My parents met in a bar in October 1972 in Valparaiso, Indiana, where they both attended college. My mother was a senior and my father, five years older, was a middle school science teacher who had stayed in the area after he graduated. The story goes that my father introduced himself to my mother and she, although attracted to him, acted somewhat coy. When he asked for her phone number, she wouldn’t give it to him. She said if he were really interested, he’d have to find it on his own. He did, and a few days later they went on their first date. Nine months after that they got married in a church on the campus of their alma mater just a few weeks after my mother collected her diploma. And three weeks after that, they moved to Okinawa.
That was in 1973 and my parents have been overseas ever since, jumping from Japan to Korea, back to Japan, back to Korea, and then in 1989, when I was 13, we moved to Germany just a few days before the Berlin Wall came down, and my parents have lived there ever since.
In the summer of 1994, which I can’t believe was 19 years ago already, I said good-bye to my family at the Frankfurt airport and boarded a plane, heading to college and a new life in Springfield, Missouri. It was my first time living in the states. I was moving thousands of miles away from my family and wouldn’t see them again for months. I was 17.
And this is how it’s been since then — a series of sad good-byes in the Frankfurt airport, or sometimes in the St. Louis airport, knowing I won’t see my parents again for many months — sometimes a year between visits. I haven’t celebrated a birthday with my parents in almost 20 years, haven’t had Thanksgiving with them in as long, or seen them in the fall when the trees explode in oranges and reds. Because of the time difference and our busy schedules, I’ve even gone weeks and weeks without speaking to them, though we’ve never let more than a few days pass without being in touch at least over email.
With my parents in Germany and my sister in Austin and most of my extended family in Missouri and my new family and in-laws and me in the Northeast, a huge chunk of my travel budget and vacation time has been spent just trying to see my relatives. And that probably won’t ever change completely, but it’s about to get at least a little easier because in just a few days my parents are moving home, or as they would say after 40 years overseas: “home.” The packers are in their house as I post this, and in a few days, my parents are moving back to the states. Once again, they’ll start a new chapter in a town they’ve never lived before — this time, Springfield, Missouri, which just happens to be where I went to college.
There are many mixed emotions around this move. It’s very bittersweet for my mom and dad who are closing a chapter in their lives that has brought them immense joy and friendships and excitement and comfort and starting a new life full of unknowns. I know they hate to leave what has become home to them, and had hoped they could stay just a little longer, though they will be happy to be closer to family. It’s bittersweet for my sister who was basically raised in the house my parents are moving out of (they moved there a few weeks before I left for college and right before Allison started sixth grade). For my elderly maternal grandparents, who are in very poor health, and for my mom’s siblings who are exhausted from the effort of caring for them, I expect there’s relief and comfort in knowing that my mom will be close — if not close enough to help in the physical, day-to-day tasks of caring for elderly parents in rapid decline, then at least close enough to lend more consistent emotional support and be by her parents’ bedside with a few hours’ notice, if need be.
For me, it’s been a long time coming, and the fact that my parents are moving to a town where I spent six very formative years — a place where I made some of my closest friends and put down some pretty solid roots — means that I might finally get to feel a sense of home for the first time in my transient life, if home means a place where your parents live and where you yourself have some history. Of course, for the last few years, I’ve been making a home for myself in Brooklyn with Drew and Jackson and the family of friends we’ve made here. But this is different. And I’m excited. Just having my parents on the same continent again, without an enormous ocean separating us, will fill a psychic void that opened the day I said good-bye to them in that Frankfurt airport 19 years ago.
To my parents: I wish you an easy transition as you begin your new life in your new home. I hope the 40 years’ worth of memories you’ve collected around the world continue bringing you smiles and that you hold on to some of the many friendships you’ve made as you forge new ones and make new memories. You gave Allison and me childhoods full of adventure around the world, but now we are happy to welcome you home — or “home” — to make some new memories here. Bon Voyage.