Sunday, March 05, 2006

Homegoing Ruminations

Yesterday, we went to Rome for a belated Kimberly's-birthday-celebration. With Kim's schedule at Randstadt, it seems like weekends are the only time that everyone can get together--and even then, it can take some planning to coordinate everything! Kim's a process manager for the company, and her corporate clients are scattered from Cumming to Alpharetta to Canton to Cartersville to Lithia Springs to Rome, so her time at home is much more limited than it was when she was an account manager focused on a single Rome company.

We ended up going to Gondolier for dinner; Gondolier in Rome has consistently good food, which may come as a surprise to those familiar with the Woodstock or Marietta Gondolier locations. Around here, Gondolier is the home of the super-skimpy pizza and the light-on-sauce pasta dish. In Rome, however, the ingredient balance is much better and the food is very flavorful. When we had our farmhouse in Rome from '92 to '99, we would eat at Gondolier quite frequently; now, we probably eat there twice a year max, but it's always a pleasant experience.

Going home (and Rome will always be home, although I haven't actually lived there as my primary residence in 35 years, and we gave up our weekend place there 6 1/2 years ago) is always a pleasant experience. Rome has changed immensely during my lifetime, and many of the businesses that I remember fondly from my childhood are gone. Also gone are many of the neighbors I grew up with. The Terhunes moved from the neighborhood long ago; the Masons are gone (Mr. Mason died and Mrs. Mason sold the house a while back); Mr. & Mrs. Adkins both died and their home was sold; the Atkins (the only neighbors whom I actively disliked) both died a while back... The Boyds are still there, across the street, and Mrs. Gresham is still next door, but other than that, the neighborhood is no longer what it once was. Dad's house, the Boyds' house, and Mrs. Gresham's house are the only ones on the small street that still look well-maintained after forty-plus years; the other homes have the stark, somewhat sparse and modestly maintained look of rental homes, which I suspect they are.

But there's still a vitality to Rome that I enjoy. It feels like home to me, and always will, regardless of the changes. I still remember the houses to which I delivered newspapers on my Atlanta Constitution bicycle route in my childhood. I can still remember the winding, overgrown path through the nearby woods to the winding creek where we would play four hours (although the woods succumbed to residential development years ago). I feel comfortable travelling the back roads that we would follow on my way to school all those years ago, and I know the names of the many friends whose families lived in the houses we would pass. And now there are new families in some of those homes, while in others the children have grown up to raise families of their own in the homes where they were raised. The downtown area is still lined with the same century-plus-old buildings I remember, although the stores that occupy those buildings have changed. It's the same town, although the ebb and flow of life has wrought the same inevitable changes there as everywhere else.

Kim still lives in Rome, although she talks from time to time about moving closer to Atlanta in the next few years. It would be a sensible decision if her job continues to demand such travel; to be located in a place more central to all her accounts would minimize her road time. I envy her Rome location, though, because she's only a few minutes away from Mom and Dad's house, where Dad still maintains the home in the same loving state that we all knew from the years when both he and Mom imbued the house with such warmth. I speak to Dad every day, and see him as frequently as possible, but I envy that opportunity she has to stop by on a whim, or to have Dad stop in for a cup of coffee and a few minutes of conversation. Marietta is too far from Rome for such spontaneity, and Dad no longer enjoys making the drive from there to here.

The seven years we had a second home in Rome were a wonderful gift that we did not at the time fully appreciate. We had no way of knowing that those would be Mom's final years of good health and the beginning of a horribly painful period ending with her passing in 2002. I never knew how wistfully I would recall the days when I could make a spontaneous, unplanned trip to their house just to say "hi" or drop something off or see how everyone was doing. I was able to enjoy the small-town life where I would shop in furniture stores where the staff knew me by name and would run a piece of furniture out to our house "just to try" for a day or two before we decided if we wanted to buy it; where restaurant owners would know remember our preferences; where neighbors would come by just to help hay the pasture when it was time for haying, or offer the loan of their tractor if I needed it.

For a variety of reasons, we eventually leave our home towns, but our home towns never leave us...

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