“You can never go home again.” It’s what people often say to those who long to return to their hometown.
I understand you can’t go back in time to what you remember about your home, that things change and it might not be what you expected. But what if you never idealized your hometown? Maybe you can return to a place that’s even better than before — and make a new home.
Last year, I uprooted my family and moved halfway across the country from Alberta back to my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario.
Sarnia was always a safe but predictable place. As a teenager, I was eager to spread my wings and fly somewhere less familiar and much more … well, interesting!
For two decades I did just that, leaving for university and travelling from one coast of Canada to the other, then teaching overseas in Kuwait, travelling in the Middle East, and returning to Canada to settle far away in Alberta.
Over time, however, something seemed to happen to me, inside. Maybe I was growing up, changing values and maturing. Maybe I realized what I was looking for was a community, a place to put down roots and have a future —a place where people cared about me.
Becoming a mother also opened a new perspective. I started craving a smaller space, and a safer one. Over time my resistance to going home was whittled away.
The advantages of small-town Sarnia are now obvious to me:
A smaller population means less traffic. The only crowds to contend with are lineups for French fries under the bridge.
A lower cost of living means I take home more of my salary and spend less of it on housing. Living close to the border means I can pop over to shop or buy gas easily.
There’s Lake Huron, and the gorgeous beaches we’ve enjoyed all summer long. The climate is mild, so I can plant a garden and enjoy all four seasons. And bigger cities like London or Toronto are relatively close.
But all that wouldn’t have enticed me to move back here without the people that truly make it home. My mom turned 81 last year, and she and my dad are healthy and loving. I want my kids to know them better. I want to be here, close by, for my parents when they need me in their elder years.
I also have good friends I’ve stayed in touch with since high school, and when we get together it’s as if no time has passed.
Until I became just another number and another face in a large city, I didn’t realize how valuable those friendships and supports were.
So you can go home again, and I have. And it’s better than I remember. Thank you, Sarnia, for always being here to come home to.
Esther Tolooei is a teacher, mom, wife and aspiring writer.