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.
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:
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