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Home Is Where I Belong

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This week as I start the 2022-23 school year, I’m sure colleagues will ask about how I spent my summer vacation.

The short answer is, “I went home, and I came home.”

The full answer is that I was reminded about the power, the complexity and the comfort of home.

Not long ago, I wrote about an invitation to a reunion of former colleagues from the Fort Wayne, Indiana Journal-Gazette. That invitation challenged me to get out of my COVID-created shell of the past few years. And the change of place – and pace – intrigued me: an opportunity to connect my present and future with my past. I said yes.

Moments after registering, I knew I wanted to include a return to South Bend, Indiana, 90 minutes northwest.

The Mishawaka Riverwalk

I’m a Chicago native, but my family moved to South Bend when I was a junior in high school – and after a year and four months at The Journal-Gazette, I returned for a stint of 6+ years at The South Bend Tribune. In a lot of ways, South Bend was where I grew up. A trip back to Indiana would be incomplete without going there.

So, after I talked with my friends from Fort Wayne about going in on an air-B&B stay (something I hadn’t tried before), I looked at air-B&Bs in South Bend too.

I found a cute cottage a few miles north of where my family had lived, close enough to tickle that nostalgia funny-bone but far enough away for me to enjoy the present.

Lodging set, I laid out a very loose itinerary. Then, I waited for travel day.

Indeed, “travel day” was accurate. Given the unpleasantness of contemporary flying, and still wary of COVID exposure (especially days before the reunion), I chose to drive. Raleigh, North Carolina, to South Bend, Indiana, is at minimum a 12.5-hour trip. The way my GPS decided to take me, it became 14. Still, I found myself almost giddy, tootling through the mountains of West Virginia and the cornfields of Ohio and Indiana as Casey Kasem counted down my favorite songs of 1976 and 1981. The day was gorgeously sunny; I got a 6 a.m. start and, by 8 p.m. still in daylight, pulled into the air-B&B.

My three days at the cottage gave me time to reconnect – with me.

Free of being “Mr. Small” to my students and their parents or daddy/servant to my two furry ones – and purposely limiting online contact – I could think about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, whom I wanted to see and how I wanted to engage with the area that played such a key role in my early life.

I quickly realized the (soon-to-be) 59-year-old me is not the 16-year-old who moved to South Bend… nor the 30-year-old who left. I wasn’t consumed with trying to see dozens of old friends. (I wanted to preserve that energy for the Fort Wayne reunion.)

Rather, I did my own thing, content and quiet.

I visited the gravesites of both a teacher and mentor and of one of my closest high-school buddies who died far too young. At the cottage, I journaled, admired the garden, said “Hi” to the nearby dog and cats, and enjoyed classic “Price Is Right” episodes before turning in for the night.cc

I spared no opportunity to feed my desire. I’d had dreams for years about the burgers at Redamak’s in New Buffalo, Mich., a lakeside town about 25 miles northwest of South Bend.

I made sure to get there one day at noontime and make the dream a reality. (So good!) Almost as perfect were the cookies and cannoli I picked up on two separate trips to Macri’s Bakery downtown.

And I couldn’t let the trip go without getting to Bonnie Doon’s in Mishawaka, an old-fashioned ice cream soda shop that not only has the requisite ‘50s and ‘60s décor, but was around before then.

On the flip side, a trip to the outlet store for the South Bend Chocolate Co. – a business just getting going when I moved away – resulted in a delicious find: cherry-flavored malted milk balls. (I may have to order more at the holidays.)

It was great to see what folks were up to. One of my closest friends and former colleagues joined me for lunch Wednesday at one of downtown South Bend’s newest eateries, and we dove into conversation as if it had been a day, rather than more than a decade, since we’d last connected. (She’s not a big social-media person, and I’m not fond of texting.)

On Friday morning, I toured the 21st century version of my high school alma mater.

“My” St. Joseph’s High School was torn down a while back, but the school – now without a possessive – has an impressive downtown presence. My senior-year Government teacher is now the alumni coordinator who took us on a tour. He was charming, and it was great to see what the current St. Joe students and faculty are doing.

