a lot from my family's time in "Huntsville". My mom had taken a full-time teaching job in a city she and my dad were barely aware of before the offer. When they decided to move there, my dad did manual labor work while getting his teaching certificate at nights. All I really remember from our time in that trailer was eating lots of mac and cheese, the neighbors having lots of cats, and the night that my mom's mom passed away. Weirdly, I can remember sitting on the floor of the mobile home, and my mom giving me the news about Grandma Hickok, and her consoling me as I cried and stared at the phone mounted on the wall. Pre cell phone, the phone-on-the-wall was where I understood family news would come from, and I think, as a 4 year old, I was hoping there would be better news at that moment.
As I was in my parked car in "Huntsville", looking up my next address, a mom with two young children, probably around 3 or 4 years old themselves, waddled past me, bundled up in winter gear and looking to go play in the snow. Will those kids be sitting in a car like this in 34 years?
I continued on to the second Cass City house my family lived in, on Schwegler Road. The Schwegler road house was where I'd spend ages 4 through 8, and THIS is the house where I had memories.
- I remember learning to ride my bike in the driveway, which felt huge at the time. (When I pulled in today, I saw that it actually was only about 40 feet long)
- I remember our big, picture window, where dozens of birds would meet their end, thinking that there was an opening where they could fly into our living room, and finding out the hard way that there was a very clean, solid pane/pain of glass. We would hear a thud, and look outside to see the bird on the ground, writhing. I always thought that window was mean.
- I remember, the last year we lived there, getting ready for my first/only sibling to arrive, decorating the extra room and getting toys I didn't care about.
- Finally, that house is where I have my first memories of Christmas. I remember decorating the fake, plastic tree (the bottom half, anyway). I remember my parents starting the tradition where we would sit in a circle, and take turns opening gifts. (a tradition we still observe). And I remember having It's a Wonderful Life playing on our "gigantic" television in the living room.
Today, that house is painted a nasty yellow on the outside, but looks exactly the same, otherwise. As I pulled away, I wondered how many more birds that picture window has claimed, and if the people who've lived there in the 30 years since kept the tradition of the fake tree, or if they did the real thing.
I continued on to the other four homes where I've lived in Michigan; the Otisville house where I lived for the 10 years up to graduation (where my parents still live today), the apartment attached to the horse training facility where I nearly died from rhabdomiolysis, the downtown apartment where I mooched cable and internet services from neighboring businesses for the better part of a decade, and the house that is our's now.
In all, today's travels totaled 227 miles. Every house I visited brought back memories I forgot that I had, and reminded me of who I was when I lived there. Looking on a map, it's a strange route to take to get to each place. There aren't a lot of people who's home journey goes:
Jeddo-Cass City-Otisville-Watertown, WI-Wilmore, KY-Jacksonville, FL-Greenville, SC-Otisville-Clarkston-Waterford.
Unexpectedly, the most emotional/spiritual parts of today weren't the home visits, themselves. The moments that got me were the moments where I was traveling to the next destination. At some point in my life, I (or my family) had packed up and left each of these places. As I drove between each destination, I remembered what it felt like to MOVE OUT from each place. Every time, there was a life event or major decision that led to the move; a new job, a different life stage, a family addition.
So every time I was driving today, I was thinking of the life event that was the reason for the move in the first place. This life journey has made me who I am, and taken me through a life that I'm infinitely grateful for. Every home I've had has taught me something, and, spiritually, I've taken them with me each time I've moved. Every home has prepared me for the next, and with every life event, has helped me understand what "home" is.
It took me 7 houses and 227 miles, but today's lesson was clear:
This Christmas, I'm now on this journey with the woman I love, surrounded by people I love, being led by the God who loves me.
Our journey IS our home.
We are home for the holidays.