I’m sitting in the room I grew up in. We moved here when I was six. On the end of my bed is a quilt my grandmom made for me with the state of Texas sewn over large squares of white. Sunlight comes in through a window, and in the patch of backyard outside the window I remember sitting and building a fence with my dad while our new Siberian Husky puppy, Misha, ran through the yard and into my eight year-old lap.
I won’t be in this house long. It’s been a month, and at the most I’m anticipating one or two more. But the way I feel here, the rhythm of push-twist-turn on the bathroom lock, the nights that take our family cooking in the kitchen and then out into the living room to watch a favorite show, the walk up to the church, these rhythms feel like I’m connecting to the past.
There’s been a lot of events like that. A few weeks ago I spent the weekend with my grandmother in a tiny town in Louisiana. She told me about riding on a pile of pears in a wheel barrow when she was five, about the man who fell from the tree and died. She told me of scrap heap drives which she and the rest of the cheerleaders led so they could put on sock-hops. I asked her about her family tree and scribbled lines and names in my journal while she went back generations and generations.
I couldn’t get enough. I made here go around the house with me and tell me about everything, about the wooden camels her aunt brought back from her trip to the Middle East. She told me about the clock she carried from Kentucky on the bus to give grandfather who was waiting for her in Houston. I felt like I was in a museum full of stories that weren’t mine but had a part in making me.
When I got home, my mom and her friend had a garage sale. After two years in Armenia, this felt altogether foreign to me, that we would have enough things to sell to neighbors and passerbys, that they would have money to buy our excess. Still, preparing for the sale became another journey through old bits and pieces, through old stories.
The tiny life jacket which my teenage baby sister has long since outgrown, the size of it, the memory of holding that tiny wonder of a sister in my own two hands and tossing her into the water at my side, it all made me well up. And that was just the one baby life jacket.
At the garage sale itself I felt like I’d gone back in time, all of us sitting around tables of our old stuff, sipping Sonic drinks, catching up with people as they stopped by to look for a knife for their collection or to snag some of my sister’s old softball equipment.
I feel something real that’s hard to identify with all this old stuff. I’m trying not to become a hoarder, of course, but when I picked up my old plush toy cat, Kitty, when I held that toy, it was like being six again. I remember when we bought her. I remember buckling her into the seat next to me. I remember sitting her on my stomach before going to sleep at night. I remember the feeling of my hands on her back.
It feels like this last month I have reconnected with the ‘old’, with old things, with generations I didn’t know (I found out I’m kind of Welsch!), with a culture that feels as comfortable as my old stuffed animals. Coming out of Peace Corps, out of living abroad for so long, coming back home feels as comfortable as holding that old stuffed cat but also, sometimes, just as out of place.