Sunday, March 6, 2011

Welcome Back Kotter

My husband and I both went to high school in Ilwaco, a small community on the Washington coast. For my husband this was just a place his family moved to before his freshman year, but for me, it was my family’s hometown. Ilwaco is situated at the base of a peninsula that comprises the entire community. Both of my parents were born and raised on the peninsula and my large extended family lived, and many still live, on the peninsula.

Once we went away to college, my husband and I did not go back very often and, when we did, it was always with the sense of familial obligation. While I loved seeing my parents, the visits were not recreational and then, when parents began to ail, the trips became even more obligatory. At some point both my husband and I felt the rotting nature of the peninsula. It’s a damp environment where buildings rot and, it seemed, even people rot. My husband and I ran the opposite direction and fell in love with the dry air of central Oregon. For years, that was our destination of choice. No rotting there.

Even given the negative feelings we had about the peninsula, I have always loved the beach. Because it was my family’s hometown, we visited regularly when I was growing up. I spent countless hours playing on the beach with my cousins and later, when we had moved back for high school, I spent hours walking on the beach, reflecting on the beach and writing on the beach. The ocean draws me in much the same manner that Mt. Hood does. Once there were no more parents to visit and take care of on the peninsula, whenever I wanted to go to the beach we simply went to the Oregon Coast where the ghosts of rot did not follow us. Last fall some dear friends invited us to spend five days with them, celebrating their anniversary at a house they’d rented at the beach – our beach, the beach of the peninsula. We agreed, of course, but we both realized that this would be our first recreational trip in, literally, forever. Even though I still have family here, I decided that, for me, this would be a trip devoid of familial responsibilities. I would go to the beach just to enjoy it. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel “going back”, but my anticipation grew as we drove across the coast range and I began to realize just what this place means to me. It’s not just the ocean. I can get the ocean on the Oregon Coast. It’s this ocean. This ocean that stretches along 26 miles of beach. This ocean that has roared in my ears since I was a child. This ocean that caressed my teenage wounds. This ocean that, I now realize, is at the core of my being. Coming back here has filled me with a mixture of emotions that just about knocked me over by their unexpectedness. I feel a sense of awe, joy and inner peace that I had not expected. I walk outside, letting the salt air wind hit my face, and I physically feel something wonderful happen inside of me.

It’s said you can’t go home again, but maybe the point is that home is never really gone from within you.

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