No Place Like Home
As the thunder echoed in the mountains outside town, I ran barefoot to the side yard, sliding on wet blades of grass. I took great care climbing our aluminum swing set to perch atop the monkey bars. By now, the corroded metal was precariously fused together but still sufficiently bore my prepubescent body. Another boom. I stared up at the darkening clouds, blinking away the raindrops and waiting for that first bolt of lightning to flash across the sky.
“What a bore,” I remember thinking to myself. It was the summer before seventh grade, and I was stuck at home with this storm as my sole source of entertainment. This was the age before cellphones, after all. And the Internet was only fledgling dialup with spotty service. It didn’t matter anyway. On our edge of town, the power was always failing at the first sign of inclement weather.
“Stony Fork circuit,” my dad, who attended lower grades at the small schoolhouse out that way, would speak to the flickering lights. The firehouse’s siren sounded as the wind picked up speed—it’s an eerie chorus I still hear on occasion in my head all these years later. The slowly ascending dissonance reached a peak with a falling resolution on repeat, though I forget how many times exactly.
My mother frantically ran around the house slamming windows swollen with humidity and called to me from the living room. I pretended not to hear her while deep in my classic teen angst. Other girls were out at malls or hanging wherever looking for boys and clothes, I mused. Here I was stuck in the wilds of Nowhere, Pennsylvania, where everything seemed to close at five p.m. sharp.
When I’d go to sleep-away summer camps and try to explain my hometown’s location, I’d give up when the usual landmarks didn’t suffice, resulting in the ever-difficult question: “Is it closer to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh?” Nope. And on the first day I escaped my cursed geographical isolation—the highly anticipated college exodus of 2001—I found myself trying to explain Wellsboro’s location to a group of urban transplants. By then, I had learned the hand trick, which, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is performed by raising your left hand, tilting it ninety degrees horizontally (see the shape of PA?), and pointing somewhere in the north- central region—or—second fold of your index finger.
“Right here. By the Grand Canyon,” I’d say, which was a comment usually met by many confused, uninterested expressions. “South of Corning, New York. North of Williamsport. Anyone?”
I’d give up.
For these girls, Ithaca, New York, was the backward place. Chief of all complaints? The mall was too small. Highway access to “The City” was far off, too. I tried containing my glee at not having to drive forty-five minutes on winding back roads, fighting my uniquely robust breed of carsickness, for the most basic shopping trips. To write I didn’t jibe with my floor mates is an understatement. But, eventually, I found my people, and college was a relatively enjoyable, enlightening experience.
I had the “misfortune” of returning home to Wellsboro after college graduation when my shiny new bachelor’s degree didn’t turn any heads on the job hunt. I lived for eight long, hideous months in half the huge yellow house on the corner of Walnut Street and Central Avenue. It was the darkest period in my admittedly short life, but felt no less dramatic. It was a slow eclipse to the light I’d found; more obscured was my existence the longer it lasted. I had failed at flying away from the proverbial nest. I did everything in my power to leave, eventually securing a spot in a software company’s marketing department back across the border.
Years after I left Wellsboro for the second time, my parents sold the family home on Grant Street. I didn’t see gas-lit boulevards or traverse the famed 10K footpath for years upon years. I had forgotten the names and directions of back roads and shortcuts that had previously been mapped in my memory like my very veins. And it was then that my homesickness presented its first symptoms. It was certainly a delayed onset, but unmistakable in nature.
After the birth of my daughter in 2011, my husband and I travelled to town for a quick visit, and I found myself uncomfortably displaced. There was no driveway in which to park my car. No bedroom closet in which to place my suitcase. We plunked a few dimes in the meter at the Green and walked aimlessly down Main Street. Wellsboro was that best friend who, for better or worse, I had known since birth, grew up with, and took entirely too much for granted. All along, I was in love, but I didn’t realize until it was woefully too late.
The necessities for my life aren’t found in the big box stores or sprawling shopping plazas of my current digs. And I never really need anything out past five p.m., as was my previous understanding of acceptable. Even in the craziest weather, my home rarely loses power, but I also rarely take those quiet moments to observe rainstorms or trudge through muddy creeks and connect with my roots in such a physical way. It’s a life of convenience minus substance.
The definition of home is a place where one lives. It’s four solidly constructed walls and a sturdy roof overhead. A physical foundation upon which entire generations lay their joys and burdens. However, like many native Wellsborians scattered across the country, I carry home in my heart. I’ve internalized the visions of rocky streams snaking through thick, colorful forest canopy; the sights of grand boulevards and countless familiar faces that I now miss in my relative anonymity; and the sound of sweet church bell melodies wafting through the breeze on warm summer afternoons. This home is a soulful kind of shelter.
And, like many, I hope to someday return.