They say you can never go home again, meaning that you can never return to the place you grew up in, as the person you once were. And, change being the only constant, it is definitely accurate to a certain degree, but really I've found the opposite to be true. Maybe you can't ever get back to your childhood self and maybe the places you remember growing up are long gone, or the people have moved away, never to return, or to be seen again. But at the same time, the moment you return to the place(s) you grew up in you begin to capture little bits and pieces of who you once were.
For instance, it sure seems to me that whenever I return home, my mother starts organizing my life like I am a kid again, sending me to hairdressers and dentists and shaking her head at my dress, silly ideas and eating habits.
And, as surely as late-in-season snow storms seem to pass over this country again and again since I've come here, memory after memory starts drifting up from wherever we hide our old selves. I start remembering all the small things about my homeland, my younger self; "This is where I kissed this boy or that." "This is where my climbing tree was, the one who's leaves I spent so many summer days reading Anais Nin and Sylvia Plath." "This is the way we walked to school and to town, hand in hand with my best friend." Or simply "That is a magpie. A rabbit's foot print in the snow. A Weeping Willow."
I remember things I don't even recall ever learning. Words for activities I no longer participate in, for holidays I don't celebrate, ideas that have no more meaning to me. I remember lyrics to hymns I've not sung for years. Whole chapters of books I've not read in years. I remember how to skate backwards and make Russian fish-stew.
There's a few things most people elsewhere in the world seem to know about Scandinavian countries (I have no illusions. They are all kind of interchangeable in people's minds.); how everyone has access to a sauna and a summer cabin, no matter their social standing, how it's cold and dark in the winter and how the sun never sets in the summer. How everyone's blond and wears bright Marimekko-colors and eats meatballs and weird fish. How there's more wild nature than people, but how all those people have smartphones, or whatever the latest technology happens to be. And none of those, or most other pre-conceptions of Scandinavia are wrong, it's just that underneath all those cliches, there's a million little things that no one else knows, that make this country feel like home.
There was a snowstorm that followed me here from Iceland the day I arrived (and prevented my luggage from making it all the way with me), and standing on the bus stop without gloves, hat, or winter coat, the smell of snow felt overpowering, the feel of it scratching under my feet so overwhelming that I felt totally transported for a moment.
Being here is a little like visiting a museum dedicated entirely to your former selves, each taste evokes some small avalanche of childhood, each old toy and cup speaks this language I feel like only I can understand, yet at the same time every candy bar and street sign and the theme song of the evening news is universal parlance shared among every Finnish person.
I look at people my age in wonder and realize we grew up with same kid's shows and political scandals and those weird rubber mud-suits and you guys have no idea what I'm talking about do you? That's 'cos I've never seen a rubber mud-suit in America, or anywhere else in the world.
I feel like a part of me is completely understood and free here, never having to explain fermented milk, or mandatory paid maternity leave, or yösää to anyone ever.
Yet another part of me is constantly alert to the fact that I no longer belong at all. That I've grown and changed in ways that don't fit those old places anymore.
That from here on out, I will always just be a visitor here.
And that's really okay. This place will always be a part of me. I'll carry its storms and frozen lakes and magpies, oven-baked milk custards and millions of library books and all my friends and family with me wherever I go.
Each time I come here, I feel a little more at ease that I'll probably never really live here again.
I love looking at my mother's amazing collections and hearing family stories and revisiting memories and words.
My mom has one of the best decorating tastes I've ever seen, mixing decades colors and patterns effortlessly. For the last almost thirty years she's worked as a set and costume designer, so it's not wonder of course. Sometimes I wonder if it's because of growing up in such a unique and carefully curated environment that I've always been rather more relaxed about my decorating style.
At the same time, I feel like I've definitely gotten my love of old things, instead of new from her, my taste in folklore and romantic styles, and my utter indifference to minimalism.
It's fun to look at your family and see aspects of your own self reflected back. Of course sometimes it can be more than a little painful too.
The older I get too, the more I enjoy spending time with my family, the more it's just fun and less wrought with tension.
My mom and I like to play games, look at photos and go thrifting together. My aunt and I discuss the latest books we've both read. With my cousin we discuss our parents, their weakening memories, their idiosyncrasies. We remember our childhoods. Laugh at our past selves, but rather tenderly.
There are so many things I want to do, so many places I would like to visit.
Yet a strange timeless inertia also always makes an appearance. Since I have very few responsibilities, I am free to roam and write and read, completely unlike at home where there's always some chore waiting to be completed, some social event to attend.
This freedom too, brings me back a little, to those years growing up in small town, with nothing to do, but dream, nowhere to go but walk around the empty streets.
Of course we've already done tons of things. These images, for instance, are from my parents country place, half an hour outside town, where we've visited neighbors, kicked our strange sleds around the hills, watched for the tracks of rabbits and foxes and lynxes.
I've collected the smells of earthen root cellars and attics and other familiar places. Eaten countless buns (pulla) and drunk more coffee and tea and fermented milk than is probably good for me.
I've walked on the frozen lake and sat in the sauna and bought potatoes and carrots from a man in the market place dressed in ice-fishing overalls and gone out to pee in the middle of the night in -20℉ temperatures.
It's good to be home. Even if it isn't my only one any more.
Where do you call home? Is it somewhere you live or somewhere you're a visitor? Do you have many homes or just one?