On Saturday, the Fort Wayne reunion was everything I could have hoped for – seeing lots of familiar faces, and staying up at the air-B&B long past midnight with my closest friends from those years, laughing for hours until we knew we had to get some sleep.

As I settled in for the 12-hour drive Monday to Raleigh (a shorter trip because I’d already gone eastward to Fort Wayne), I realized it was only partly true that when I drove to Indiana, I went home.

It was only partly true that as I returned South:

I was coming home.

tnocs.com contributing author chuck small

The trip helped me understand that I was at home…

… as a kid in Chicago,

… as a college student in Bloomington,

… as a young adult in Fort Wayne and South Bend…

… and as an older adult in Raleigh.

Wherever I am:

home is.

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (8 legal).

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JJ Live At Leeds
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August 17, 2022 4:08 pm

Nice story, sounds like a great trip and totally agree with your summation. I’ve got the home where I grew up, the one where I went to uni and where I live now. Love the familiarity you talk about when reconnecting with your friend. Its a great feeling getting together with friends from those earlier homes, I don’t see them often as we all moved to different places but its always immediately like the last however many years never happened.

mt58
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mt58
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August 18, 2022 8:05 am

That’s very interesting that you should say that.

My father used to always say that the true litmus test of a real friendship: when you lost a connection with somebody that you were very close to years ago, and then when you saw them again, it was like nothing had ever happened. No time had passed. The familiarity was exactly as it is always been.

You picked up exactly where you left off.

I’ve been fortunate in life to have one or two of those types of relationships. They are rare, and they are one of those little things that makes the world go around.

Phylum of Alexandria
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August 17, 2022 5:25 pm

Great write up. It’s nice to know that wherever you may go, you’ll be living in a Small town.

I can’t say I can make a home anywhere, but I do have a fragmentary sense of home based on my various travels. Completely unrelated, I have been boning up on my French…

lovethisconcept
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August 17, 2022 9:14 pm

I have history in northern and southern Indiana, so that all looked like home to me. It’s amazing how many of those small local restaurants are still in business. For me, it’s never a complete trip to northern Indiana without a trip to Hessville Restaurant in Hammond. In southern Indiana, it’s Miller’s Tavern in North Vernon. Both exactly the same as when I was a kid. But, yes, coming back to Tennessee is coming home, too. So many wonderful places to belong.

Last edited 3 months ago by lovethisconcept
cappiethedog
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August 17, 2022 11:56 pm

Love that ice cream soda shop. Where I live, it would be impossible to do a period piece without CGI. I wish I had the presence of mind to take pictures of all the places that don’t exist anymore. Many years ago, Lost used a boulevard to simulate Los Angeles. It was ridiculous. But since then, a lot of the old architecture has been razed to the ground. Slightly more plausible, if they shot the same scene over again.

On Oracle Island, all the pineapple fields are gone.

Old buildings are comforting. Tower Records, of course, isn’t a mom and pops, but it felt more homey than the ugly Walgreens Headquarters building that replaced it.

One of these pictures reminds me that I’ve never watched an episode of Game of Thrones.

dutchg8r
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August 18, 2022 4:05 pm

Loved it, Chuck. Always happy to hear when folks ‘find themselves’ on a break from the routine grind of life. Like you showed, it doesn’t even need to be weeks off – just a few days to recharge your batteries and reconnect with the places and things that have made you who you are today. So glad you had a fantastic time at your paper ‘reunion’ too. 🙂

jmf74
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August 21, 2022 7:58 am

Macri’s…the best doughnuts I’ve ever had. Glad you had a nice trip!

mt58
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August 21, 2022 1:04 pm
Reply to  jmf74

We need an article on The Best Donuts in America!

dutchg8r
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dutchg8r
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August 21, 2022 4:05 pm
Reply to  mt58

https://krumpesdonuts.com/

If anyone’s traveling I-70 or I-81 thru Hagerstown, MD. 🙂

Phylum of Alexandria
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August 21, 2022 8:39 pm
Reply to  mt58

Paul’s Bakery, Fredericksburg, VA.

jmf74
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jmf74
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August 21, 2022 8:53 pm
Reply to  mt58

Great idea! Since we all come from all over, and have traveled to different places, it should be some kind of group effort. I’m already making notes from the comments below.

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